4 seasons later, Pistons have more sizzle to sell to coach, president candidates

Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy didn’t achieve ultimate success with the Pistons, but his contributions make the jobs he leaves open more attractive to the best candidates.
Ezra Shaw (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – There are times when the firing of a coach or top executive is akin to the admission of a mistake, an unspoken “we blew it with that hire” undercurrent. This isn’t one of those times.

“Although we did not get the success both of us wanted,” Pistons owner Tom Gores’ statement on the decision to part ways with Stan Van Gundy as president of basketball operations and coach concluded, “his efforts and leadership have put the franchise in better shape today than when he came on board.”

That last part – “in better shape today than when he came on board” – is undeniable. And it’s why the searches for a new president of basketball operations and head coach should appeal to the best available candidates this time around.

These Pistons have the makeup of a 50-win team given reasonably good health and a fair bounce or two. They won 44 two seasons ago – the last not ravaged by serious injury – and this roster is well better than that one.

Those Pistons – the Pistons Gores was selling to prospective executives and coaches four years ago – had averaged 28 wins over the previous five seasons.

Four coaches had been fired in the previous 36 months. The roster, aside from a very raw 20-year-old Andre Drummond, had few selling points and, indeed, only six players from the team Van Gundy inherited remain employed in today’s NBA and only two – Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – as starters.

Gores combined the front office and coaching roles the last time around after being taken aback at the divide he saw between the staffs of the previous administration over his first three years as Pistons owner. It also should be noted that the coaching job Gores had to offer at the time wasn’t going to be of interest to a coach with the credentials of Van Gundy, who by all accounts could have had the Golden State job. Giving him the chance to staff the front office with people who ensured a harmonious relationship with the coaching side closed the deal.

That iteration of the Pistons also didn’t have the guiding hand of Arn Tellem. Tellem, one of the pioneering giants of modern-day sports agents, is as well connected in basketball circles as it gets. He’ll be vital in streamlining the search processes for Gores. His reputation and insights will both help ensure a vibrant candidates list and winnow it to a workable number to present for Gores’ consideration.

Tellem, who quarterbacked the massively complex move from The Palace to Little Caesars Arena in short order and has elevated Pistons business operations to another level, has too much on his plate to be involved in day-to-day basketball decisions. But he’ll be instrumental in preserving and building upon the culture of cooperation between the coaching, front office and business aspects of the Pistons.

Van Gundy leaves his successor a roster that includes a bona fide superstar, Blake Griffin, who only needs to avoid the nagging injuries of the past four seasons to resume his annual visits to All-Star games. Coupled with Drummond – now 24 and a two-time All-Star coming off his best season with more to come – the Pistons will go into virtually every game with a power advantage.

Before missing chunks of the last two seasons with unrelated injuries – another way of saying they shouldn’t affect his future production – Reggie Jackson had established himself as a top-10 point guard in a golden era at the position. The Pistons can put two 40-plus percent 3-point shooters on the wings in Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard. There are 12 players under contract who were in the rotation for at least part of last season.

That’s a long way of saying the Pistons take their two open positions to market with a lot more persuasive force than they had to offer four years ago. There are never any guarantees in filling these jobs, but Tom Gores will rest easy knowing that he’ll be able to staff the openings created by parting ways with Stan Van Gundy with a field of qualified and enthusiastic candidates this time around.

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