Stan Van Gundy admits it wasn’t his idea to sign Boban Marjanovic. But the Pistons had a decent pile of money left to spend in free agency and no one else had yet to approach Marjanovic with an offer sheet because, well, that’s the nature of restricted free agency.
But then San Antonio signed Pau Gasol, which meant the Spurs would need to squirm and contort themselves to both match an offer sheet and comply with cap limitations. And it didn’t taken Van Gundy long to warm to the idea of adding a 7-foot-3 giant with nimble feet, great hands and other attributes men of Marjanovic’s size rarely possess.
Van Gundy sequestered himself and … cue the videotape.
“Offensively, I knew how good he was,” Van Gundy said Tuesday morning as the Pistons introduced Marjanovic, who’ll back up Andre Drummond and Aron Baynes at center – giving the Pistons enviable depth at the position – next year and protect the Pistons a year from now if Baynes opts out of his contract and gets lured elsewhere by a contract the Pistons can’t match. “I sat down to really watch his defense and what I saw was two things.
“Number one, a guy who’s very smart defensively. Really understands angles and who he needs to contest shots on. And he gives great effort – really gives great effort – and then obviously he’s just tough to score on around the rim. People convert less than half their layups against him. Gives us a great rim protector.”
At the bottom of it, the Pistons got their backup to Drummond for 2017-18 and 2018-19 this summer instead of next because (a) they had the cap space to do it this year and likely won’t next summer and (b) as assistant general manager Jeff Nix said Tuesday, next year’s free-agent class of centers is woefully thin.
That tells you two things about the Pistons: They have a front office that balances the present and the future and they have an owner in Tom Gores willing to commit to an unusually large contract for someone who for the coming season slots in as the No. 3 center. The guy who filled that role for the Pistons last season, Joel Anthony, played 96 minutes – two NBA games’ worth – all of last season, 25 of them in the regular-season finale at Cleveland when both teams rested all five starters.
“Tom’s always committed,” Van Gundy said. “Whatever’s best for our team. He certainly understood the advantages of making this move going forward.”
The Marjanovic signing dots the I and crosses the T on the Pistons’ off-season. Drummond signing his contract extension, now that the Pistons have spent up to the cap, is a formality. The only minor uncertainty left is identifying the No. 3 point guard with Lorenzo Brown, coming off a strong Summer League performance and playing on a non-guaranteed contract, the leader in the clubhouse.
Van Gundy had Marjanovic – who becomes the second-tallest Pistons player ever after 7-foot-5 Chuck Nevitt (1985-88) – in his office earlier Tuesday, showing him the depth chart. It struck Marjanovic as funny that coming from the Spurs – where he was a relative youngster at 27 – that he’ll be one of the elder statesmen on the Pistons, whose oldest player is now Aron Baynes, 29, followed by Ish Smith, who turned 28 last week.
“Not only is Boban a very good player, but as I was going over with him today, we’ve got virtually our entire roster now locked in for at least the next three years,” Van Gundy said. “We think it’s a group that can grow together.”
The major question looming for the Pistons will be the contract status of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can become a restricted free agent next July if an extension isn’t negotiated before Oct. 31. Baynes’ ability to opt out and hit the market next summer – a near certainty, given the escalation of salaries caused by rising revenues and the triggering of a rising cap – is the only other question the Pistons face next off-season.
Marjanovic has played professionally since he was 14, went undrafted in 2010 but grew into one of Europe’s top big men while playing in his native Serbia. The Spurs added him last summer – a reaction in part to losing Baynes in free agency to the Pistons – and he was very good in a limited role.
Marjanovic shot 60 percent from the field and 76 percent from the free-throw line. His per-36 minute averages of 21.0 points and 13.7 rebounds were eye catching. Nix said the Pistons had seven different scouts weigh in on Marjanovic and the composite painted a glowing picture of his productivity and roster fit.
“There were only 11 times he played 15 minutes or more,” Van Gundy said, “and he scored in double figures 13 times.”
Marjanovic quickly became a fan favorite in San Antonio, known for an amiable personality that shines through his heavily accented English.
“Ready to be a part of this team,” Marjanovic said with Van Gundy seated at his side. “He gives me that opportunity to come here to try to make this team better and I give my best back.”