Tom Gores on SVG and getting the Pistons to the playoffs: ‘I think we’re just beginning’

Stan Van Gundy says he needs to better balance holding players accountable without hemming in their creativity.
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

It’s a daily occurrence for Stan Van Gundy and Tom Gores to communicate, if not by phone then via text. The message Van Gundy got from the Pistons owner after coaching them to a playoff berth last week was short and to the point: “You made me look smart.”

True enough. But two years removed from a bold decision to unify the position of coach and chief basketball executive, Gores deserves credit for not only deciding on that rare model but in finding the rare man capable of handling the enormity of dual roles.

Bothered by what he saw as a “disconnect” between the front office and coaching staffs in his first three seasons as Pistons owner, Gores sought first to rectify that situation when he began his job search in May 2014. The model he chose, he said before Tuesday’s regular-season home finale against Miami, has sped the process of bringing back the Pistons.

“I think throughout the league are disconnects between the floor and the front office, but not everybody can do what Stan can do,” he said. “Coach and then think big picture, high level and what’s good for the franchise long term. I thought that was a way to accelerate our progress and I had seen enough in terms of how that can be disconnected. Hopefully, it has, and we’re in the playoffs now.”

The Pistons took a 43-37 record into Tuesday’s game, already an 11-win improvement over Van Gundy’s first season. They’ll open the playoffs – ending a six-season playoff drought and giving Gores his first taste of the postseason since buying the franchise in June 2011 – this weekend on the road. And that’s an important first step, Gores said, but not the end of the road.

“It’s nice to get it off the list,” he said. “It’s an important milestone for the organization and it’s a really important first step. Really proud of the players this year. There is a sense of relief, honestly, that we’ve got our community in the playoffs. The last few years, it’s been hard to disappoint the fans. That’s been probably the hardest thing of being an owner. But it’s pretty exciting and I think we’re just beginning. It’s just a beginning for what I hope is sustained success.”

That idea of rebuilding the team for sustained success goes back to their initial meetings, Gores said.

“When we talked the first time, we said we wanted to win but never sacrifice the future and we didn’t know how that was going to play out. Stan deserves a lot of credit. He came in, really quickly changed the culture. We worked together setting up the organization. When I met with Stan those couple years ago, what he had to say really impressed me. But more importantly now, he just delivers. He’s hard working, dedicated and I think he’s a great role model for our players in terms of preparation.”

Gores admitted there was an element of risk in entrusting front-office decision making to Van Gundy when he’d never filled that role before, but the vibe was so strong in their initial discussions – including a first meeting that lasted seven hours – that it seemed exactly the type of shrewd gamble on which Gores built Platinum Equity to great success.

“I know we took a risk in terms of the front-office side with Stan,” Gores said. “But he really knows basketball. He knows how to assess risk. I’m very proud of him.

“I expected Stan to do it over a certain period of time. I texted Stan the other day. I said, ‘You made me look smart.’ But he’s really doing all the hard work. But I’m not surprised. I knew up-front with him, he was going to lead this process. I’m impressed with all of us now, our fans included, our community. Very excited for the community. That’s probably the biggest thing. You don’t want to disappoint our fans and community. Also, in the community, when we win we can do more things.”