Stan Van Gundy was supposed to change things.
After a 29-53 season – the Detroit Pistons’ fifth straight year without surpassing 30 wins – hiring Van Gundy brought the Pistons’ instant credibility. His strong coaching would turn a talented roster playoff caliber, and he’d grow into his role as team president. Almost universally, his hire drew praise.
But after an offseason that included the additions of Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler, D.J. Augustin, Cartier Martin, Aaron Gray and Spencer Dinwiddie, nobody nationally is actually ready to buy on the Pistons. (Though maybe Kevin Pelton of ESPN gets there if Greg Monroe re-signs.)
Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk, Matt Moore of Eye on Sports and John Schuhmann of NBA.com each recently released NBA power rankings. All three had the Pistons No. 23 overall and No. 11 in the East – three spots out of the playoffs.
Stan Van Gundy is a good hire as coach and team president, but unless he figures out how to make Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe coexist together it’s not going to matter. They added some shooting to the roster, which should help a little.
Their free-agent acquisitions were confusing and looked a lot like overpays. The question here is whether Stan Van Gundy really is the genius we remember or if his reliance on veterans, especially mediocre ones, comes back to bite him. It’s a big gamble at this point to believe this team will be significantly improved. (This ranking assumes that Greg Monroe returns as a restricted free agent and is pending that decision.)
Key addition(s): Stan Van Gundy, cheap shooting
Key question: Will they keep Josh Smith, Greg Monroe or both?
Van Gundy’s teams have been top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in five of the six full seasons he’s coached. He did his best to add as much shooting as he could (four guys who shot better than 39 percent from 3-point range) with a limited budget. But that’s all for naught if Smith is still playing small forward.
With LeBron James back in Cleveland, making the playoffs in the East has gotten harder for the Pistons. These power rankings all have the Pistons behind the Cavaliers and each of last year’s Eastern Conference playoff teams – a fair position, I think. The teams at the top of last season’s standings (Pacers, Heat) got worse, but they’re falling from such high perches, they have room to drop and remain better than Detroit. Teams lower in the pecking order (Bulls, Bobcats and Hawks) got better, and the rest of the field (Raptors, Wizards and Nets) stay about the same.
I can understand the Pistons falling behind those nine. But the Knicks? C’mon. Really? The Knicks with a rookie head coach, an aging roster and a dependence on Samuel Dalembert? Why do all three rankers have them ahead of Detroit?
I’ll happily take my chances with the Pistons over New York.
Which would move them up to No. 10 in the East – and only two spots out of the playoffs. So hooray?