Bower extension ensures Pistons’ renaissance under SVG will stay on course
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The first decision Stan Van Gundy made after Pistons owner Tom Gores gave him unique control over the franchise made possible all of the smashingly good decisions that have followed.
Hiring Jeff Bower as general manager established a pattern of smart, thorough, process-driven decision making that has allowed the Pistons to do something franchises not blessed with lottery windfalls have found profoundly difficult – pull themselves from the cycle of failure.
They’ve proven a dynamic team – and they’ll be shoulder to shoulder for the foreseeable future after the Pistons announced a contract extension for Bower to continue as Van Gundy’s bulldog for the day-to-day grind of running a sprawling yet unified and efficient front office.
“I’m grateful to Mr. Gores and Stan for allowing us to continue to move along and to continue to build and grow what we’ve started,” Bower said Monday after observing another Pistons six-player draft workout. “We’ve got a lot of really important people that are part of this and working together to get better and to be more productive is what we’re trying to do. From our staff and all the people in basketball operations, we’re grateful.”
The work of a general manager in today’s NBA is a never-ending, 12-month cycle, but this is an especially concentrated time for Bower with preparation for the draft running parallel to setting a plan of attack in free agency – events that come eight days apart, June 23 and July 1. And as critical as both of those avenues to roster building figure to be for the Pistons, the truth is that Bower’s contributions have come largely through a series of trades that have been lopsided in the franchise’s favor.
Reggie Jackson came for two future second-round picks and two role players. The Marcus Morris deal was a straight-up heist, costing a second-round pick five years down the road. Tobias Harris came for two players likely to be free agents in a few more weeks – one of whom, Ersan Ilyasova, was acquired a year ago for two disposable contracts.
Those four trades appeared out of nowhere, like pop-up storms, but they represent the entirety of a front-office executive’s work – the product of all the relationships built, all the fishing expeditions that only rarely draw a nibble, all the lonely hours poring over the voluminous personnel reports filed by the staff Van Gundy and Bower painstakingly put together.
They had a passing knowledge of each other before teaming up to run the Pistons, springing from their time together as young college assistant coaches on the Eastern seaboard looking for players passed over by bigger fish. But there wasn’t anything in their past that gave Bower the edge over the scores of candidates with credible resumes Van Gundy could have hired instead.
And Bower – who’d been a general manager in a more conventional front-office structure, where the head coach didn’t have ultimate authority – might have wondered how this setup was going to evolve when he agreed to accept the job.
But what’s made it work is that neither Van Gundy nor Bower is motivated by anything but the interests of the organization. To paraphrase a well-worn cliché, there is no “I” in Van Gundy or Bower.
“It’s unfolded in a way that when you have similar values and similar goals and similar approaches, you generally have similar takes on things,” Bower said. “Stan and I have been able to have a lot of experiences over our years that have been very much aligned and in this scenario it’s followed that pattern. Winning players, building a winning team, bringing together groups of people that are able to overcome obstacles is what this has kind of been.”
Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the only two players who predate Van Gundy and Bower as Pistons. Jerry West once said you were a successful NBA executive if your decisions were right 51 percent of the time. It would be tough to identify a wrong decision the Van Gundy-Bower team has made in two-plus years on the job – and they’ve made an inordinately large number of decisions in that time, representing the enormity of the job they found awaiting them.
There are more critical decisions awaiting them to get the Pistons where they want them to wind up. And for the foreseeable future, they’ll be making them together.