Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Pat Riley carry a gravitas Stan Van Gundy doesn’t.
Fairly or not, those three – the most prominent president of basketball operations/head coaches recently – are seen as more like basketball royalty. They’ve all won championships, and they come across as more dignified.
Van Gundy is a grinder. He works hard, coaches with his heart on his sleeve and lets that passion overcome him at times.
At his introductory press conference with the Pistons on Thursday, Van Gundy spent a decent amount of time fighting that perception and linking himself to Riley, Rivers and Popovich. He said he’s not as blunt as many believe, that he’s not too emotional of a coach to also evaluate players from the front office.
Eventually, Pistons owner Tom Gores – the only other person seated at the main table with Van Gundy – essentially told his new hire to cut it out.
“Part of what we hired here is the emotions,” Gores said. “…As much I’ve heard that he’s an emotional guy, every time I heard it, I got excited. I want somebody emotional. I want somebody who cares, somebody who communicates, wants the truth on the table. So, for me, I’ll tell you, I heard that. You can’t lose that reputation.”
“Tom’s not exactly laid back himself, so we’ll get along pretty well,” Van Gundy said, lifting his right arm as if were going to playfully tap Gores.
But they were too far apart, not exactly an unusual situation for Gores and his previous top basketball executive.
“We’re going to match,” Gores said a moment later before wrapping his left arm around Van Gundy and pulling in his president/coach for a handshake that looked designed to shake Van Gundy’s entire body.
This was was an unprecedented shakeup at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Pistons didn’t hire a coach. They didn’t hire a president.
They hired the franchise.
From top down, the Pistons now belong to Van Gundy.
“The position gives us a chance to create the most unified organization in sports,” Van Gundy said.
That starts between Van Gundy and Gores, who now has the organization he always wanted. Gores never got on the same page with Joe Dumars, and as Thursday’s press conference unfolded, it became increasingly clear they never would have.
Van Gundy has a clear vision, and he believes he can instill his desired culture from above and below. He told Dan Le Batard he wants to hire a general manager – “a strategic thinker and a dealmaker, a guy who’s really thinking big picture” – and three assistant general managers. He spoke about hiring more people to work under Ken Catanella in the analytics/salary cap department.
“The key is you go out and get great people,” Van Gundy said, noting that’s a Gores mindset.
Consider me sold on Van Gundy as one of those great people.
He has already invigorated a dormant franchise with his energy and communication skills, and his coaching history suggests he’s a perfect match for Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ cornerstone.
“There’s nothing about Andre Drummond that doesn’t appeal to me,” Van Gundy said.
Boom! That short statement alone made Van Gundy an immediate upgrade. His predecessors, Dumars and Maurice Cheeks meandered through their last press conference together without mentioning Drummond or Greg Monroe – “The main thing for right now is I hold Greg Monroe in very high esteem,” Van Gundy said. “And he has great, great value” – and instead spoke most about Rodney Stuckey of all people. In hindsight that wasn’t as much a PR bungling as an indication Cheeks lacked the communication skills to deliver his message and that maybe Dumars did too under new ownership.
That won’t be a problem with Van Gundy, who must sell his vision to everyone – newly hired and held over – around the organization. I think he will do so without difficulty, because he has Gores’ support in an unprecedented way.
Gores wanted Dumars to work out. Gores is invested in ensuring Van Gundy works out.
“Over our years here owning the Pistons, we haven’t seen a guy like Stan,” Gores said.
If Van Gundy can’t take the Pistons forward with this vision he and Gores devised, nobody can. Now, everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal.
“This is the defining moment,” Gores said. “…We are re-setting the culture of the franchise.”
These are the new Pistons, Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons.
Gores elaborate Van Gundy’s culture, but he only mentioned the Pistons’ culture. Really, though, no elaboration was necessary on the second part.
Whatever Van Gundy is – emotional, blunt, caring or something else entirely – so are the Pistons.