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Stan Van Gundy talks Josh Smith

Will new Pistons coach succeed where John Loyer, Maurice Cheeks, Larry Drew and Mike Woodson have largely failed?

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy was unequivocal.

"I think you'll see a different Josh Smith on the floor next year."

Aside from restricted free agent Greg Monroe, Smith is probably topic no. 1 on the minds of Pistons fans. Can he be traded? What does the team do with him if they can't trade him? Could he actually be good on a team that still has Andre Drummond and Monroe?

During his introductory press conference Thursday, Van Gundy was quick and effusive with his praise for Detroit Pistons' young big men Drummond and Monroe. Much less was said about Smith.

The experiment of starting the three bigs on the floor together was a spectacular failure for Detroit this season. This was especially true for Smith who was miscast in the role as a small forward and turned in his worst season as a pro and one of the worst perimeter shooting displays in NBA history.

Van Gundy all but admitted that Smith's small forward days are behind him, referring to his players as a big-man rotation and saying that having the three on the floor at the same time would not be a "predominant" lineup. As a big-man rotation, he said, the trio might be the best in the Eastern Conference.

But in an interview with  97.1 The Ticket on Friday, Van Gundy opened up a little more about what he thinks about his high-priced power forward.

"It's not about changing his game," Van Gundy said. "Josh has had a game for a long time in this league that works."

Van Gundy, speaking from experience as someone who had to face off against Smith's Hawks several times as a coach of the Orlando Magic, praised Smith for his passing, ball handling, shot blocking and inside scoring.

"It's about us putting him in spots that play to his strengths and don't maybe give him the opportunity to play to his weaknesses a little bit," Van Gundy said. "And it's about him making better decisions and being more efficient than he was last year."

And that's the rub, isn't it? Every head coach has known about Smith's strengths and weaknesses. Very few have gotten Smith to play within himself. John Loyer couldn't do it, Maurice Cheeks likely got fired because he couldn't do it. Larry Drew couldn't do it in Atlanta and his predecessor Mike Woodson could sparingly corral the jump-shot proclivities of his athletic forward.

While he hasn't coached a game in Detroit, I'm comfortable saying that Van Gundy is the best coach of that bunch, however. So if anybody can harness the true power of Smith it might very be Stan. But can the team take that risk?

If no trade possibilities emerge the team will have to find out. But what if a trade proposal does emerge and the Pistons are on the fence about whether they are getting adequate value in return?

To many Pistons fans, ditching Smith for just about any other contract in the NBA amounts to addition by subtraction. There is simply very few ways for a trade not to be worth it simply because Smith doesn't fit on this roster.

But this assessment will be one of the toughest for president of basketball operations Van Gundy to assess. How much confidence does Van Gundy the executive have in Van Gundy the coach to make it work? And while Van Gundy is in his honeymoon period if Pistons fans find out that the team turned down a trade for somebody like Jeremy Lin or Eric Gordon or even Gerald Wallace what will the reaction be?