Stable off-season for SVG’s staff with emphasis on Pistons player development

Assistant coach Aaron Gray is taking on a larger role in player development for Stan Van Gundy’s staff
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – One summer after losing two of their three assistant general managers to promotions with other organizations, the Pistons had a remarkably stable summer.

Associate GM Pat Garrity was linked to general manager openings in Orlando and Milwaukee but returns as No. 2 man in the front office to Jeff Bower. Assistant coach Otis Smith, Stan Van Gundy’s GM for six seasons in Orlando, was reported to be a candidate for an opening as Vlade Divac’s No. 2 in Sacramento but remains a part of Van Gundy’s staff.

Other than that, there was some in-house shuffling and a change in the way the Pistons distribute their workload and how they went about fanning across the country – even the globe – to accommodate the off-season workout schedules of their players.

“We’ve been a little bit of everywhere and covered a little bit of everything,” Van Gundy said before his planned trip to California to check up on Reggie Jackson. “We did it a little differently. We didn’t have anybody where we went and spent every day with them. Our coverage has still been really good and it’s gotten everybody involved in it. Everybody on the staff has been involved seeing guys but nobody’s had their entire summer away.”

In the past, for instance, assistant Malik Allen spent the bulk of his summer in Southern California with Andre Drummond and Bob Beyer there working with Johnson. This year, it’s been “a combination of monitoring them and staying with them but also giving them different voices” where it wasn’t merely one dedicated assistant coach but two or three over the course of the off-season.

So with Reggie Bullock training in Miami, Tim Hardaway spent time with him and Van Gundy had it on his docket. Rex Walters, new to the staff this season after spending last year as coach of the team’s D-League affiliate in Grand Rapids, went to Minnesota to check in on newlywed Jon Leuer, as did assistant Charles Klask. Ex-assistant Brendan Malone makes regular treks from his Queens home to Long Island to monitor Tobias Harris’ workouts.

Head video coordinator T.J. Saint went to Anthony Tolliver’s Frisco, Texas home. Beyer again spent time with Johnson. Hardaway touched base with free-agent signee Langston Galloway. As of late July, the Pistons were waiting for the birth of newcomer Avery Bradley’s child to set up visit plans.

Strength coach Jordan Sabourin even went to Serbia for a week to see Boban Marjanovic. Physical therapist Mark Cranston has been dedicated to Jackson, in Southern California, as he monitors the 16-week therapy protocol for his knee.

The driving force behind the subtly adjusted summer schedule and a reorganization of staff responsibilities was the goal of improved player development.

“One of the disappointments of last year is we didn’t feel like the guys we had improved enough,” Van Gundy said. “So we restructured a little bit. Everybody has to have a big role in player development – everybody in the entire organization – because that’s what matters.”

Smith, one of the early proponents of a robust player development program in the NBA, joined Van Gundy’s staff last season as both assistant coach and head of player development after two years as coach of the D-League Drive. This year, Smith will again fill that role with his emphasis on guiding players, especially younger players, in acclimating to the NBA and the Detroit area.

On-court player development will be directed by Walters and assistant coach Aaron Gray, divided between perimeter players under Walters and big men under Gray. Van Gundy believes the fact both Gray and Walters had long runs as NBA players will help both in earning respect of players and relating to their individual concerns.

“They will coordinate everyone else’s effort, even in the summer when we’re out traveling,” Van Gundy said. Walters and Gray will direct the movements of the staff, including the work of Sabourin and assistant strength coach Louis Thompson with Pistons players.

“It’s a restructuring,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t want to say it’s an overhaul, but it’s a comprehensive focus on player development.”

Van Gundy’s pro and scouting college staffs stayed almost entirely intact with the exception of pro scout Rob Werdann’s move to Grand Rapids to replace Walters and Ryan Winters’ shift from the college to pro staffs to replace Werdann.