SVG on Pistons free agent plans: ‘2 guys we’ll go after hard right away’

When the clock strikes midnight on July 1, Stan Van Gundy’s first course of action will be to call Reggie Jackson. Minutes later, he’ll place two calls to candidates to fill the last remaining open starting berth in the Pistons 2015-16 lineup, small forward.

“At the top, really two guys that we’ll go after hard right away and try to make a big play for that we think are not only good players but really fit with the way we want to play,” Van Gundy said Saturday at The Palace after the Pistons introduced their two 2015 draft picks, Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard.

Johnson will compete for minutes at small forward, where everybody who played a significant role last season has either been traded (Kyle Singler, Caron Butler) or is moving on in free agency (Tayshaun Prince). But Van Gundy wants to get someone with an NBA track record to slot next to Andre Drummond and Ersan Ilyasova rather than entrust a 19-year-old with heavy minutes immediately.

There’s a longer list of accomplished restricted free agent small forwards than unrestricted players at the position this summer. But Van Gundy said the Pistons will go after the unrestricted players first.

“There’s a real advantage in doing the unrestricted first,” he said. “The problem is if you go the other way, the unrestricted guys will virtually certainly be gone, so that’s a huge part of it in terms of strategy. We think there’s a couple of very good unrestricted guys out there that fit what we want and I think we’ll take first shot at them. But also while exploring what’s going on with some of the restricted guys. We think we’ve got some pretty good veteran options if we get beyond those first couple of guys.”

To pursue a restricted free agent, a team has to wait out the one-week moratorium that starts July 1 to present an offer sheet. Then the original team has 72 hours to consider its options and usually takes all of them to disadvantage the other team.

“You could be to the middle of the month and find out you didn’t get the guy,” Van Gundy said. “In the meantime, all these other people have gone off the board.”

Getting Johnson factors to the degree that Van Gundy will feel a little better about Plan C if Plan A – landing one of the two big fish in unrestricted free agency – and Plan B – submitting an offer sheet to a restricted free agent only to have the original team match it – fail.

“What it really does is give you a comfort level that if you don’t hit on those first couple of guys – which, obviously, there’s great competition for – that you can pursue a short-term veteran option and count on (Johnson), say in his third year, of being ready to handle the load. If does give you a comfort level as you go down that those Plan B, Plan C guys are not bad plans.”

The other item on Van Gundy’s free agent to-do list is signing two backup centers. One of them, he hopes, is Joel Anthony.

“I’m really hoping we can keep Joel here,” he said. “We can’t negotiate with him yet, but I do think he knows. I talked to him yesterday again. We’ve told him consistently we would like to have him back here.”

Anthony, who’ll be 33 in August, served as the No. 3 center last season, logging 406 minutes in 49 games. With Greg Monroe likely gone in free agency, Van Gundy wants to sign two quality backups, not a developmental No. 3 with Anthony slotted for regular No. 2 duty.

“We’re going to sign another guy and then we’ll go from there,” he said. “Joel, he’s far from being done, but he’s getting up there in years and we would like to sign a younger guy there, too, and he’s been made aware of that. He understands.”

Van Gundy heads to Orlando on Monday, where the Pistons have four days of practices scheduled before the July 4 Summer League opener. He said Adonis Thomas, who averaged 18.9 points for the D-League Grand Rapids Drive last season, will join Spencer Dinwiddie, Quincy Miller, Johnson and Hilliard as the five players the Pistons will be focused on developing.