When the news that the Pistons were going to hire Stan Van Gundy as their President of Basketball Operations and their head coach first hit my initial reaction was indifference. I didn't know much about SVG as a coach and I was doubtful about his ability to run a front office. The only think I really knew about him was the poisonous feud which started between him and Dwight Howard in Orlando, which resulted in Howard requesting a trade and SVG being fired.
The more I read about him, though, the more excited I became. I started to wonder if the Pistons could have finally found their coach, the one who could finally lift them out of the hole they've been stuck in for years and turn them into a contender. If SVG can teach them defense and shot selection, develop the young players, and, most of all, change the culture of the team then the Pistons have a very real shot at the playoffs.
However, I still don't know a lot about how SVG will run or coach the team. I decided to get in contact with some fans of his former teams, the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat, to get their opinions on SVG as the coach and president of the Pistons. I sent a list of questions about SVG to Matt Pineda a writer for the Heat's blog Hot Hot Hoops and HeyRiles a member of the Magic's blog Orlando Pinstriped Post. Here's what they had to say:
1. First of all, what's your general opinion of the Pistons hiring Stan Van Gundy as their President of Basketball Operations and head coach?
Matt: SVG is a great basketball mind. He is a tremendous addition to the organization.
Riley: From Stan's perspective, it's a great opportunity, and one that suits him far better than a head coaching job with the Warriors, where he would have essentially been set up for failure. In the last two places Stan coached (Miami and Orlando), he was ousted despite the fact that his teams were playing great basketball. Even in Orlando, Stan was not Otis Smith's first choice as head coach - Billy Donovan had verbally committed to Orlando's HC job for about 24 hours before he backed away in 2007, which resulted in a "trade" with Miami to release SVG. Had Stan accepted the Golden State position, he would have been inheriting a 51-win team, and as a result, the expectations put on him would be nothing short of a championship. Since Stan is the President of Basketball Operations as well as the head coach with Detroit, his job security probably leaves him in a much more comfortable place. And, let's face it, your job is generally more secure if you're inheriting a non-playoff team, since the expectations are a bit more tempered.
I can't say for sure how the move is from Detroit's point of view, other than that it's a gamble. They're giving an individual who's only shown coaching ability a say in general basketball operations. There's no telling how good he is at evaluating talent, as opposed to simply coaching talent given to him, and there's no telling how good he is at evaluating people that can evaluate talent, in terms of getting the right GM. Chances are, Stan's going to hire a GM that resides most in line with whatever ideals Stan has in mind. However, if the price of getting a great head coach is also giving him managerial power, then so be it. If you believe in your coach, you may as well give him the opportunity to help field his own roster.
2. I've heard that SVG is good at coaching defense and developing rookies. What do you think his greatest strength is?
Matt: His greatest strength is his ability to adjust on the fly. He isn't afraid of the moment.
Riley: Stan's greatest strength is easily his ability to squeeze productivity out of every player in the rotation. Take a look at the Magic's roster in 2009, when they reached the Finals. Aside from Dwight, there really isn't any other star player on the roster. Most of those players, with the exceptions of J.J. Redick, Adonal Foyle, and Marcin Gortat, had career years with the team. In particular, Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus, and Quentin Richardson basically fell off the face of the earth as soon as they left Stan's team. These are players that seem more likely to struggle as a low-seeded playoff team, yet when push came to shove, Stan coached Lewis, Pietrus, and Hedo Turkoglu to be the borderline all-stars and solid role players that they almost certainly shouldn't have deserved. Stan does a lot with a little, and I see no reason why that won't carry over into Detroit
The only rookie Stan ever really got to coach in Orlando was Courtney Lee. He's had a decent career, but he's bounced around the league for several seasons and has basically been stuck to where he was as a rookie. I'd argue that Lee's best season was his rookie year in Orlando, and I can't help but give credit to Stan for maximizing his defensive potential while he was with the Magic. As far as the other rookies he's coached, they never really had an opportunity to show what they could do, since the Magic were in a win-now mode and Stan had no tolerance for playing athletes that had trouble playing defense. For what it's worth, all the players that spent their rookie season with Stan are now out of the league, so I'd rather blame Otis for his exceptionally poor draft skills.
3. On the flip side, what do you think SVG's biggest weakness is? Is there anything in particular that his teams seem to struggle with?
Matt: I don't know I can pinpoint a weakness.
Riley: Stan's biggest weakness is something I've already alluded to. He can not, will not, and does not tolerate players that don't like to play defense. When Brandon Bass played for the Magic, he was often benched because he was pretty awful at team defense, as well as the fact that he wasn't a particularly good rebounder or shot blocker. Even though Bass's midrange jumper was money, it wasn't often that he could get out of Stan's doghouse and onto the court. Defense is far and away Stan's emphasis, and all the offensive power in the world won't stop him from being infuriated with his players if they can't contest every single shot and grab every single rebound.
I can't think of any on-court struggles that his teams constantly deal with, but I think it's a safe guess to say that the locker room cohesion isn't the greatest. Stan is a very, very, very angry man when during the basketball season, and I can't imagine it being very good for morale when your head coach can only tell you everything that you've done wrong
4. What will SVG bring to the Pistons offense and defense and what type of game can we expect to see the Pistons playing with Stan as the coach?
Matt: I think you will see a more committed defensive effort from 5 guys on the court, and his system will be able to maximize the length of Josh Smith, and your other bigs.
Riley: Like I said previously, Stan is all about defense. I think that, to him, offense is meaningless if there isn't any defense. Andre Drummond is already a defensive stalwart, and I'll get to him in a minute. Josh Smith will likely get a lot of playing time since he still appears to be an active defender - perhaps not as active as he used to be in Atlanta, but there's a good chance he'll get back to his proper abilities with SVG commanding him. (I also think he's waaaaaay better suited for PF, but that's a different discussion entirely). I get the feeling Jennings might receive a decrease in playing time, since he either can't understand defense, or refuses to understand it.
Offensively, plays will be rigid and final. If I had to guess, the majority of plays will either be run through Drummond with an inside-out game, or they'll run through p'n'r with whoever it is will be running point next season. Stan's offensive has a zero percent chance of letting players run free and decide what they want to do. If a play results in a long, contested two with little ball movement, then somebody out there is currently in the SVG Doghouse.
5. One NBA exec said he thought SVG can make Andre Drummond into a Defensive Player of the Year within the next two years. How much do you think Stan helped develop the big men on his other teams?
Matt: Well I think he had a great hand in developing Dwight Howard, but I'm not sure Drummond has that type of ceiling. But DPOY isn't a clear winner each year, so you never know.
Riley: This is an easy question, and you can thank Dwight Howard for that. Dwight's current campaign with the Rockets is such a far cry defensively compared to his stint with the Magic, wherein he won three DPoY awards. A lot of people still try to blame his back like how it was with the Lakers, but I definitely place the blame on Kevin McHale, who has the inability to motivate his players on defense. Marcin Gortat, now a player with the Washington Wizards, was also coached by Stan for his first few seasons, to which he made immense strides as a second rounder. Though, I don't think I can give Stan all the credit here - when you scrimmage and practice against Dwight Howard as much as Gortat did, it's probably inevitable that you're going to develop rapidly.
Andre Drummond absolutely has a huge opportunity to compete for and win at least one DPoY under the SVG system. His size and athleticism already make him a good-to-great defender, so if he's able to absorb Stan's teachings in weakside/help defense (something that Drummond should probably already be aware of, if Detroit's wing defense is as bad as I perceive it), then there's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a serious contender for the award.
6. The Pistons are a young and inexperienced team and always seem to struggle closing out the ends of games. Even when they have a lead late in the 4th quarter they often seem to find a way to lose the game. How were SVG's teams at finishing games and do you think he can teach the Pistons how to close out games?
Matt: I think this has more to do with the youth and immaturity of your players. Over time, this will naturally get better.
Riley: Given the state of Orlando's current roster, I may have some difficulty seeing Detroit's roster as young and inexperienced :)
But yes, I think Stan has a firm grasp on how to close out games. I can't say I watched too much of Mo Cheeks, but if he's like a handful of coaches in the league, it's likely he lost his marbles as soon as the 4th quarter fell below sixty seconds. No matter the time, a play will be drawn up, and it won't be a chucker. Honestly my main concern there would be a case of hero ball from Jennings or Smith. I think it's going to be very interesting to see if Stan has enough trust in Brandon's shooting to get him some open looks off the ball, or if Jennings trusts Stan enough to give him an open opportunity instead of having to take matters into his own hands.
7. Another problem which always plagues the Pistons is their poor shot selection. They have a lot of players, like Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, who always seem to revert back to taking too many poor jump shots at the ends of games and, in some cases, throughout the whole game. Do you think having SVG as the coach will have any effect on that?
Matt: Sadly, no. I think that is who Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are. The Pistons should have known that when they traded for them. If anything, Stan will probably have a hand in their departure to bring in guys that are more team oriented.
Riley: I think I sort of talked about this before, but yes, if Jennings or Smith are taking long two's when there's still time to run a play, they're going to see significantly less playing time. Honestly, my primary concern is their three point shooting. Jennings is decent and should be fine if Stan does indeed install an inside-out game through Drummond, but Smith beyond the arc really scares me. I think it'll be really interesting to see where Smith fits into SVG's plan, both as a coach and as the president, because to a casual observer such as myself, Smith appears to be the odd man out, as opposed to Jennings.
8. One concern that many Pistons fans have is that SVG has total control of the front office as well as being the head coach. The only other coaches with total control are Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers. How do you think Stan will handle the added responsibility?
Matt: Fine. We've seen Pat Riley do it and so has he. I trust Stan to be able to do both jobs and do them well.
Riley: Frankly, I don't know how Stan will handle the responsibility. My best guess is that he'll do a great job now that he's managed to grab some added security. I could be wrong, but I believe that in an interview or two, Stan has mentioned how he's assuming more of a passive role in terms of FO management. Coaching is his true love, after all, and once he gets a GM and scouting crew installed that he's happy with, he probably won't have much to say on the matter other than final adherence and vetoes. Assuming Stan hires an individual that shares the same roster vision as he does (like, say, Otis Smith, who was a major supporter of Stan during his Orlando days), I don't feel like he's going to truly involve himself with much outside of what's on the court.
9. How much say in personnel did SVG have when he coached previously and did he seem like he helped at all in the drafting and free agent process?
Matt: I have no knowledge of this.
Riley: Stan didn't really have any say in who the team fielded. Orlando was more or less governed by Dwight, who was usually the guy who suggested players he wanted to play with, such as the embarrassing debacle that was the Glen Davis trade (yes, Dwight wanted to play with Big Baby. This is who Dwight thought would help). That's the curse of a mid-market team with a superstar - what he says, goes, even if it means the dismissal of the most winningest coach in team history. In Miami's case, Stan was always at the beck and call of Pat Riley, and was never really able to do anything other than coach to the best of his ability until Riley unseated him for his own egotistical glory. In Detroit, there doesn't appear to be any distractions that will prevent Stan from making decisions on his own.
10. Finally, I know that SVG was a very active participant in many charities and benefits when he lived in Florida. Now that Stan will be moving to Detroit what will he bring to the community outside of his basketball responsibilities?
Matt: He's genuinely a good person, so I think you will see that come out in different ways in the community. He has a long history in the NBA, and he is well respected.
Riley: Honestly, I can't answer this. I'm not sure if he'll bring any additional charities and benefits to the city the same way he did with Orlando. I haven't heard yet if his family is moving with him to Detroit, but I think a big part of his charitable efforts (on top of whatever is mandated by the NBA) is his desire to grow the community where his family lives. I believe his youngest is either in high school or entering high school, so I'm not entirely sure how much of an incentive he has towards giving back to the community where his wife and children live. Then again, he's never had a position of power this great in an organization before, so who knows how invested he'll be in the city of Detroit?
So, what do you think? Is the hire a good thing or not and how do you think it will effect the Pistons?
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. :)
As always, questions, comments, and advice are welcome! Also, Riley will try to answer any questions you have for him.
Here's some SVG links which Riley sent over: