Despite the Golden State Warriors' overtures, Stan Van Gundy is nearing an agreement on a five-year, $35 million deal to become the next coach of the Detroit Pistons, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
Van Gundy's most prominent decision point was reportedly not financial compensation (though his deal is rather rich) or roster talent but full basketball control. Detroit is reportedly willing to give Van Gundy final say on all basketball operations whereas Golden State is not -- a factor that, per Wojnarowski, left even Warriors officials believing that Van Gundy preferred the Pistons job when the two parties last met. That said, a deal is not done, and the sum of the reporting to this point still leaves Golden State in the running for Van Gundy's services.
Having full control of basketball operations is a means of job security in a profession that affords little. Since 2013, 18 of the league's 30 head coaching jobs have been turned over. The jobs in Detroit and Cleveland have now been turned over twice in that period, as both teams fired their head coaches (Maurice Cheeks and Mike Brown) within the first year of their new contracts. Given that perilous job climate and Van Gundy's own experiences being ousted by the Heat in 2005 (on Pat Riley's whim) and the Magic in 2012 (in a cloud of Dwight Howard drama), it's understandable that Van Gundy would so value the ability to control the roster for himself and in the process protect himself from undue firing.
Other head coaches with control of basketball operations include the Spurs' Gregg Popovich and the Clippers' Doc Rivers. Financially, Van Gundy's reported annual earnings are very much in line with the three-year, $21 million deal that Rivers received from the Clippers last summer. The specific title that Van Gundy would hold with the Pistons, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, would be president of basketball operations. That role was most recently filled by the long-tenured Joe Dumars, who stepped down in April following his 14th season as Detroit's top executive. Van Gundy will need help in fulfilling those responsibilities and those of a head coach, and according to Wojnarowski's report may look to hire Otis Smith (whom Van Gundy worked with in Orlando) as the team's general manager.
We don't yet know what kind of executive Van Gundy might be, though as a head coach he has led his team to a winning record in every one of his seven-plus seasons. Van Gundy's teams ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in six of those seasons and ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency in three. It was by his instruction and system that Howard was groomed from a raw athlete into a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, that Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis were maximized in ideal roles and that Jameer Nelson became an All-Star. From a tactical standpoint, Van Gundy is about as bright as NBA coaches come, though he would have his hands full in trying to make sense of the Pistons' profoundly weird roster.
The biggest puzzle ahead for Van Gundy, should he and the Pistons agree to terms, would come in unlocking the game of Josh Smith. At once Smith is the kind of tantalizing defensive talent that Van Gundy could build around and so problematic a shooter that he stands in the way of Detroit's spacing. If Van Gundy is able to better position Smith to succeed, though, he could help the team to redeem what remains of the four-year, $54 million contract given to Smith in 2013. Beyond that, Van Gundy -- as a coach and executive -- will need to decide what to do with restricted free agent Greg Monroe, rein in the game of Brandon Jennings (or move him outright) and bring along useful prospects like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler. Amid the roster muddle and offseason flexibility, one thing seems certain: 2014-15 is shaping up to be a big year for 20-year-old center Andre Drummond, who bears more than a passing statistical resemblance to a young Howard.