DETROIT – After four seasons of mostly mediocre results, the Detroit Pistons are moving on without Stan Van Gundy.
He won’t return as president of basketball operations and he isn’t staying on as Detroit’s coach, either.
Van Gundy held both those roles for four years, and at times the Pistons seemed to be making progress. But they made the playoffs only once during his tenure, in 2016, and the team announced his departure Monday. Owner Tom Gores said it was a difficult decision.
“I am grateful to Stan for everything he’s done for the Pistons and for the city of Detroit,” Gores said. “He rebuilt the culture of our basketball team, re-instilled a winning attitude and work ethic, and took us to the playoffs two years ago. He went all-in from Day One to positively impact this franchise and this community.
“But over the past two seasons our team has not progressed, and we decided that a change is necessary to regain our momentum,” Gores said.
The Pistons went 39-43 this season, missing the playoffs for the third time in four years under Van Gundy. They’ve made the postseason just once in the past nine seasons, and even a blockbuster trade for Blake Griffin wasn’t enough to salvage 2017-18.
The Pistons went 152-176 over the past four seasons under Van Gundy, and his personnel decisions have come under more criticism than his coaching. Detroit hasn’t been able to make the most of its draft position, spending first-round picks on Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. This past season, Kennard shot over 40 percent from 3-point range, but he was taken one spot ahead of Donovan Mitchell in last year’s draft. Mitchell has blossomed into a Rookie of the Year candidate for Utah.
The trade for Griffin was a bold one for the Pistons and left them with limited flexibility. Not only did the team take on Griffin’s big contract, but Detroit also sent a protected first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers in the deal.
Gores indicated last month that changes would be coming, but it wasn’t clear if that might mean a front office shake-up or a coaching change. Now the Pistons are embarking on both. The team’s news release Monday didn’t shed much light on the decision-making process of these past few weeks. It did say that Van Gundy wanted to return.
“Stan is a competitor and he wanted to finish the job,” Gores said. “He retooled a roster that we think can be very competitive in the East. I know he’s disappointed, and that he cares deeply about his players, his staff, this organization and this city. He’s also a professional who will make sure this is a seamless transition, and someone I hope will be a friend and adviser to me long after this transition is completed.”
Van Gundy declined comment via text message Monday.
When Van Gundy was hired, he talked about how there would be a good connection between the front office and the coaching staff – that much was obvious, since he was going to be part of both. Setups like that aren’t unheard of in the NBA – Tom Thibodeau is Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations – but it’s not that easy to make it work.
Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer had the title of president of basketball operations, but he gave up that position last year. Now he’s no longer coaching the Hawks either .
Doc Rivers had dual roles with the Clippers, but last offseason, Lawrence Frank took over responsibility for basketball operations while Rivers remained the coach. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich also has the title of president, but he has help from general manager R.C. Buford, a two-time NBA Executive of the Year.
A decade ago, the Pistons were one of the game’s most respected organizations after reaching the Eastern Conference finals six straight years and winning the NBA title in 2004. They sank quickly into irrelevance after that. Detroit missed the playoffs the final five seasons of Joe Dumars’ tenure as team president, and Gores – who took over as owner in 2011 – eventually brought Van Gundy in.
The Pistons made the playoffs in Van Gundy’s second season, but they couldn’t build on that breakthrough. This past season was particularly disappointing because it may have been the most productive of center Andre Drummond’s career.
With Drummond leading the way, Detroit started 19-14 and won on the road against the likes of Golden State, Oklahoma City and Boston. Then an ankle injury to point guard Reggie Jackson derailed the season, and not even the trade for Griffin in late January was enough to push the Pistons to the playoffs in their first season at downtown Detroit’s new Little Caesars Arena.
“Would like to take a min to wish Stan the best and thank you for everything you’ve put into our team the last four years,” Drummond said Monday in a message on his Twitter account.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.