Stan Van Gundy striving to make Detroit a free-agent destination
For years the Pistons weren't considered a prime free agency landing spot. With the lack of star-studded interest in the team, Detroit took high-risk flyers on the likes of Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith, hoping to find a winning combination that would propel the team from the Eastern Conference's cellar. The added coaching carousel combined with reports of locker room unrest served as a deterrent for free agents looking for the right situation.
Since the arrival of coach and executive Stan Van Gundy, things have changed. Detroit got rid of an underperforming and overpaid Josh Smith, flipped a bench warming Tony Mitchell for a sharp-shooting Anthony Tolliver, traded for Reggie Jackson and then re-signed the guard to a 5-year, $80 million contract, drafted several solid pieces and gave chances to veterans and young bloods alike. More importantly, however, he let the players know that Detroit would be their home, no matter how long they spend as a Piston.
A newly acquired Reggie Jackson experienced first-hand Van Gundy's player-friendly approach, as The Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis explains. Towards the end of the season, Jackson's father was admitted to hospital in Colorado, and the guard was conflicted as to how to approach the situation, he was in a contract year, under pressure to perform in a new system and didn't want to let him team down in their upcoming matchup with the Raptors.
Pistons president-coach Stan Van Gundy eased Jackson's concerns. He even told Jackson to take the team plane to Colorado Springs.
"It was weird for me, personally, because I was playing for my contract, but the team obviously told me don't worry about that, just make sure everybody's good and they understand. That was crazy for me to even have to sit there and try to contemplate what was right to do — especially when most people in the office told me they would have immediately jumped on the plane with no thought about it — and that's kind of how this organization is run. It made me realize it was something special. It wasn't about winning games. It was about taking care of your loved ones."
Jackson said he was already sold on the Pistons' organization, but how he was treated while undergoing a personal crisis solidified his thought process: He was going to spend the next portion of his career with the Pistons.
However it isn't just potential All Stars who receive that treatment. Stan Van Gundy wants to make Motown a place players feel special, and that starts from the beginning.
"We heard of places — I'm not going to name any names — bring the guys in for workouts and literally hand them a sack lunch and say thanks on the way to the airport," Van Gundy said. "We don't want that to be us.
"These guys come back around, and you've got to build a substantive reputation that people know this is a good place. We're trying to follow Tom's model on that and I think it will produce people over time. People are going to want to play here."
The Pistons of course brought in 51 players for pre-draft workouts, of those 51, two were drafted (Stanley Johnson & Darrun Hilliard), one was brought in for a second workout (Terran Petteway) and another was invited to the team's Summer League roster (Julian Washburn). Motown has also called up their D-League affiliate's best player (Adonis Thomas) in for a shot at the roster after competing in Summer League play, showing potential prospects that hard work is rewarded.
A player friendly front office handing out player friendly contracts, promoting a player friendly environment. The approach has so far yielded positive results, and has shifted the Pistons from a dysfunctional cellar dwelling team to one with talent and huge potential.
Reggie Bullock's defense will determine whether he survives roster predicament
A former All-Star with knee issues, a career sharpshooter looking to bounce back from their worst season as a pro, and a young, hungry, driven D-League player. Reggie Bullock's competition for the final roster spot will test him as he looks to carve himself a role on a stacked Pistons squad. Detroit certainly improved offensively over the offseason with the addition of Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and Reggie Jackson. Both draftees Darrun Hilliard and Stanley Johnson are expected to become solid 3&D type players, and the team features only one defensive minded player in an aging Joel Anthony. Danny Granger's calling card was always shooting, Cartier Martin has never been known for his defense, and some believe Adonis Thomas can become a three-point specialist... Reggie Bullock was projected as a tenacious defender and solid shooter from deep when he was drafted 25th overall in 2013. He shot 38.7% in three years in North Carolina, including 43.6% in his final season, and averaged 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks per 36 for the Clippers and Suns during limited action in 2015.
The former Tar Heel's defensive ability will be the x-factor that determines whether or not he makes the final cut, especially if he displays good shooting touch. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stands as the team's only defensive and offensive presence on the wings, with Marcus Morris expected to provide some toughness alongside him. However, there is no saying how ready Johnson and Hilliard are to contribute on both sides of the ball, and there are not many defensive presences on the roster. Reggie Bullock has the opportunity to not only claim the last spot on the team, but earn himself a meaningful role and minutes should he start unlocking the potential that makes him such an intriguing prospect.
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