Hiring Bower as GM first step toward bringing SVG’s promise to life

Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

When Stan Van Gundy advanced his belief that the organizational structure Tom Gores had committed to in hiring him as both Pistons president and coach enhanced the chances for success, it all sounded good.

Three weeks later, at Wednesday’s press conference to introduce Jeff Bower as Van Gundy’s general manager, the first significant piece of supporting evidence was revealed.

The chances that this general manager hands this coach a roster that doesn’t suit his philosophical needs are remote. Van Gundy and Bower have a 25-year relationship built on shared principles, mutual respect and similar paths to the top of their profession.

Beyond that, it circles back to the structure. When Bower scouts talent – professional or amateur – he’ll be doing it with Van Gundy foremost in mind, where a general manager in a more traditional front office might not necessarily put his coach’s interests first.

“In this scenario, understanding how Stan wants to play, understanding his impression of players’ basic skill sets, will allow us to project a successful tenure for a player a little bit easier because we know what he values and we know what he’ll be asked to do,” Bower said. “Stan’s used the phrase: ‘We’re not into collecting talent; we’re trying to build a team.'"

Sometimes, a general manager can get consumed by the desire to amass assets at the expense of roster cohesion – collecting talent over building a team. Today’s NBA, governed by a salary cap, necessitates that some deals are motivated more by financial concerns than pure basketball fit. The Pistons’ new organizational structure won’t insulate them from that reality. But an organization where both the coaching staff and front office are pulling in the same direction should help them avoid the types of mistakes that require that sort of painful correction.

And finding the right complementary parts should become a more achievable objective with a coach and general manager who figure to be on the same page as frequently as Van Gundy and Bower likely will be. As Van Gundy underscored Wednesday, “complementary player” defines the vast majority of NBA rosters.

“I don’t think there’s more – and I think this number is high – there’s probably 50 guys in the NBA you could just put on any team and they’ll be really successful. For the rest of the guys, I really think that in the right situation, with the right fit with their teammates – right fit, right style of play – can be really successful. And in a situation where they don’t have the fit, they look like they can’t play at all. Finding guys that fit the way we want to play and fit our needs as a team, that’s really what the job is for Jeff and for myself is to put that together the right way.

“It’s not just going out and saying, ‘OK, who’s the next most talented guy on the board that you can get?’ I think you run into trouble operating it that way.”

Ever wonder why they can plug journeymen – think Danny Green or Boris Diaw, or Bruce Bowen before them – into the mix in San Antonio to great effect? Sure, it doesn’t hurt playing with Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but it goes beyond that. It goes to a unity of purpose between the coaching staff and front office and a familiarity between Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford, the latter understanding as well as the former who’ll have the best chance to thrive under his direction.

In cases of stark disagreement, Van Gundy admits, his preferences will prevail. He just doesn’t expect those cases to come around very often. That’s why he was determined to land a strong GM, not a puppet. He wanted someone who would help him shape an organizational philosophy that would make decisions much more easily definable. Instill that strength of culture and the decisions almost announce themselves.

So talk about push and pull and “final authority” with him and you’re barking up the wrong tree.

“I think that’s a little overblown,” he said. “What we want is a collaborative process with a lot of hard-working, intelligent people who are thinking and then we use the process to come to a decision. Ultimately, your process and your procedures will make your decision.”

Notice Bower carries the title “general manager,” not “assistant” anything. “This will be Jeff’s front office,” Van Gundy said. “He’ll be the guy running things.”

It’s a big job, all on its own. Probably the most important thing he can do for Van Gundy, once October rolls around, is boil down what he does in a 12- or 16-hour workday into a 15-minute conversation that allows Van Gundy to funnel his energy into coaching the basketball team. That places enormous trust on Bower.

Which is why Van Gundy made good on his vow at the time of his hiring to surround himself with the best and brightest.

It sounded good at the time. Jeff Bower’s hiring was a big first step toward translating it into action.