A final verdict can’t yet be declared, but 21 months after Tom Gores’ bold stroke to entrust two very big jobs to Stan Van Gundy, you’d feel a lot better presenting the pile of evidence supporting the move to a jury than arguing against it.
You want to review? Yeah, let’s review.
- They’ve executed seven trades. It would be hard to find one that they didn’t win. The least you could say about any of the seven is that they achieved what they’d hoped to accomplish.
The biggest was the trade-deadline deal for Reggie Jackson last season. While Miami was giving up two No. 1 picks for Goran Dragic, a pending free agent who eventually signed for $90 million, the Pistons gave up two future second-rounders and role players Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin for Jackson – a lesser price by degrees of magnitude. Jackson’s four years younger and he signed for $2 million less per season. It’s hard to overstate how far ahead that deal moved the franchise.
The trade for Marcus Morris looked like a no-lose situation for the Pistons when Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower pulled it off last July. Now it looks like grand theft. For the cost of a second-round pick – five years down the road, no less – the Pistons got a player Van Gundy trusts so much that he’s playing more minutes per game than all but five other NBA players through the All-Star break.
He got another starter, Ersan Ilyasova, for nothing but expiring contracts of two players who weren’t going to be back with the Pistons anyway. Anthony Tolliver, an important part of the rotation since the day he arrived in December 2014, cost Tony Mitchell, who hasn’t played in an NBA game since.
Steve Blake helped the Pistons win a handful of games while they waited on Brandon Jennings’ return; he cost them the trade rights of a player they plucked from the D-League last winter, Quincy Miller, now playing in Europe. Will Bynum hasn’t played in the NBA, either, since Van Gundy dealt him to Boston for Joel Anthony, who’s been an eminently reliable third center for two seasons.
Seven trades, seven “mission accomplished” certificates.
- Van Gundy had to dive deep into the free-agent pool in July 2014 about six weeks after getting the job. That first free-agent class has been a little star-crossed. Aaron Gray had to prematurely retire when a heart condition cropped up. Jodie Meeks, a durable player through his first five NBA seasons, missed the first 22 games of 2014-15 with a back injury and all but the first two games this season with a foot injury.
Caron Butler gave Van Gundy what he wanted – a solid player and a veteran presence. The team option on the second year of his contract was the key enabler of the Ilyasova trade.
Similarly, signing Augustin to a team-friendly deal after a hot market for point guards cooled was the key to acquiring Jackson; Oklahoma City, intent on a playoff run, clearly needed an adequate replacement for Jackson to back up Russell Westbrook.
Cartier Martin didn’t meet expectations as a 3-point shooter who never cracked the rotation, but it was a veteran’s minimum deal that cost the Pistons little in missed opportunity.
Aron Baynes, the lone free-agent signing of 2015, has given Van Gundy everything he expected as a backup center.
- In the broad category of player development/fitting players to roles, it’s been a string of successes.
Andre Drummond is coming off his first All-Star appearance. Jackson and Morris have proven themselves worthy of their first opportunities as full-time starters; both have upward ascending career arcs. Stanley Johnson has shown significant progress already as a rookie. Perhaps the shining example is the leaps-and-bounds improvement of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Van Gundy came in with a clear plan and hasn’t strayed from it. He wanted tough, smart players who could shoot. He wanted character to match talent and he wanted the package to come in players compatible with the blueprint built around Drummond. You can see the logic in every personnel move made since he signed on.
- Johnson stands as the only first-round pick Van Gundy’s front office has executed and he oozes special qualities. Off early returns, the 2015 draft class looks like one of the best of its generation. The Pistons went into the draft feeling comfortable that they’d get a good player with the No. 8 pick. They might have come away with a bona fide star.
Both of the No. 2 picks of the past two seasons came at No. 38. History shows that about one-third of players taken in the 30s wind up with meaningful NBA careers. Spencer Dinwiddie has shown flashes when he’s had rare playing opportunities and faces a critical off-season for his NBA future. Darrun Hilliard, getting his first extended run with Caldwell-Pope and Meeks out, has intriguing offensive potential.
Add all of that up and the case is pretty compelling: Those two big jobs Tom Gores gave Stan Van Gundy have been exceptionally well executed nearly two years into their union.