The future of Stan Van Gundy should be decided by the end of the week, and from what I can tell the only person who knows what that decision will be is owner Tom Gores.
Truly anything could happen. Van Gundy could completely run it back next season on the premise that a middling team can take the next step with health and a full offseason together on their side. He could get fired as a front office exec but stay on as head coach. He could be presented that arrangement and say he’s not interested in taking a reduced role. He could be asked to remake his front office and chafe at the idea of firing his good friend Jeff Bower.
He could simply be completely relieved of his duties for not delivering on the promise of his huge $32 million deal. The possibilities are somehow equally fascinating, depressing and beside the point.
The four years of Van Gundy’s reign in Detroit has seemingly locked in the Pistons’ future and, most likely, its ceiling.
His first major decision was to pay Josh Smith to go away. It’s a decision that created immediate flexibility but means Detroit will be paying Smith $5.3 million next season and the season after to not be wearing a Pistons uniform.
His next major maneuver was trading minor pieces for Reggie Jackson for the right to eventually give him a major contract in restricted free agency. Van Gundy got his point guard that point guard has suffered a series of injuries that have limited his effectiveness and availability.
Van Gundy let Greg Monroe walk to ensure he had maximum cap flexibility and subsequently blew $63 million on contracts for Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic. The two big men combined for 1,119 total points through two years in Detroit — a cool $31,000 per point.
The struggles of Van Gundy and his player personnel folks are well documented in the NBA Draft. The draft is a crapshoot, of course, but Van Gundy has been on the losing end each season.
He plucked Spencer Dinwiddie, now blossoming in Brooklyn, in the second round but after two lackluster developmental years he got rid of him in favor of veteran third point guards he could trust. He drafted Stanley Johnson over Devin Booker (and Myles Turner). Henry Ellenson looks like a longshot to be a contributor and he passed up the surprise sensation of this NBA season in Donovan Mitchell and instead took sharp shooter Luke Kennard. Kennard actually had a really good rookie year -- Mitchell, though, went supernova.
Most disappointing for me, however, is that Van Gundy has been stunningly ... conventional. He spent two-plus years trying to turn Andre Drummond into a typical post-up big man with disastrous results. He’s run a predictable pick-and-roll attack that lives and dies by the strength of the point guard. Solve the point of attack and you’ve completely solved Detroit’s offense. No secondary ball handlers, little off ball action and a lot of isos at the end of shot clocks leading to long twos.
Van Gundy has loaded up his front office with more bodies than perhaps anybody in the league but don’t have much to show for it. They don’t mine the G League for hidden gems, haven’t developed young talent and I’ll be convinced that they embrace advanced analytics the moment they stop putting Ish Smith, Andre Drummond and Stanley Johnson the floor together.
SVG’s last major move was his most consequential — trading for Blake Griffin. A superstar who might actually be a former superstar. A self-professed “jack of all trades” who forgets that the end of that figure of speech is “master of none.” A high flyer whose highlight dunks are limited to montages of old All-Star weekends and whose 3-point game is definitely a work in progress. Oh yeah, and he’s got an injury history that stretches farther out than Steph Curry’s range and is owed $142 million through 2021.
So fire Stan Van Gundy, right? Yeah, sure, I guess.
Problem is, however, what is the alternative? Pistons fans should be smart enough to know the answer is definitely not “anyone else would be better.”
Pistons fans have been thinking that in some form for the past decade. But Michael Curry begat John Kuester, who begat Lawrence Frank who begat Maurice Cheeks who begat John Loyer. And surely anyone would be better in the front office than the spendthrift Joe Dumars. Fool me once shame on you, fool me six times ....
The fact of the matter is Detroit is not a premier destination for any top tier executives or NBA head coaches. There are no former head coaches people are desperate to hire and no sure fire assistants ready to be the “next big thing” as the lead man.
Van Gundy has provided something not enough people appreciate — normalcy. Detroit is not flailing about wildly from one season to the next. They have installed a quality defense that somehow has ranked above average despite a lack of plus defenders up and down the roster.
Van Gundy has swung smart trades for Anthony Tolliver, Ersan Ilyasova, Reggie Bullock and Tobias Harris. He was prescient enough to re-sign Bullock to a steal of a contract, trusting in his talent when Bullock hadn’t been healthy enough to show enough on the court to make a deal obvious.
He also seems to be getting through to his highly paid All-Star big man Andre Drummond. Already the best rebounder on the planet, Drummond took huge strides this season at the free throw line and on the defensive end. Hell, maybe the Griffin trade was crazy like a fox instead of just crazy and fiscally irresponsible. Maybe.
I’ve spent nearly 900 words on Van Gundy and, frankly, I still don’t know if I want Van Gundy back on the sideline next year. Or maybe I don’t care — which, in it’s own way, is its own damning indictment of his time in Detroit.
Either way, we’re about to find out what the future will bring. One more year for Van Gundy and his self-selected roster to prove their worth, get into the playoffs and actually win a game (or even a series). Or a thank you but your time is up from the venture capitalist owner who hasn’t seen enough of the wins that will result to people finally filling his shiny new downtown arena.
What do you think, Pistons fans? Should Stan Van Gundy return? Do you care?
Do you want Stan Van Gundy to remain a part of the Detroit Pistons organization next year?
This poll is closed
Yes, let him finish his contract as president and head coach and then decide
Yes, as head coach only — Detroit needs a new front office leader
No, it’s time for Stan Van Gundy to go