- The Detroit Pistons have fired head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy.
- The Pistons face a hazy future, as they’re without salary cap space for the next two years, have little young talent on the roster, and don’t have a draft pick this year.
- The Pistons may be stuck in place as a low playoff seed or high lottery seed, the worst place to be in the NBA.
The Detroit Pistons fired head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy on Monday, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Van Gundy had one more year left on his contract, but the team decided not to pick up his final year.
According to Wojnarowski, the Pistons will look to hire separate people for the head coaching job and GM job.
The Pistons, with or without Van Gundy, were entering a difficult road with an uncertain future. The team made the playoffs just once under Van Gundy, in 2015-16, and were swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers. They went 37-45 and 39-43 over the previous two seasons, missing the playoffs in both years.
In January, Van Gundy and the Pistons attempted to acquire a much-needed star by pulling off a blockbuster trade for Blake Griffin. In doing so, they traded forward Tobias Harris, guard Avery Bradley, and a 2018 first-round pick (top-four protected).
That trade may become the defining transaction for the Piston’s future. Griffin is owed about $US102 million over the next three seasons and has a $US38 million player option for the 2021-22 season when he’ll be 33. Griffin has impressively evolved his game over the years, but age and injuries are a concern for him going forward, particularly with that price tag.
Griffin’s supporting cast of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are slated to make a combined $US42 million and $US45 million over the next two seasons. Over the next two years, almost 75% of the Piston’s cap will go toward Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson.
While Griffin and Drummond shared mild success as a front-court duo in the second half of the 2017-18 season, questions remain about it going forward, especially when they soak up so much cap space. Jackson, meanwhile, has been injury prone, and the team has at times played better without him.
Griffin’s contract may prove to be un-tradeable unless the Pistons throw in future draft picks with him. Perhaps Jackson or Drummond could be more easily moved, but if the Pistons were to trade them, it would likely mean they would be trading to get them off of their books, not improve the roster. It’s unlikely they’d get equal or better value for them.
There’s no particularly easy route for the Pistons to get better via transactions, and internal growth is questionable, too. The two most promising young players on the roster are Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard, both 21. Johnson is a feisty defender and rebounder without an outside jumper who occasionally fell out of Van Gundy’s rotation last year. Kennard had moments as a rookie last season, but projects closer to a useful role player than a future star.
Trading this year’s first-round pick, in what’s considered a deep and talented draft, hurts. How many teams would be interested in selling their pick and what do the Pistons have to offer in exchange?
The cornerstones of the team are Griffin and Drummond, for better or worse. Both are All-Star-worthy players at their respective positions, and were arguably better together than expected. In 594 minutes together, they boasted a net rating of 3.0, proving the two big men could pass, dive to the basket, or step out for jumpers (in Griffin’s case) well enough not to clog space for one another.
The question is if a new coach or GM will try to implement a different system that changes the way they’d play together. A new coaching staff and front office would likely want to start fresh and overturn the roster. The path to doing so is uncertain.
The Pistons may be forced to ride out this current team, which may be good enough to fight for a low playoff seed, but has mostly proven to be a perennial 9th or 10th seed. That’s the worst place for a team to be – outside of the playoffs and too low in the lottery standings to draft elite talent. The people chosen to replace Van Gundy will have their work cut out for them.
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