After four seasons and just 152 wins, the Detroit Pistons and head coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy parted ways. Van Gundy’s coaching wasn’t the big issue but moves he and the rest of the Pistons front office made will haunt the team long after his departure.
Van Gundy’s draft decisions set the franchise back from contending.
The 58-year-old not only failed to get a superstar with multiple lottery picks but couldn’t even secure a starter in his four years in the draft.
With the Pistons three first-round picks in the SVG era, he took Arizona guard Stanley Johnson (fringe starter), Marquette center Henry Ellenson (averaged just under four points in first two NBA seasons) and Duke guard, Luke Kennard. While none of those picks were home runs, it’s who Van Gundy didn’t take that will cement his legacy in Motor City.
Ellenson (18th) was taken over legit NBAers Caris LeVert (20th, Indiana), Pascal Siakam (27th, Toronto), Dejounte Murray (29th, San Antonio) (Malcolm Brogdon (36th, Milwaukee). That’s bad, but worse is his 2017 Draft, where he SVG selected Kennard (12th) over Donovan Mitchell, who went to Utah with the next pick. Kennard has played as advertised as a one-dimensional three-point shooter, but Mitchell is a star at a position the Pistons could have really used.
Van Gundy failed to develop any internal talent and it leaves the Pistons with a bunch of question marks going forward.
The Blake Griffin trade
Dealing Blake Griffin to the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal that included three legit rotation pieces in Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic plus future draft picks was tough to swallow at the time, and it’s even tougher now.
The 29-year-old Griffin is a good player in today’s NBA, but with an extensive injury history and a four (!!!) more seasons at 30+ million, Van Gundy (he wasn’t solely responsible) and his front office gave up flexibility and draft picks on a panic move that didn’t trust the team into the playoffs. Now, Detroit is stuck with Griffin’s unmovable contract as he exits his prime.
Speaking of cap…
Whoever becomes the key decision maker in Detroit won’t have much to work with in rebuilding the team. Van Gundy (somewhat rightly) bet on Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond at more than $42+ million over the next two seasons. Unfortunately, Jackson’s nearly been as hurt more than he’s been not and Drummond isn’t a number one option, despite his rebounding proficiency. Detroit’s lacked “the guy,” and Griffin – who was acquired to fill that role – probably will never be him.
It’s the bigger small contracts that the Pistons will have to get rid of. Owing $17 million each season to Jon Leuer and Langston Galloway is sizable enough of a hit that would be much better allocated somewhere else. It’s a heck of a lot of money to pay two offensive-minded guys that averaged just over 11 points per game combined.
That’s not to say Van Gundy’s moves have all been busts. Signing Anthony Tolliver to a $3 million AAV, Reggie Bullock to a $2.5 million AAV and Ish Smith to a $6 million AAV were brilliant moves. Trading for Tobias Harris in 2016 was a huge coup. It’s just the top heavy contracts mixed with a lack of draft picks and general draft success have the Pistons with not enough assets to contend, but not enough assets to rebuild inefficiently.
Who knows? Perhaps, the next GM of the Pistons can deal Jackson and figure out a way to fix Van Gundy’s mess. But as of now, SVG leaves the team in not all that much better shape than when he arrived.