The Detroit Pistons have missed the playoffs for the second straight season. This after assembling their own “big three” of Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, and Andre Drummond. This in a season where the Eastern Conference seems wide open and as mediocre as ever.
It’s clear that Stan Van Gundy has failed to deliver on his promise to resurrect the franchise. After four years as the head of basketball ops and head coach, SVG has guided the team to a sub-.500 mark and only one 8th-seed playoff spot. That lone playoff appearance two years ago resulted in a quick four-game sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers. The distance between the once-mighty Pistons and the top teams in the East is as wide divide between Boston and LA, two cities the Pistons used to battle for NBA dominance.
The writing is all over the wall (and onto the hallways and the ceilings): the Pistons are not a good NBA franchise. They’re floundering and splashing about like a fish on the dock. Which is where the franchise needs to send Van Gundy – fishing.
Van Gundy is likable enough, but he’s making a living on the weight of success forged long ago. His ’09 Magic surprised everyone by getting to the NBA Finals. But beyond that success in Orlando, SVG has little to show for a relatively modest career. Instead, he’s been run off everywhere he’s been after feuding with his players and the front office.
That sort of controversy won’t happen in Detroit. The Pistons don’t have anyone in uniform with a Shaq or Dwight Howard-sized ego, nor is there a Pat Riley lurking over SVG’s shoulder. But Van Gundy must go anyway even though he has one more year on his hefty five-year contract.
Ultimately it’s Van Gundy’s work in the front office that should cost him his job. It was the white collar SVG who signed Jackson despite warnings that the mercurial guard was injury-prone. It was the white collar SVG who failed to find a suitable understudy for the inevitable long stretches that Jackson was sidelined. It was SVG who pulled the trigger on the knee-jerk deal to get Griffin, giving up the efficient and emerging Tobias Harris. That was a panic move if there ever was one.
The coach Van Gundy has been far better. He’s pretty much tried to get by with the pieces he’s been given. Often those pieces have been bruised or mismatched. The problem is that coach Van Gundy gets his players from executive Van Gundy.
The Griffin deal was a reach to try to sneak this team into the playoffs. It was a deal to sexy up the team in their first season in a new downtown arena. It was a desperation move by executive Van Gundy to grab headlines. Nevermind that head coach Van Gundy didn’t have a quality point guard to feed Griffin the ball for most of the season. You wonder if executive Van Gundy even has the cell number for head coach Van Gundy.
But there’s virtually little chance that Van Gundy will be retained as head coach if he is relieved of his front office duties. And since he’s botched the front office part of his job, it’s time for him to be shuttled out of Detroit.
Owner Tom Gores is under pressure to turn the franchise around. The Pistons have posted a losing record in nine of the last ten years. It’s the saddest drought in team history, and coming on the heels of a sustained era of success, it stings even more. At the same time, the Eastern Conference has not had a strong juggernaut, opening the way for teams to compete. But Detroit’s been absent from that scrum, stuck in the back of the line, several steps behind, more than an arm’s reach away. It’s been a missed opportunity, and Van Gundy should pay for that with both of his jobs.