Van Gundy Explains Pistons’ Championship Blueprint

Stan Van Gundy’s blueprint is similar to the 2004 Detroit Pistons, writes Michael Scotto.

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Updated 12 months ago on
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Is Stan Van Gundy recreating his own version of the 2004 Detroit Pistons?

“You always go to that discussion: Do you need a star to win, do you need a Carmelo Anthony, a Russell Westbrook, a Kevin Durant, a James Harden, go down the list of them, LeBron James – do you need those kind of guys to win?” Van Gundy said. “I think history will show that, for the most part, the easiest way certainly is to have one of those guys, but it’s not the only way. I think an example in our own city in 2004 was a team with a lot of very good players, but without that singular star.”

After mentioning Anthony, Westbrook, Durant, Harden and James, I asked Van Gundy if Andre Drummond is a franchise player who could be mentioned in the same breath as those players.

“I think Andre is a franchise guy, but in a different way,” Van Gundy replied. “If you look at our league now, and it’s been that way for a lot of years, there are really not the go-to low-post scorers. I mean, your go-to scorers offensively now are perimeter guys and the big guys are pick-and-roll guys. I mean, you’ve got a few left with Brook Lopez and things like that. It’s a little easier to limit those guys in terms of double-teams and things like that.”

Van Gundy, who previously coached Dwight Howard with the Orlando Magic, appears to be developing Drummond in the same mold.

“The real development that’s key for us with [Drummond], number one, is his defense,” Van Gundy said. “For us to really become an elite defensive team that we want to become, he needs to continue to progress at that end of the floor.”

While Drummond is the interior anchor, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – who finished fourth in minutes per game last season (36.7) – is the anchor of Detroit’s defense on the perimeter. Caldwell-Pope routinely locks up the opponent’s top guard or wing scorer on a nightly basis.

“[Caldwell-Pope’s] got great athleticism, number one,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got a tremendous motor and he’s got a tremendous will. I think that’s what makes good defenders. If you’ve got athleticism and then you’ve got a great will to get it done, and now he’s got three years under his belt, [you’ll be good]. I think J.J. Redick made a great point to me a long time ago that as you go on in the league, you get to where you’ve seen everything. So now you can anticipate plays coming and react to them a lot quicker. The first couple of years, you’re a step behind because things surprise you and as you go on and you’re a smart player and you really take pride in your defense, which KCP does, then you react to things a lot better and you don’t get caught by surprises much and that’ll only continue to improve as he goes on.”

Caldwell-Pope agreed with Redick’s point, which Van Gundy referenced.

“Just knowing my opponents, their personnel, what they like to do, what they don’t like to do and then just using it to my advantage,” Caldwell-Pope told Basketball Insiders. “Over the years I’ve been in the league, just picking that up and then using it. It’s helped me improve on my defense, just by knowing.”

Caldwell-Pope will be a restricted free agent this summer. Based on the rules of the current CBA, if Caldwell-Pope got a max contract offer sheet, it’s estimated that he could earn $24 million in the first year of his deal. A full max offer sheet would be an estimated four-year, $102.5 million maximum contract, according to our salary guru Eric Pincus.

Detroit will have the right to match whatever offer sheet Caldwell-Pope receives and retain his services for the long-term future.

However, another player in a contract season may not return to the Pistons.

“Aron [Baynes] is a really good player and I said this after the last game, we’re going to be in a difficult situation by the [CBA] rules of trying to re-sign him next summer,” Van Gundy said. “I’m supposed to downplay him, not play him up and tell you, ‘You know, that guy’s a pretty solid backup,’ but the bottom line is he’s a starting-caliber NBA center who we’re very lucky to have as a backup.”

What could Baynes do if he was a starting center on another team?

“If Aron were getting 30 minutes a night I don’t think he’d average 20, but he’d be a very, very solid player offensively in this league and defensively,” Van Gundy added. “He’s just a very, very good basketball player, who we were criticized with, by the way, because we paid him ‘too much money.’ Now he’ll make about triple next summer of what we’re giving him. We won’t be able to re-sign him, but the critics, who always know, killed us for overpaying him. Right now, we could trade him to 29 teams in about five seconds right now at what he’s making. So I don’t think we made too bad a deal.”

Van Gundy took over as head coach and president of basketball operations on May 14, 2014. Van Gundy was criticized for waiving Josh Smith a year and a half into his four-year, $54 million contract, which Joe Dumars previously negotiated. In addition, John Wall publicly took notice when Van Gundy gave Reggie Jackson a five-year, $80 million contract as the team’s long-term starting point guard.

“There are a lot of ways to win in this league and I think primarily for us, our road to be very good is, number one, try to be as good as we can possibly be defensively,” Van Gundy said. “And number two, to get contributions from a lot of people, and execute well and play very good team offense.”

Since running the show in Detroit, Van Gundy hired Jeff Bower as his general manager on June 3, 2014. In addition to waiving Smith and re-signing Jackson to a long-term deal, the Pistons acquired Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger from the Phoenix Suns for a 2020 second-round pick. The Pistons then acquired Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.

The current starting five of Drummond, Morris, Harris, Caldwell-Pope and Jackson has a combined average age of 24.6 years old.

With that in mind, I asked Caldwell-Pope if he felt the Pistons are close to giving Cleveland and other teams in the East a run for their money?

“Yeah,” Caldwell-Pope replied. “We already proved that last year in the playoffs. We can beat Cleveland and any team in the league as long as we just play hard and play together.

“We only can get better. We’re still young as a team, as individuals. Our game is going to just keep developing as we go along.”

As the young, rising core develops together, Van Gundy hopes it will result in a championship won in a way similar to the 2004 Pistons – with strong defense, balanced scoring and great chemistry.

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Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.

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