Stan Van Gundy is already making an impact in Detroit, as the new team President and head coach has made a point to come out publicly in support of another one of his players. Just two weeks ago, Van Gundy made an effort to dispel the notion that his hiring signaled an automatic exit soon-to-be restricted free agent Greg Monroe. This time, the veteran coach took time to also defend Josh Smith.
“I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think that’s fair,” Van Gundy recently told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. “One of the things that happens – and not just to the media and fans, it happens on a team – is when things don’t go well, everybody loves a scapegoat. The reason you love a scapegoat is that it takes responsibility off you, so coaches look for them, too. It takes responsibility off you.”
While Van Gundy is absolutely correct about each point, that hasn’t entirely been the case with these Pistons. Part of the issue was the way the team was constructed. Quite frankly, while the core players are each individually talented in their own way(s), the team was poorly structured from the start. Smith is still somewhat versatile, but can no longer defend the position nearly as effectively. The truth is, he probably never had quite the range or consistency from the perimeter needed to balance the floor at that position. That isn’t Smith’s fault, mind you, but the fact remains Van Gundy will have some difficult decisions on his hands if unable to devise both offensive and defensive schemes to better utilize all of the talent this roster has on paper.
“It’s not fair or even close or fair to pin last year on Josh or any one other guy,” Van Gundy continued. “The team, in a lot of ways, did not put into the game what needs to be put into the game to be successful.”
Van Gundy isn’t just excellent at what he does in inspiring the players on the court, as the eight-year head coach is also spectacular when working a media session or room. Notice how careful he was not to directly point out some of the obvious flaws? That’s because, while it’s a safe bet he sees the roster imbalance that clearly contributed to the team’s struggles (29-53) in 2013-14, Van Gundy isn’t about to alienate the very players he’s going to have to inspire to embrace his preferred basketball style.
It isn’t known whether the recent positivity regarding Monroe is a matter of the team attempting to establish certain narratives with future negotiation in mind, but there are certain adjustments that can be made if they decide to re-sign the 24-year-old power forward. Of course, they could very well have certain roster moves in mind, but there’s also something to the idea of Van Gundy wanting to at least see what his new players can do (beyond video) when fully assembled prior to making any decisions.
If it weren’t for Smith’s $13.5 million salary (through the 2016-17 season) – which makes him far and away the team’s most expensive contract – the idea of actually bringing him in as the team’s sixth man might just make a great deal of sense. Not only would it immediately add depth and experience to a second unit that may have scored 31.0 points per game this past season (a ton of “garbage time” in the Motor City of late), but also averaged surrendering 34.6 points per game as well. Smith would also have the freedom to move back to his natural position and truly exhibit some of the maturity and leadership that may have been questioned in the past.
Hypothetically, if Van Gundy were to convince Smith of the merits of such a move while assuring him of an ample amount of rotation minutes to go along with the elevated status of leading the second unit, then Detroit could be in business a lot sooner than later and with many of the same pieces they currently have. For those concerned over a precedence for such an act, look no further than as recently as 2008-09 when ex-Lakers coach Phil Jackson did the very same to career-starter Lamar Odom. Granted, the circumstances weren’t entirely the same as those were contending rosters in Los Angeles, but Van Gundy has the blend of player-friendly personality and a certain level of austerity (not to mention) “chutzpah” – if you will – to also pull off such a maneuver.
Inserting a player like Francisco Garcia into the small forward position in his stead would not only add viable three-point shooter (36.1 percent for his career)to help space the court for Andre Drummond to operate from the post, but it would also give Van Gundy some much-needed perimeter defense and toughness. Garcia is also a player you wouldn’t have to run plays for, and isn’t likely to take up a great deal of your available cap space.
Another option could be eight-year veteran Andres Nocioni. The 37.3 percent career three-point shooter may not be quite the perimeter defender Garcia is, but he’s a competitor at the position and could see this as a final opportunity to make an impact in the NBA. The 34-year-old Argentine most recently averaged 13.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG for the Spain’s Saski Baskonia (Euroleague). After reportedly turning down an offer to return to the NBA (rumored to have been San Antonio) just over a year ago, Nocioni has recently appeared to be interested in a stateside comeback.
It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility to imagine a relatively immediate turnaround for these Pistons. They’ve got a bit of cap space (about $10 million), potential roster flexibility, and a new GM in Jeff Bower. The Phoenix Suns shocked many of us by turning a disappointing 25-57 (2012-13) to a surprising 48-34 just a season later. Not that such an instant turnaround should be the expectation, but Van Gundy reenters the league at a time when the Eastern Conference could conceivably be at an All-Time low point.
The Raptors (14), Wizards (15), Bobcats (22) each had double-digit increases this season and went from the 2013 Draft Lottery to the 2014 playoffs. Losing the No. 9 pick that would have belonged to them (owed to Charlotte) doesn’t help, but Toronto was able to overcome similar circumstances (2013 pick went to Oklahoma City via Houston) and still managed to host a playoff series for only the second time in franchise history.
Again, not to place such a lofty objective on Van Gundy and crew in year one, but he would be the first to tell you certain expectations came along with the trust and money (five-year, $35 million) Pistons owner Tom Gores agreed to pay the 54-year-old coach and President. He knew the task at hand would be neither simple nor easy, but he also must have recognized all of the talent and potential flexibility he had at his disposal.
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