Stan Van Gundy's first losing season as head coach taking toll
The 2003-2004 Miami Heat finished 42-40 during Van Gundy's rookie coaching year, and his full season win-percentage has never dipped below 63.2% since then - good for a 50-32 record. Enter the Detroit Pistons, a team with so much talent and potential just waiting to be coached and refined into a playoff squad. After a dismal 5-23 start, SVG started doubting himself, deciding to start a youth movement and waiving the highest-paid player in franchise history. The Pistons played as if possessed over the next month, putting up numbers and exuding talent that many didn't think possible of the perennial cellar-dwelling team.
Then came the injury, the trades, and a new direction.
Detroit currently sits snugly in the last position of the Central division, in the delicate draft limbo that they have been a part of over the past several seasons, trying to decide which is more important - winning or losing. This is certainly not where the established NBA head coach thought he'd find himself as the season winded down. Per Josh Robbins at The Orlando Sentinel:
"I've struggled with it," Van Gundy said. "Forty-four losses already with  games to go — it's a lot of losses and it's tough. But you walk in every day, and you've got a group of guys that are working hard and everything else. So you owe them your best every single day. They've been fantastic, especially the guys who have been here all year and been up-and-down on the roller coaster with us. They have been magnificent. Truly, it's been one of my best groups to coach ever. It's been an honor to coach 'em."
While the fire still rages within him, the past season has certainly dampened his spirit, as the Pistons stand to finish with the worst record and percentage of any Stan Van Gundy coached team in his coaching history. Despite a season filled with extremes, the veteran coach has continued to laud the effort and play of his players, and continues to keep an eye on the future, telling Robbins that he hopes to be planning the playoffs this time next year rather than the draft.
"I'll tell you what's kept me going: We've got a good group of guys, a very good group of guys who have continued to play hard even through that 5-23 start and turned it around," Van Gundy said. "Then we got to the trading deadline and made a move which, in terms of trying to develop chemistry and stuff, held us back. We lost 10 in a row. But virtually all of those were close games. Guys hung in there and kept playing hard. And, lately, we've played a little bit better. So the group has kept me going by how hard they've worked and how hard they've played and not given up on anything."
The promise and potential shown by the team over various stretches have helped SVG push through, as he hopes to build a contender around Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Reggie Jackson. With the latter two on the final year of their respective contracts and Drummond's rookie extension looming over the horizon, there is a sense that locking up all three players could go a long way to securing a competitive playoff team, but much needs to be done before Van Gundy and the Pistons look at a post-season appearance and a winning record.
Joe Dumars can add current Pistons as references for future jobs
Despite having won three Championships for Detroit during his tenure as a player and executive, Joe Dumars' exit was well received by the fan base, as years of poor decisions and failed experiments started piling up on his resume. A year removed sees the Stan Van Gundy Pistons still struggling to reach the 30-win mark for the sixth consecutive season. While Dumars has drawn much ire and criticism for his failures (the Chauncey Billups trade and the signings of Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Josh Smith taking center stage) there still remains credit to be given for his ability to find talent in the draft and building a contender, a topic The Detroit News' Terry Foster broached with Greg Monroe prior to Detroit's loss in Miami.
Monroe, who was drafted 7th overall in 2010 by Joe D, believes the storied player and executive deserves a second chance to prove himself as a roster maestro, pointing to his success at putting together the 2004 championship team as proof of his ability as an executive. Of course, one cannot claim all the glory without also accepting their errors, but when you look at the current Piston team's successes on the court, namely over the month of January, you easily lay praise on Stan Van Gundy's coaching, but it was Dumars who put together the starting five, and we saw what it was capable of in the hands of a veteran NBA head-coach.
Joe's vision for the future has partially come true, as we were treated with the team's exhilarating play in January, however, slowly but surely, Dumars' 'guys' are being replaced by current coach and executive Stan Van Gundy's 'guys'. Brandon Jennings who Joe D traded for, is currently rehabilitating from a torn Achilles, and has seen his future in Detroit put in question after the acquisition of Reggie Jackson. Kyle Singler, who was one of the only consistent players on Dumars' roster was shipped to Oklahoma, Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome are both enjoying a renaissance in Celtic green, and Greg Monroe could be on his way out after this season. Along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond, we ever so briefly witnessed the team Joe Dumars helped create.
While by no means a 2004 replicate, it is clear to see Dumars' influence on the Back to Work Pistons, and the players are not the only ones hoping to see Joe back in a front office, with Stan Van Gundy also endorsing his predecessor:
"Joe is a class guy who did a great job and had a ton of success," Van Gundy said. "Anytime you get good people in the league it is good for the league so yeah absolutely. Joe has a good track record. Hopefully if that is what he wants to do he will get another opportunity."
Despite having been relieved of his position for almost a year, Dumars hasn't yet found another NBA home, although the New Orleans Pelicans had previously shown some interest in the Louisiana native midway through the season. Wherever Joe decides to continue his executive career, I'm sure he'll be recognized as the great basketball mind he really is. Good luck Joe, and thanks for the memories.
Grand Rapids and Detroit enjoying new basketball relationship
Much like its NBA affiliate, the Drive won't be making the playoffs this year, but has plenty to be proud about, with Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy taking advantage of the D-League to instill their own game plan and help develop players. As MLive's Peter J Wallner explores, the relationship between the two teams is at an all-time high as they have accomplished all of the goals they had set themselves for the current season.
The Pistons used their D-League affiliate to their advantage this year, with four Motown players suiting up for the Drive over the course of the season and putting up solid number for Grand Rapids. Although two are no longer with the team (Luigi Datome & Tony Mitchell), their performances in the D-League predicted their future career paths, much like it did for Quincy Miller and Spencer Dinwiddie, who have both shown flashes of potential that have to an extent transcended to the NBA. Jeff Bower, Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith are all happy with the performances of the Drive this season, and stand to use it more often throughout the following years.
The Grand Rapids Drive itself had an interesting season, which much like the Pistons had its share of ups and downs, starting off the season very well with Lorenzo Brown and Willie Reed leading the charge, before stalling midway through the season and never getting back in gear. The team saw its own share of transactions, with Robert Covington and Lorenzo Brown both being given NBA contracts from the Sixers and Timberwolves, respectively, Reed being traded to the Iowa Energy, and the signing and subsequent waiving of Daniel Orton. Otis Smith had a hand in the development of Spencer Dinwiddie and Quincy Miller, updating the Pistons' front office with their progress, leading to Dinwiddie's promotion as the Pistons' backup point guard, and Motown handing a contract to Miller.
Bright things are in store for the Pistons as they look to make their mark on the League, likewise, the Drive are en-route for success as the bond between both teams strengthens over time. Smith and Van Gundy have created a tether between both teams that should not be broken easily, and both shall flourish as they use the tools at their disposal.
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