This time around, Tim Hardaway was ready to help SVG sell his vision to Pistons

Tim Hardaway plans to help Stan Van Gundy instill in the Pistons the type of toughness and swagger he exuded during his long and celebrated NBA career
Robert Laberge (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Tim Hardaway wasn’t certain he was ready to be a coach the first time around when he contacted Stan Van Gundy, then in Orlando. This time, he’s sure. And he knows exactly what he brings to the equation for a franchise looking to regain its footing.

But nothing Hardaway could offer would be more valuable than conveying the fearlessness and swagger he exuded over a career that might yet see him get to the Hall of Fame. Hardaway calls it “the Chicago in me. Everybody in Chicago – you can ask Isiah (Thomas) this, you can ask Will Bynum. We all play with a chip on our shoulder or with a lot of confidence or with something to prove, because that’s how we grew up.’

If that can be coached – and Hardaway swears it can – then Van Gundy will be that much further down the path toward fielding the type of team he knows Pistons fans will embrace, one that competes for 48 minutes every night and contests every possession.

“You always want to be a person that people in the NBA say, ‘You’ve got to play this guy or he’s going to get 50 on you’ or ‘You’ve got to play this guy or he’s going to embarrass you.’ I just want our guys to go out there and instill the confidence in them to go out and play against anybody. Stan understands that and we’ve got to understand that as a team. We’ve got to go out there and play hard, hard and tough. We’re not going to outscore a lot of people, but we’ve got to play smart and tough.”

Van Gundy doesn’t want his coaches pigeon-holed as offensive or defensive specialists or to work with just a certain position group, but Hardaway unquestionably will spend the bulk of his time with Pistons point guards – all four of them. Brandon Jennings is the incumbent starter, Bynum is the longest-tenured Piston with six years of service and D.J. Augustin is coming off a career year in Chicago.

“Talented point guard, needs to understand how to play the game,” Hardaway said of Jennings, still only 24. “That’s why I’m here, to make him understand what he needs to do out there on the court to help us win. He’s going to be our catalyst. He’s going to be the engine that makes the car go.

“D.J. and Will Bynum, they’ve been in this league a while. They understand how to play this game. D.J. had a fabulous year with the Chicago Bulls. He was their go-to guy. He delivered a lot. He knows how to get a team in the offense and knows how to score and how to make people better, too. Will, he’s up in you full-court, in your face, relentless, tough. Our three point guards bring different things to the table.”

Hardaway has been working hard with the fourth point guard, rookie Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie hasn’t been cleared for full contact yet, but he’s going full speed in drills with Hardaway and expresses supreme confidence that he’ll be ready to play sooner rather than later.

“Good kid. Really good kid. Hard-working kid. You can tell he has a lot of good instincts out there as a point guard,” Hardaway said. “We’ve got to make sure he’s healthy and 100 percent. It’s going to take him a while. He’s going to be frustrated. That’s where the coach comes in and makes him understand, calms him down. I understand you want it now, but you’ve got to chill out and just learn. He’s going to be OK. He’s going to be all right.”

Hardaway crossed Van Gundy’s path near the end of his NBA career with Miami when Van Gundy was an assistant to Pat Riley. He admired his basketball intellect and his straightforward approach with players. When Van Gundy was hired by Tom Gores in mid-May, Hardaway waited two days to text him about his interest in a job. First, he needed to run it past his inner circle.

“I talked to my wife and my two daughters and I said, ‘If I had an opportunity to get an assistant coaching job in Detroit, what do you all think? Don’t answer now. Give it a day, think about it, because this is affecting all of our lives.’ And they came back and told me to go for it. When this time came around, I said this is my opportunity. I’m ready. I told (Van Gundy) why I wanted to become an assistant coach, why I wanted to be on his staff, what I would bring to the table, how I could help his team and help him go far, try to bring a contender here.”

Because Hardaway played the way Van Gundy preaches the game should be played – with that chip-on-the-shoulder toughness – he has a strong sense of the kind of team the Pistons will become.

“They’re going to be prepared out there on the court. They’re definitely going to understand and know what they need to do offensively and defensively,” he said. “Individually, they’re going to understand what they can and what they can’t do, what he wants them to do and what he doesn’t’ want them to do. He brings a tough, rugged, confident mind-set that we’re going to be a hard-working team and that’s what it takes to win ballgames. That’s what he’s going to bring.”