One of Pistons owner Tom Gores’ mantras, often cited by Stan Van Gundy: “The process makes the decision for you.”
So Van Gundy doesn’t anticipate any sweaty palms or heart palpitations when Adam Silver steps to the podium Thursday night to ring the bell on the 2015 NBA draft.
“It’s sort of a drama-free draft night,” Van Gundy said Monday as he and general manager Jeff Bower took questions about the draft and the off-season beyond Thursday night. “I mean, hopefully my biggest decision on that night is do I have the chicken or the beef.”
“When the draft unfolds, our board will do the selection for us,” Bower said. “And we’ll take the highest-ranked name on our draft board to make that selection.”
What that board represents is thousands of man-hours of serious work. It starts with Bower and his front-office team, including assistant GM Brian Wright, who heads up the scouting department for college and international prospects. Van Gundy dived in immediately after the Pistons season ended in mid-April.
The Pistons, Van Gundy said, have brought 51 players to Auburn Hills for predraft workouts and interviews. Beyond that, they’ve conducted interviews via Skype with another considerable list of prospects. And Van Gundy said the Pistons have scheduled one more workout for Tuesday.
“Virtually everybody in this draft – almost everybody – we’ve talked to.”
The Pistons are comfortable they’ll get a player they like, Van Gundy said, but they aren’t counting on their first-round pick to be a rookie starter. With close to $20 million in cap space – and a cap exception for teams that go into July 1 under the cap also available to them – Van Gundy is counting on filling the last open position in his starting lineup, small forward, via free agency or trade.
“We have our top eight,” he said. “We’d be happy with any one of those and you’ve got to get one of those.”
The likelihood of the Pistons picking somewhere other than No. 8 – higher or lower – is minuscule, both Van Gundy and Bower said. There have been various speculative reports that the Pistons are shopping their pick. Van Gundy wouldn’t close the door on any possibility, but he didn’t leave much of a crack on that last one
“The one thing we are firm on is – minus a superstar being available – we won’t trade out of the draft,” Van Gundy said. “For your salary structure and everything else, it’s too important. It’s probably unlikely that we trade back, but it’s not impossible.”
“All these discussions this week, especially with other GMs, really start to get more crystallized,” Bower said. “All of the rumors will eventually cease and everybody will probably stay right where they’re at.”
In the next 72 hours, the draft board that will make the decision for Van Gundy and Bower gets finalized. It isn’t put together with any anticipation of who might get picked ahead of them.
“So somebody we know won’t be there at eight might not even be in our top eight, because we wouldn’t pick them there,” Van Gundy said. “Our board is constructed the way we would pick them.”
Van Gundy acknowledged that the strength of the draft around the No. 8 pick happily coincides with the roster need at small forward. But he said the Pistons won’t reach for a small forward just to fill that need. If a point guard or center, for instance, is rated ahead of the next best small forward available, the Pistons wouldn’t hesitate to go that route. But if they consider the gap insignificant – if the two players are ranked in the same draft tier – then positional need would win out.
But that, too, is already built into the draft board.
“We would have already flipped it on our board,” Van Gundy said. “We’re not going to take a step down in terms of what we think the quality of the player is just to get a position fit. But if it’s close, then we’ll flip it. But, like Jeff said, that will be done on the board ahead of time.”
In a sense, the trade for Ersan Ilyasova makes the philosophy of drafting the best player available a little easier to follow. Before adding Ilyasova – whom Van Gundy is counting on as his starter at power forward – the Pistons had two starting spots to fill. Now it’s just the one. And their cap space gives them ample ammunition to fill it.
Another reason Van Gundy can joke about menu selection being the most stressful moment of draft night for him. The process will make the decision. And he has complete confidence that the work he and his staff have logged ensure the quality of the process.