Note: This story was originally published April 10, 2018. It has been edited to reflect the fact that Stan Van Gundy has been fired by the Detroit Pistons.
For 99 percent of you reading this, this was no surprise given the basketball we Pistons fans have been subjected to and forced ourselves to watch the past few months. To put it simply, it has been a maddening season — an unimaginable level of frustration since October.
From the highs of beating teams like Golden State and Boston. ON. THEIR. HOME. FLOORS. To getting blown out by the Mavericks, Magic and Memphis. Even when the team was riding win streaks, it never felt real. And that lack of stability and comfort made way for frustration.
Maddening is also a good way to describe how the fan base feels about Stan Van Gundy, whose voice in the locker room seems to be falling on deaf ears no matter the octave. That gravelly voice might not be around forever — heck, it might be gone two games from now.
It’s now one playoff appearance in four seasons for Van Gundy, a cold fact that stands in the way of even his biggest supporters, and one that is hard to argue against. Sure, he has had some bad luck, suffering significant injuries to Reggie Jackson two years in a row, a guy he only moved for after Brandon Jennings tore his Achilles. Also losing Jon Leuer most of this year didn’t help, especially problematic after trading away Marcus Morris. But head coach Van Gundy really only has president Van Gundy to blame for not having bodies to replace those that went down to injury (Ish Smith can only take one so far).
So, IF (mind you, very big IF, since he only has one year left on his contract) the Pistons do decide (or Stan decides) that it is time to move on, then the question becomes who do you bring in to replace him as a head coach. Who makes sense. Thankfully I’ve got loads of time to research NBA coaching candidates instead of watching tape on college college players ... you know, since Van Gundy traded away that first-round draft pick.
Here are my top 5 picks that make the most sense for Detroit.
Jerry Stackhouse, Raptors 905 G-League Coach
It almost feels like cheating to put Stack first on this list. His work with the Raptors G-League team has been impressive, leading them to the championship in 2016-17 and a coach of the year award. What’s made his coaching skills look even better is seeing guys from that same G-League team make up the very fun and impressive 2017-18 Toronto Raptors bench, guys like Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and of course Fred Van Vleet. Also doesn’t hurt that Stack is a notable Piston alum, making two All-Star appearances with Detroit and routinely averaging over 20 points a game while playing in Motown. It would certainly be a feel-good story to see him start his NBA head coaching career in Detroit, but with teams like the Knicks and Bucks already circling him, it’ll be interesting to see if Detroit has a shot.
David Fizdale, former Memphis Grizzlies Head Coach
UPDATE: Hired by the New York Knicks
To me, Fiz is a perfect combo of a players coach and someone who knows how to work a team with two superior big men. He did good work in Memphis figuring out how to utilize Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Not to mention he also spent significant time in Miami working with Erik Spoelstra and the “Heatles” using LeBron and Bosh simultaneously. Hopefully he could do the same with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Also, the “take that data” content would be great for Pistons Twitter.
Stephen Silas, Charlotte Hornets Assistant Coach
Silas is a young guy with an NBA pedigree: his dad Paul is a three-time champion that coached in the NBA for nine years. He also got a test drive on the sideline this year when he stepped in as interim head coach for Charlotte for six weeks. While those six weeks really didn’t result in anything eye-catching, the real reason I have him at number two is for two guys: LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Silas was an assistant in Cleveland from 2003-05, right when LeBron entered the league and then was with the Warriors from 2006-2010, right when Steph entered the league. He worked extensively with both players, and both of them have sung his praises whenever his name is brought up. After the tough-love of SVG the past few years, a more player-driven approach might be the change the Pistons locker room needs.
Monty Williams, OKC Thunder Assistant 2015-16
I’ve been on the Monty Williams candidate train for a solid two months now because, similar to Silas, this is a coach who has worked closely with young superstars like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis and left a lasting impact on them. The Pistons locker room is still relatively young, and I feel like Monty is a guy that commands universal respect because of those player relationships. I’ve always thought he got unfairly fired in New Orleans after catching the Warriors juggernaut in the first round of the playoffs, right when they were starting to hit the national scene. I’d love to see what he could do wit our roster in Detroit.
Tony Bennett, Virginia Head Coach
I honestly didn’t even consider this as a possibility until the loss to UMBC. I know it’s a long shot, but if there’s anytime for this guy to figure “fuck it” and make the jump to the NBA, now has to be it right? It is certainly not a bad idea to change scenery after suffering the most historic NCAA tournament loss ever. Bennett gets a fresh start, builds on the Pistons already great defense wit his own superior defensive knowledge, and gets to start his NBA head coaching career. We can probably get him on the cheap too. Win win?
Look I don’t want to be that hometown blogger rooting for someone to lose their job, it’s not a good look. But the fact remains that this franchise is sitting in a somewhat dangerous spot, sporting a roster that is locked in financially for a minimum of 3 years before receiving any type of flexibility. Rather than waste another year of development, why not bring in a new voice sooner than later. Stan Van Gundy has already said he’s going to retire if his contract isn’t extended, and realistically what would it take for an extension: the second round of the playoffs? That’s it?
Given the record SVG has produced, questioning his replacement doesn’t seem excessive or unnecessary, it seems realistic.
He has improved this roster from what it was, there’s little ways to argue against that. But his coaching style is polarizing, and his fringe signings have created mini-anchors that hurt this team more than necessary. If the Pistons decide it’s time to move on, it is because a new voice is needed.