The right man for 2 jobs: Pistons hand keys to SVG

With nearly all of his important hires completed, Stan Van Gundy is ready to focus his efforts on coaching the 2014-15 Pistons
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

It wasn’t a power grab by Stan Van Gundy, taking two coveted NBA jobs off the market with one signature on the contract offered him by Pistons owner Tom Gores. He wasn’t sitting at a press conference in Auburn Hills instead of San Francisco because the Golden State Warriors wouldn’t go quite as high to do one job as the Pistons went for him to wear two hats.

No, it wasn’t the power or the money. It was the chance for success that the power the Pistons have consolidated in his hands represented.

“I think the position gives us a chance to create the most unified organization in sports,” Van Gundy said as the Pistons introduced him Thursday. “That’s what the dual role is all about. I came into the NBA in an organization like that in Miami with Pat Riley running it and I think there are tremendous advantages there.”

What modesty prevented him from saying to complete the sentence and square the circle was … “in the right hands.”

That’s where Gores and his trusted lieutenants with Platinum Equity who led the search for a new president of basketball operations and new head coach come in. They didn’t set out specifically to find one brilliant person to fill both jobs, necessarily. But Gores knew he wanted more of a connection between the court and the front office than he’d felt existed over the first three years of his Pistons ownership.

And when Van Gundy came to Los Angeles to talk about the broad possibilities for a franchise whose roster that begins with young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, the stars aligned.

Van Gundy came in and won the room with insights about the Pistons as they exist and how he would remake them. They talked and talked some more. He had a thick playbook with him – not Xs and Os, but more of a thinking man’s guide for putting together a winning organization – that started Gores’ wheels spinning.

There was his answer, Stan Van Gundy, 6½ hours after the meeting begun.

“It is a big enough job to be a coach,” Gores said. “I don’t think just anyone can handle it. Stan is unique. It’s a very big job, but I’m convinced he will pull it off. I personally love the idea that the floor is connected to the front office.”

One thing that struck Gores, who sat in on two rounds of coaching interviews that produced Lawrence Frank and Maurice Cheeks: Van Gundy came in not spouting rigid philosophy but dissecting what the Pistons had and how he would make it work, now and into the future.

“The important thing about Stan is it really wasn’t about his system,” Gores said. “Some coaches come in and have one view of how basketball is played. Stan looked at, ‘This is what you have. How do I make this work?’ He’s putting our puzzle together.”

That puzzle starts with those two young big men. Van Gundy spoke at length with Drummond, now in Spain doing some NBA promotional work, and was struck by his curiosity for Van Gundy’s ability to help take him to another plane.

“There’s nothing about Andre Drummond that doesn’t appeal to me,” said the man who coached Shaquille O’Neal in Miami and Dwight Howard in Orlando. “We have a responsibility to put a system and personnel around him that allow him to thrive.”

Van Gundy spoke at length Thursday with David Falk, agent for the restricted free agent-to-be.

“I value Greg highly. I think he’s one of the elite big men in this league,” Van Gundy said. “He has a very high skill level. He can pass the ball, He can score the ball in the low post. And I want them to know I value him highly.”

It wasn’t a day to go up and down the roster, but Van Gundy also mentioned Josh Smith – he said, “I’m not sure there’s a better group of three bigs anywhere in the Eastern Conference” – and Brandon Jennings as among the assets that can help launch a turnaround from 29 wins to … well, something better, and quickly.

“The thing that impressed me about Stan is he really understands building for the future while winning,” Gores said. “We have to compete every single year. I would never have a conversation with Stan that says we’re not a playoff team this year.”

“I’ve never gone into a game I’ve coached I didn’t expect to win,” Van Gundy said. “Not one time. Year one, two major goals: First is we really start to create the culture that will lead us to sustained success. And then we want to get better every day.”

Tom Gores was pretty sure Thursday qualified as a day the Pistons got better.

“This is the defining moment,” he said. “It is the most important decision we have made as an organization. Not only did we hire a coach and president of basketball operations, we are resetting the culture of the franchise. I am convinced – I am so confident – this is going to work.”