How SVG’s work in putting an organization together guided Pistons through a crazy July 1: Part II
(Editor’s note: Second of a two-part look at how the Pistons dealt with the turbulent opening hours of free agency on July 1 as they sought to fill their greatest need, small forward.)
Jeff Bower hadn’t been on the job as general manager for even a month for Stan Van Gundy’s first try at NBA free agency on July 1, 2014. Van Gundy and Bower had made a few hires, but there were still miles to go before they’d have a fully staffed front office.
One thing Van Gundy knew he wanted: a robust pro scouting staff. His logic was sound. NBA franchises pour vast resources into scouting for the draft but comparative pennies into scouting players once they reach the NBA. Given the money spent to add free agents compared to rookie deals, Van Gundy thought the investment in a handful of scouts to develop rich databases on pro personnel would pay off tenfold on the back end.
The work of the four full-time dedicated pro scouts – a unit that makes the Pistons unique among NBA teams – who report to assistant general manager Jeff Nix was critical when the Pistons found an alternative to free agency to fill their biggest off-season need, small forward.
When both Danny Green and DeMarre Carroll – widely considered the top two unrestricted free-agent small forwards – reached agreements with other teams in the opening hours of July 1, the Pistons had to make a decision: move on to the next-best free agent or wait out a trade offer.
Bower urged the latter option. It didn’t take him long to find an offer the Pistons felt worthy of superseding any other alternative. But the Pistons also didn’t have long to decide. With the draft, you have months to devour scouting reports, set up a draft board and debate the merits of Player A vs. Player B.
The Pistons had to compress that process into a few hours when Phoenix, intent on creating cap space for the pursuit of prime free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, called to offer a deal lopsided on the face of it: four-year pro Marcus Morris, a former lottery pick, plus Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger, for a second-round pick in 2020. The Pistons logically assumed the Suns were calling several teams with various cap-clearing proposals. They knew the clock was ticking.
But there was no sense of panic, no rush to study video of Morris or conduct a furious background check. Everything Van Gundy needed, he had with a few strokes of computer keys.
“We had a real picture of everybody in the league and it was easy to just go in the database and look at what is there,” Van Gundy said. “There was no scramble whatsoever. When it came up and it needed to be done quickly, we had the work done to be able to very comfortably make that decision in a short amount of time. That wouldn’t have happened without the way those guys grinded all year to be able to get that done. A long process to get to that point that you can feel comfortable responding quickly.”
Van Gundy had not long beforet left a meeting that ran about 2½ hours at the team’s Orlando hotel where they discussed their options when Bower called to give him the outline of the deal. He was in the Orlando home the family still owns there and quickly jumped on his laptop.
“I have my computer in front of me and I just start reading reports,” he said. “The reports gave me a real good picture of (Morris) as a player. We play them twice a year, so I’m watching the two games we play (vs. Phoenix) and probably four or five games before we play. So you’re not watching all that much and you’re watching more on how you guard stuff, especially with the Western Conference guys. But with our scouts watching virtually every game, it’s all right there, including background information and what people who have played with him have to say.”
Nix and Bower compile the information provided by the four pro scouts – Al Walker, Tom Barrise, Rob Werdann and Adam Glessner – into weekly reports that include not only both narrative and statistical analysis but graphs that rank each player on a 1-10 scale in a variety of areas. They can look at the information in snap-shot form or in broader strokes to see a player’s progression – or regression, for that matter.
It didn’t take Van Gundy long to feel he had a comfortable grasp on what Morris would offer. The cost was easy to digest – nothing more than a second-round draft pick five years out. Even the cost to the salary cap – about $8.3 million for the contracts of all three players in year one, then $5 million for Morris alone in each of the next three seasons – wasn’t daunting. In fact, it was a bargain. The only thing Van Gundy really had to decide was if Morris offered the right mix of talent and roster fit. The scouting reports gave him every assurance he did.
“It was a lot different than where we were last summer,” he said. “We were scrambling around.”
Not this time. And all because of the foresight of Van Gundy, the implementation of that vision by Bower and the financial commitment of Pistons owner Tom Gores in funding the aggressive expansion of the Pistons front office.
“A lot of work led to those decisions and a lot of resources made it possible,” Van Gundy said. “We were as prepared as we could possibly have been.”