Mar 28, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Former Detroit Pistons player Isiah Thomas addresses the crowd during a half-time celebration for the 1989 NBA championship team at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Van Gundy pulling Detroit Pistons into future, with or without their past

Stan Van Gundy hired Tim Hardaway Sr., Quentin Richardson and Malik Allen assistant/player-development coaches. He hired Jeff Nix as an assistant general manager. He gave Mike Abdenour and Arnie Kander new positions.

What does it all mean?

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

“Sometime next week, if all goes according to plan — and it’s all gone according to plan so far as Stan Van Gundy nears the traditional 100-day milepost of any new administration — he’ll complete the transition from president to coach,” the Pistons’ official website declared. “The heavy lifting of the off-season is nearly finished.”

Two names not appearing in that article were Greg Monroe and Isiah Thomas.

Monroe, of course, is still a free agent. Maybe claiming that the heavy lifting was nearly complete while Monroe — whom Van Gundy called his top off-season priority — remains unsigned was a simple oversight. But I hear an implicit message:

Van Gundy is moving the Pistons forward, with or without their history.

When he was hired as president/coach, gaining autonomy few around the NBA claim, Van Gundy said he would live in Michigan and become engaged in the community. He nodded to Detroit’s championship pedigree. I believed — and still believe — those sentiments to be sincere.

But Van Gundy is not beholden to the past. Neither the Pistons’ recent history nor storied history — periods that obviously don’t overlap — will interfere with his vision.

Nor should they.

Van Gundy repeatedly has expressed a desire to re-sign Monroe, and I see no reason that that would have changed. Beyond Andre Drummond, Monroe has been the Pistons’ best player the last few seasons. Monroe’s restricted free agency has long been bound for a lengthy stalemate.

However, Van Gundy can’t wait around forever before proceeding with other business. Training camp begins Sept. 30, and Monroe’s qualifying offer expires Oct. 1, the type of deadline often necessary to spark action (though Monroe easily could hold out even longer).

It would be great if Monroe signs before camp, and I think he ultimately will. The Pistons are willing to discuss different contract parameters. But at a certain point, Van Gundy — a coach at heart who took extra responsibility to secure a higher salary and more job security — must begin coaching the team he has.

Van Gundy’s goal, even if it’s distant, is bringing a championship to the Pistons.

Meanwhile, his boss, owner Tom Gores, has shown interest in commemorating the Pistons’ championship past — especially as it relates to Isiah Thomas.

Gores, whose motivations might be as simple as using the greatest Piston of all time to gain credibility and attract fans, clearly had interest in making Thomas part of the franchise. They met face-to-faceover the Bad Boys reunion, and they reportedly even discussedThomas buying an ownership stake.

The road appeared paved for Thomas’ homecoming, but Nix — the newest assistant general manager — represents a giant detour sign.

Nix testified against Thomas in a 2007 sexual-harassment lawsuit brought by Anucha Browne Sanders. Browne Sanders claimed that Thomas, a fellow New York Knicks executive, made unwanted advances and called her expletives. The jury sided with her, though Thomas denied wrongdoing.

I don’t know what actually happened at Madison Square Garden, and I’d like to believe Thomas — a player I admired growing up — acted as perfect gentleman. But Nix, another Knicks executive, had no obvious incentive for testifying against Thomas, other than telling the truth. It cost Nix his job, and he has been out of the NBA since.

Yet Van Gundy deemed Nix the best person for this position, and that’s good enough for me.

The Pistons shouldn’t be in the business of carrying out retribution against those who testify against sexual harassers. Whether that label fits Thomas is not completely certain, though a jury’s verdict says it is.

But Van Gundy shouldn’t be kowtowing to the Pistons’ former greats anyway. Bill Davidson excommunicated Thomas from the Palace once already, and the Pistons still won a third championship.

The past can be a useful teaching tool, and the Pistons should be proud of theirs. But it’s time to move forward.

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Tags: Greg Monore Isaiah Thomas Jeff Nix Stan Van Gundy Tom Gores

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