While it’s not official yet, all signs seem to point toward Stan Van Gundy being the Pistons next head coach and team president.
Let’s take a trip down Van Gundy memory lane — we’ll call it, Stan Van Gundy 101.
We can start here — did you know Van Gundy, 54, began his career coaching in college as a 24-year-old?
He spent three seasons leading Castleton State College (Vt.), compiling a 68-18 record at the Division III school. He went on to spend four less-than-stellar seasons at his next head gig at then-Division II Massachusetts-Lowell, where he went 54-60.
His final college gig, and perhaps most surprising, was a year leading the University of Wisconsin and future NBA All-Star Michael Finley. Van Gundy was bought out after one 13-14 season and the rest, as they say in Northern Wisconsin, is Badgers history.
Van Gundy is a member of the Pat Riley NBA coaching tree, joining brother Jeff, Byron Scott and Erik Spoelstra. After spending 12 years as an assistant under Riley in Miami, Van Gundy took over in 2004.
While the Pistons were on their way to the 2004 NBA title, Van Gundy’s upstart Heat team — led by a trio of rookie Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom — made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference semifinals that season.
The Heat acquired Shaquille O’Neal the following season, and Van Gundy’s Heat went on to fall to the Pistons in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals.
Miami started slowly the following year, and Riley swooped back in to take control back from Van Gundy and eventually lead the Heat to the 2006 NBA Title. We’ll never know if it was Van Gundy who just resigned or Riley who had enough and forced his way back in or O’Neal who just didn’t care for him — but that was the end of SVG in MIA.
Van Gundy landed on his feet four hours north of Miami in Orlando with the Magic. Not only did he lead the Magic to the playoffs in all five seasons he was there, but he also helped develop Dwight Howard into the league’s premier center.
While Van Gundy likely played a large part in Howard’s rise to NBA stardom, the duo also clashed throughout their time together. Van Gundy played a big part in both O’Neal and Howard’s successes, but it’s definitely worth noting that he clashed with both of his premier big men in O’Neal and Howard.
Especially considering he’ll get another promising, young center in Detroit with Andre Drummond.
Van Gundy is a defensive coach who’s most easily described as cranky. I think he likes his job, but it always feels like he’s just a little cranky. That’s not a bad thing. If the city of Detroit is going to welcome any coach, it’s a gritty, defensive coach who has had success and has a knack for a good one-liner here and there.
The offense Van Gundy’s Heat teams ran was run directly through O’Neal and Wade, but that was with two future NBA Hall of Famers. His offensive style in Orlando is more what should intrigue fans in Detroit.
Built around Howard on the interior, the Magic spaced the floor beautifully with 3-4 shooter surrounding Howard at any given time. Perennial underachievers like Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu thrived in Van Gundy’s offense, and that floor spacing style was a bit ahead of its time.
Now, it’s not uncommon to see a player like Lewis starting at power forward on an NBA team, but just a handful of years ago it wasn’t really a commonly used tactic. In a super convoluted way, you can blame Van Gundy for Joe Dumars’ signing of Charlie Villanueva.
That signing came a year after Van Gundy led the Magic to the NBA Finals with his unorthodox style. But I digress.
The issue in Detroit is that Van Gundy has the antithesis of floor spacing. He’s got a team full of bad shooters, something you would think he would look to address quickly once he gets his feet settled.
Van Gundy brings a lot of good attributes to the table if he ends up in Detroit, but he isn’t all sunshine and lollypops, either.
His conflicts with Howard and O’Neal are noteworthy red flags, and his clashes with management in Orlando also deserve mention. In a way, being his own “management” might be better for him in Detroit.
But quotes like this one from the sometimes bombastic O’Neal in 2009 are always going to leave you wondering about Van Gundy and his ability to coexist with his super stars:
“And one thing I really despise is a front-runner, so I know for a fact that (Van Gundy is) a master of panic, and when it gets time for his team to go in the postseason and do certain things, he will let them down because of his panic. I’ve been there before, I’ve played for him.”
Regardless of how Van Gundy gets along with his management or stars, it’s undeniable that he would be a significant boost to the entire Pistons organization. Whether it’s from a culture standpoint to a simple on-court perspective, having a seasoned coach with true NBA success on his resume is something the Pistons haven’t had since Flip Saunders.
Coincidentally, Saunder’s tenure marked the beginning of the end for the Pistons glory days — specifically when his first Pistons team fell to Van Gundy’s Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Here’s to hoping the world is round, basketball karma is real and that Stan Van Gundy’s potential arrival marks the beginning of a much-needed new era.