Van Gundy overhauled the medical and training staff.
He rapidly came to value and admire the contributions of longtime Pistons employees Arnie Kander and Mike Abdenour. Their titles – strength and conditioning coach for Kander, trainer for Abdenour – barely hinted at the breadth of their contributions. That now changes.
“We’ve restructured the medical area so that Arnie won’t be stretched as thin,” Van Gundy said. “He can concentrate on his a role as a therapist. We’ve moved Mike into an administrative role. We just hired a strength coach, Anthony Harvey (recently assistant strength coach with the Orlando Magic), a week ago – he’ll start Monday – and a director of sports medicine. Those are really the last things.”
Kander will focus on helping players recover from injuries and spend more time studying their movements to increase efficiency that can help in the prevention of injuries. He’s done a deep dive this summer into the running patterns of two groups – one Mexican, one Native American – of what he considers the world’s greatest runners, for instance, and how stride patterns change in going from jogging to sprinting and vice versa.
“Arnie takes on the physical therapist role,” Van Gundy said. “Not only in getting people back, but in making biomechanical assessments of guys and moving us forward preventively. I think it fits together well. It gives us two guys devoting all their time to the health care of our players. It gives us a strength coach devoting all of his time to getting our guys stronger and in better shape. And it gives Mike the time to devote all of his day to making all these things work better.”
Abdenour’s province as director of team operations is to make sure all of the organization’s logistical needs are met with as little disruption or inconvenience to players and staff as possible. It’s what he’s done remarkably well, in addition to his duties as trainer, for years – there’s not a hotel general manager or concierge in the NBA’s 28 cities whose name isn’t in his directory – and it’s not a role Van Gundy takes lightly. The last thing a coach wants is a bus not showing up on time after a 3 a.m. airport arrival or finding out there’s no practice gym available on an off-day on the road.
“For me as a head coach, the two most important positions are guys who do what Mike is going to do and the video people, because the video people – if they do their job really well – save you a lot of time in terms of your preparation as a head coach. A guy like Mike, doing what he does, you don’t have to think about any of those things. You show up every night and we’re ready to go. Those things are invaluable. I know not everybody sees it that way, but to me they translate into wins and losses because you’re saving so much time and mental energy. It’s a stressful job and those guys take the stress out so you can keep your mind on what we need to do.”
Van Gundy described the newly created director of sports medicine position, to be filled by Jon Ishop who held the job with New Orleans most recently, like this: “It’ll be an athletic trainer, so they’ll have the diagnostic element, dealing with injuries, diagnosing injuries. It’s all the administration of the training room, dealing with the doctors, setting up physicals, the recordkeeping, reporting to the league, treating athletes one on one, the day-to-day treatment of injuries and preventive stuff.”
With all due respect to Tim Hardaway Sr., Quentin Richardson, Malik Allen and Jeff Nix , these are the announcements everyone was waiting for. Kander and Abdenour are Pistons fixtures, and it’s GREAT they’re back.
Those two are beloved in Detroit not just because they’ve been around so long, but because they do good work. Thankfully, Stan Van Gundy recognized that and resisted the natural urge to replace them with his own guys.
Processing titles and job descriptions from the outside can be difficult, but it sounds as Abdenour and maybe Kander received promotions (though it’s also possible to read Kander’s new position as a demotion). I’m hoping both new roles suit them well, but I’m just glad they’re around for the Pistons’ next chapter.