In memory of Detroit Pistons’ head coach Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy’s out as Detroit Pistons Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations – but he’s not a failure, he’s leaving the franchise in a better place than he found it.

Today we gather for a moment to reflect upon Stan Van Gundy’s four-year term as head coach and President of basketball operations of the Detroit Pistons. First, a moment of silence for our fallen leader.

Ahem. Stan Van Gundy, hired in 2014, was a welcome respite from a string of coaches that felt like a parade of hapless assistant coaches in over their heads. It’s like one of those weeks in high school where your science teacher is out sick and you have 4 different substitute teachers. Only it lasted four years and instead of science class, it was your favorite team.

After Pistons’ owner Bill Davidson’s death and Chauncey Billups‘ departure in 2009, the Pistons have lacked leadership and identity. Van Gundy’s arrival in 2014 felt like a sail opening on a ship lost at sea.

The Van Gundy name carried the clout and pedigree that his predecessors lacked. Those names included Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, and Maurice Cheeks. Yikes.

Van Gundy had also previously mentored Dwight Howard in a run to the NBA Finals, a contemporary to Detroit’s cornerstone player Andre Drummond. It seemed like a perfect fit.

Van Gundy’s acceptance of the Pistons head coaching position was partially motivated by Tom Gores’ decision to allow him to become the President of Basketball Operations as well. It was the determining factor in his decision to turn down the Golden State Warriors head coaching position, a team far more talented than the fledgling Pistons.

(Can we for a second just imagine the insane butterfly effect on the NBA if Stan had taken that Golden State Warriors job.)

Deciding to take the Pistons job with the added responsibility of being the President of basketball operations may have lured SVG to Detroit but in a twist of poetic tragedy, it was one of the major factors in his undoing.

Stan Van Gundy’s position made the roster moves and draft choices during his tenure, while unlikely Stan’s choices alone, his failures or successes. This meant that as the mistakes and losses piled up, fingers of blame would point in Van Gundy’s direction.

This isn’t to say he doesn’t deserve some of the blame of the Pistons underwhelming performance because he does. To pile every mistake on Van Gundy is to oversimplify how a front office works. To overlook where the Pistons were before he started this job diminishes what Stan Van Gundy did for the franchise. That is just not fair to him.

Look, Van Gundy wasn’t a great coach. He lacked the offensive creativity that is fueling the ascent of coaches like Quin Snyder and Brad Stevens. He lacked the sideline composure that this generation of NBA players appreciates and thrive off of. Van Gundy wears his emotions on his sleeve, but rather than inspiring his players, it seemed to wear them down.

This recent Zach Lowe article paints a great picture of Brad Stevens’ calm demeanor having a cooling effect upon his young players in Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown. Compare that to the reluctance to play freely young players exhibited under Van Gundy.

 

But that’s not to say that Van Gundy wasn’t a good coach. Despite being a fairly stubborn offensive mind and his reluctance to play younger players, he could produce good defensive squads. The Pistons ranked 11th this past year in defensive efficiency and 7th in the 2016 – 2017 season. When you look at the Pistons roster, it doesn’t really jump off the page with defensive stoppers but Stan was able to create strong defensive teams anyways.

If most of the personnel decisions were entirely SVG’s (which I doubt, Jeff Bower is the General Manager), then he wasn’t a great President but he wasn’t terrible either. Van Gundy took a team that was struggling to win 30 games a year and made them playoff hopefuls. He added Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Reggie Bullock, and developed Andre Drummond. He didn’t exactly turn blood into wine but he took a bunch of sour grapes and made it into Franzia.

Stan Van Gundy steadily improved his roster over the time he was with the Pistons. After another year of under-performing expectations, Pistons fans needed someone to blame. Stan Van Gundy as President and head coach was an easy target.

I would’ve like to see another year of him with this core together. There’s not many roster changes the Pistons can make in the coming year and no head coach waiting in the wings, so why not give the man who built the team a chance to coach them?

SVG’s decision to become President may have been his undoing, but that doesn’t make him a bad coach, but it did make it a whole lot easier to fire him. If Reggie Jackson doesn’t get hurt this past year the Pistons make the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy is allowed to finish out his contract.

The margin for error in the NBA is razor thin. There’s a lot more luck to finding success in the NBA than anyone wants to admit. Van Gundy, clearly a bright basketball mind, caught no breaks in his time with the Pistons. A common theme for the Pistons over this past, arduous decade.

Let’s just hope as the Pistons begin their search for a new head coach and new President of Basketball Operations that the Pistons finally get dealt a good hand.

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