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SVG: Pistons have 'right things going for our future,' bolstered by adding key vets Tolliver, Anthony

It's not that Stan Van Gundy didn't have "winning games" on his first-year agenda. It's just that he knew there were foundational issues to address first, things that necessarily precede winning, or at least winning in a way that can be sustained.

"Getting our front office in order and getting the culture right were bigger things even than winning games this year," he said as the Pistons went into a weekend where they won two more. "I'm happy with both of those areas right now. It feels like it should now. I'm very optimistic about that. We can concentrate on just trying to get better every day and win games."

Van Gundy prioritized character right up there with perimeter shooting when he considered ingredients to add upon his first venture into free agency. The five free agents he signed – Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler, D.J. Augustin, Cartier Martin and Aaron Gray – all hit the mark, he felt. But two subsequent additions, Joel Anthony and Anthony Tolliver, have provided textbook definitions of "professionalism" since joining the roster.

Anthony was added during the preseason, traded from Boston for Will Bynum, once it became clear that the "cardiac epidose" Gray experienced in a late-August workout would sideline him indefinitely. The Pistons eventually waived him to clear a roster spot they needed to add a backup big man. Tolliver came from Phoenix in a Christmas eve trade for little-used Tony Mitchell after falling out of the rotation in Phoenix.

If Van Gundy had coded the things he wanted in roster additions into a computer, it would have spit out the profiles for Anthony and Tolliver. I asked him about those two players on Friday after the morning shootaround at Indiana and his answer went on, uninterrupted, for 90 seconds.

"Unbelievable – just really, really professional, positive guys who work every day to keep themselves ready to play," he began.

Tolliver has played in every game since the Pistons won at Cleveland on Dec. 28, though he's on the fringe of the rotation and sometimes plays in the first half but not in the second. Anthony's role is even less prominent. Van Gundy has turned to him when Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe gets in foul trouble or when he's dissatisfied with the defensive intensity or execution, but it's not unusual for Anthony to sit for all 48 minutes.

Tolliver played 22 minutes in the comeback win at San Antonio, scoring a key hustle basket and grabbing five rebounds. His 15 points keyed the comeback from 23 down against Atlanta when the Pistons had a chance to force overtime. He scored 16 in Saturday's win over Philadelphia, providing 24 critical minutes when Van Gundy needed his bench on the eighth game in 12 days. Anthony's best moment came when he helped turn the Dec. 30 win at Orlando into a rout with six points, three rebounds and four blocked shots in the fourth quarter, but he's provided virtually mistake-free basketball whenever Van Gundy needs him and is a shot-blocking force.

"They're able to deal with that uncertainty of minutes because of their professionalism," Van Gundy said. "Those guys are model guys, which not only helps our team but those are the kind of guys – and Caron (Butler) we've talked about all year – that we want our young guys around and observing and understanding this is what professionalism is."

Ask their teammates about them and the answers come fast and easy. The trust and affection they've won in short order is obvious.

"Two hard-working guys, bring energy every day," Augustin said. "Practice, make the big men better, and they play two different games. They help us out in many ways and they're great teammates and great people. That's what we're surrounding ourselves with. Coach is building this team with great character guys."

"Those guys are great at being a professional," Meeks agreed. "They never really know how much playing time they'll get, but when their number is called, they're always ready. So it kind of trickles down to everybody on the team and everybody is ready when their number is called."

While there was a clear, if limited, role waiting for Anthony when the Pistons made the October trade for him, it was less certain how Tolliver would be used. Even Van Gundy admitted it would be a wait-and-see proposition with Jonas Jerebko elevated to full-time rotation status in the wake of Josh Smith's waiving.

But Van Gundy has found room for both Jerebko and Tolliver, using Jerebko first off the bench – usually six to eight minutes into the first quarter – and then going off of results and matchups. Jerebko, because he's now battling against bigger power forwards more often, sometimes experiences foul trouble – as happened in Saturday's win over the 76ers – which thrusts Tolliver, whom Van Gundy feels can guard strong low-post forwards like David West a little more effectively, into the mix.

Van Gundy had a strong hunch Tolliver would be able to adapt to the uncertainty of his role based on first-hand reports he got from assistant coach Bob Beyer and pro scout Adam Glessner, each of whom worked with Tolliver last season in Charlotte.

"We've got a lot of guys who are professionals that are ready to play," Tolliver said. "Whenever the minutes are sporadic, we have guys that are professionals and know their roles. If we're only playing a few minutes or playing 20, however many you're playing, if you go out there and impact the game, it's going to be a positive thing for your team."

This is Tolliver's eight team in his seven NBA seasons, signed originally by the Spurs after going undrafted out of Creighton. He's seen all types of locker-room dynamics. He likes what he's seen in his three-plus weeks as a Piston.

"We have a culture of hard work and a bunch of guys that want to play the game and play well and not just go out there and earn some money but go out there and win games," Tolliver said. "I've only been here (13 games), but ever since I've been here we've definitely had a lot of guys contribute at a high level and having fun."

If having fun follows winning games, Van Gundy is just as certain that winning games follows creating a winning culture and a stable environment. On that count, at least, he's ready to proclaim the first half of his first Pistons season a raging success.

"I'm really, really happy with the guys we have here right now," he said. "I'm really, really happy with our culture and how guys are working. We've got the right things going for our future."