Pistons hire Stan Van Gundy as coach, president
The Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy as their coach and president of basketball operations on Wednesday. Van Gundy will be introduced at a news conference on Thursday, the team said.
"Stan is a proven winner in our league," Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement. "He instills his teams with passion, purpose and toughness. He is a great teacher who will help our players grow and develop."
The Pistons and Van Gundy reached agreement in principle on a five-year, $35 million deal on Tuesday, according to multiple reports. ESPN.com and NBA.com reported the terms hours after Van Gundy, who was also being pursued by the Warriors, was first linked to the Pistons.
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 was reportedly willing to give Van Gundy final say on all basketball operations, whereas Golden State was not. That factor, per Yahoo Sports, left even Warriors officials believing that, when the two parties last met, Van Gundy preferred the Pistons' job.
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 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 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 and in the process protect himself from undue firing.
"It is an honor to be chosen to help Tom Gores build the Pistons into a team that competes for championships," Van Gundy said in a statement. "Tom's vision of building for the future while seeking immediate improvement is a challenge that I embrace."
Other 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.
Joe Dumars stepped down as Pistons president in April after 14 seasons as the team's top executive. Van Gundy will need help in fulfilling those responsibilities and those of a head coach. According to Yahoo Sports, he may look to hire Otis Smith (whom Van Gundy worked with in Orlando) as Detroit's general manager.
Van Gundy has never had decision-making power over personnel, but as a head coach he has led his team to a winning record in every one of his seven-plus seasons. His .641 winning percentage (371-208) is sixth highest among coaches with at least 500 games of experience. Van Gundy's teams ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in six of those seasons and were 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. But he will have his hands full in trying to make sense of the Pistons' profoundly weird roster, which finished 29-53 this season, Detroit's fifth consecutive year out of the playoffs.
The biggest challenge for Van Gundy is unlocking the game of forward 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 can put the 28-year-old in a better position to succeed, he could help the team redeem what remains of the four-year, $54 million contract given to Smith last summer. Beyond that, Van Gundy -- as a coach and executive -- will need to decide what to do with restricted free agent power forward Greg Monroe, rein in the game of point guard Brandon Jennings (or move him) and bring along useful prospects like shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and small forward 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.