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Stan Van Gundy's big problem

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While getting everyone to buy into the game plan will be difficult, how he handles his three big men is priority No. 1 in training camp.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Van Gundy has a big problem. No, I mean he literally has a big problem, as in he has three big men who want to start and only two spots for them.

While there is myriad issues Van Gundy faces as he takes control of the Detroit Pistons, there is no bigger priority than sorting out how he going to make the combination of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith work.

"(Drummond, Monroe and Smith are) clearly three of our best players and yet when they all played together last year they clearly weren't very effective." -Stan Van Gundy

"(Drummond, Monroe and Smith are) clearly three of our best players and yet when they all played together last year they clearly weren't very effective."

This is intuitively and empirically a true statement. Lost in all of the disappointment and misery of last season is that the Pistons were often able to field a pretty decent team and they just continually chose not to do so. The Pistons played Drummond, Monroe and Smith together on the floor for 1,360 minutes last season. With those three on the floor together they were outscored by 185 points. The Pistons also played 1,540 minutes with just two of the three on the floor together. They outscored the competition by 36 points.

An inability to either recognize this and/or do something about it cost Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer head coaching positions. Van Gundy already seems to recognize this. But recognizing it and doing something about it are two totally different things.

Already during media day you could sense that Van Gundy laying the groundwork for bringing one of his big men off the bench.

Van Gundy talked about putting the best mix of players on the floor, and stated emphatically that Monroe being on a one-year deal or Smith being signed for several more years wouldn't be a factor in playing time or lineup decisions.

"We're going to put the lineup and the rotation on the floor that gives us the best chance to win," Van Gundy said.

He also talked about how lineup considerations are much more important to players than to coaches.

"The way this thing always gets presented is that this is competition for the starting job and the five guys you pick are clearly the five guys you thought were the best and I just know that's never been the case anywhere I've coached. ... We've got to not just play the first six minutes or the first nine minutes, it has to work throughout (the game)."

And so far both Monroe and Smith are embracing the concept as long as it leads to winning.

"I'm willing to do whatever. I'm a team player," Smith said when asked about the idea of coming off the bench. "Whatever my role and whatever he defines it as, you have to play to the best of what he wants you to do."

Monroe, likewise, said all the right things.

"I'm willing to come in and do my job and play the best I can and whatever I can to help this team win."

Van Gundy said he's willing to experiment throughout the preseason in order to find the right mix that works, including playing all three big men together.

"Can we make (the big three lineup) more effective? That's one of the things we'll try and find out," Van Gundy said.

But the coach knows that there is one place where the rubber meets the road -- playing time. And that goes for his bigs as well as everyone accustomed to big minutes, many of whom might not get them this season.

"The challenge comes when you start doling out playing time," Van Gundy said. "There's no question that I think, any team, getting guys to accept and produce in their roles is one of the biggest challenges."

The Pistons players on guaranteed contracts played nearly 24,000 NBA minutes last year and there are only 19,680 minutes to dole out in a season. Players used to starting won't. Players used to be in a rotation will be on the outside looking in.

"Everybody is going to have to sacrifice," Van Gundy said. "Not one guy is going to have the exact role that he wants. And for you to be successful everybody has to sacrifice a little and some have to sacrifice more than others and keep the team and winning at the forefront."

And if a player finds himself playing outside of his role?

Smith summed it up well. "Otherwise, he's one of those coaches that will take you out of the game and make you think about what he said your role was."