Bower: Pistons met their goals in free-agent haul
Andrew D. Bernstein (NBAE/Getty)
The collective bargaining agreement that emerged from the 2011 NBA work stoppage changed the way front offices do business. Bad contracts became more toxic than ever, given the more punitive penalties for wading into luxury-tax territory. As teams are more cautious in doling out long-term deals, an increasing number have taken significant cap space into subsequent off-seasons.
The Pistons went into July 1 with about $13.5 million in cap space. A few years ago, that would have made them one of the off-seasons’s major players. This year, it put them in the middle of the pack. So Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower plotted their course accordingly. Figuring that the market would move slowly at first while LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony distracted half the teams with cap space, the Pistons – swinging for singles and doubles, as Van Gundy characterized it – sprinted from the gates.
Long before the sun set on free agency’s opening day, the Pistons had reported agreements in place with two free agents. A week into the process, that list stretched to five.
“We had identified a small group of players that we felt really had all the qualities that we were looking for,” Bower told me this week. “They addressed holes we wanted to help fill on our roster and fit the plan we wanted to follow. We wanted to come out strong and make them understand what we were all about and show them how important they were to us in our plans moving forward and that was our approach.”
Perhaps the first free agent in the entire league to reach an agreement with any NBA team – at least the first widely reported – was Jodie Meeks. Coming off a career year with the Lakers in which the 26-year-old shooting guard, a five-year veteran, averaged 15.7 points in 33 minutes a game, Meeks addressed the Pistons’ most glaring need: 3-point shooting. He took more than five of them a game last season and knocked down 40 percent.
But Van Gundy and Bower knew just one elite shooter wasn’t going to fundamentally address the issue. So they capped free agency by adding two more 40 percent 3-point shooters in Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. Collectively, 45 percent of Meeks, Butler and Augustin’s field-goal attempts were triples.
“I think it’s important to have shooters within numbers,” Bower said. “One player won’t stretch a floor out. It’ll change it, but it won’t necessarily stretch it. But when you can put multiple shooters on the floor and have weapons at multiple spots, then you really will start to see all the movement take place and the ease of flow of offense. So it was important to get a number of players that had those traits.”
Coaches universally believe tough-minded teams are shaped by the competitive pitch of their practices. Ask any of the old Bad Boys about the wars waged under Chuck Daly’s watch. Van Gundy is one of a handful of NBA coaches whose practices are known for their intensity. Bringing in five veteran free agents known for their own competitive streaks will further fuel that fire.
“I would say we met the goals we laid out for us (in free agency),” Bower said. “I think we did it in a fashion that we feel like we brought in the right kind of guy. We brought in the right kind of skills. We brought in the number of guys that will change the dynamic of our team. I think we did establish a group that will be competitive in practice, first of all, and build those habits and then be ble to take them out to compete throughout an NBA season. But until you compete daily in practice, it’s hard to expect to be successful competing throughout and 82-game season.”
The execution of Van Gundy’s first foray into free agency as an NBA executive matched to a T the blueprint he laid out publicly before it opened. The “holy trinity,” he said, was players who were “tough, smart and can shoot.”
“We’re comfortable we met those targets,” Bower said. “Now it comes down to executing and to being able to show those qualities on a daily basis and that’s the challenge for all of us. We’ve brought in players who have those ingredients and we’re comfortable and confident in their abilities as players and in their makeup as people. They’re going to provide a valuable and positive contribution.”