SVG expects improved Pistons – and expects it necessary: ‘We can’t be where we were last year’
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Stan Van Gundy expects the Pistons to be an improved team this season. He thinks they’ll have to be just to make the playoffs. He also thinks 44 wins – which the Pistons attained last season, a 12-win improvement over his first season – is likely to get a team higher than a No. 8 seed.
“You could move up in the East without winning very many more games. If you look at the bottom of the East, those teams have all gotten better. I think that’s the part people miss.”
Van Gundy sees a stronger East, top to bottom. That means not as many “gimme” wins against the bottom-tier teams. The Pistons went 14-4 against the bottom five teams in the East – Orlando, Milwaukee, New York, Brooklyn and Philadelphia – a season ago, 13-2 against the four others besides the Knicks.
“Philly is not going to win 10 games this year. They’re going to win more games – significantly more games,” Van Gundy said. “So that’s taking wins from everybody. If you look at what Brooklyn has done lately in their moves, they’re going to be able to win more games. A lot of those teams that were out of the playoffs – Milwaukee will be better, Orlando will be better, New York will be better. It’ll be harder to put up big victory numbers.
“I could be wrong. I don’t think 44 wins will be the eighth spot. I think we’ll get back closer to where the East has been because the bottom will come up.”
He also expects the East to be tightly contested again, as it was last season, when Cleveland (57 wins) and Toronto (56) separated themselves from the field but the next eight teams won between 48 and 41 games.
“I think it’s going to be very competitive. And I’ve said that to our guys, quite honestly, that we’ll have to be a little bit better just to make the playoffs again. I honestly believe that because of New York, Orlando, Milwaukee, Washington, Chicago – all not in the playoffs – those teams are going to fight. And we were the number eight team. We don’t have a lot of room. So just to get back to where we were will take work, let alone to move up. There’s nothing easy about this.”
But Van Gundy likes his team – a lot. He’s satisfied that the work he hoped would be logged this summer has mostly been completed. Not long after Labor Day, players will start congregating in Auburn Hills from their far-flung off-season workout bases to begin informal team workouts. Coaches can work with players in small groups but can’t conduct full-fledged practices until training camp opens in late September.
The roster will be one of the league’s very youngest with no starter older than Marcus Morris, who turns 27 later this week, and no player older than Aron Baynes, 29. So Van Gundy is banking on natural progression but, leaving nothing to chance, isn’t considering it inevitable.
“That’s exactly right,” he said. “I think that’s our expectation and we haven’t just left it on them. As a staff, we’ve put in a lot of time with these guys this summer. We’ve had coaches out with our guys all summer long. I would expect that we’d be better, but, no, it’s not inevitable. If you don’t put in the time and the effort and the focus, then you’re not going to get better. And if we don’t get better, then you’re never the same in this league. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse because other people are getting better.”
Van Gundy never sets a wins total goal at the start of a season, putting his faith in the day-to-day process that carries a team through the 82-game grind. He expects his best Pistons team yet – one with a young nucleus that returns intact since the February trade-deadline deal for Tobias Harris and one with a bolstered bench thanks to the free-agent acquisitions of Ish Smith, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic.
“I think we can be a better team, but I think there’s a lot of teams in the East getting better. I think the East got a lot better last year. I think it’s going to get better again and it’s going to be harder. We’ve got to control what we can control, which is being as good as we can be. I’m optimistic about the year, but I’m also realistic about the fact that we’re going to have to be better. We can’t be where we were last year.”