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Stan Van Gundy, the Detroit Pistons, and venturing into the unknown

Apr 13, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe (10) moves the ball on Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) in the third quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Toronto won 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been about a month since the regular season ended and we bid the Detroit Pistons adieu. Since then, not much has happened. Joe Dumars was shown the door, as was interim head coach John Loyer, but mostly we were all just waiting around.

Then, on Tuesday, we got word that the Pistons were interested in Stan Van Gundy, both to coach and to run the front office. I can tell you that I scoffed at the idea initially. The Pistons were rough this season, to say the least, and SVG seemed headed to Oakland to take over the Golden State Warriors. But then Golden State balked at giving SVG control over personnel, something the Pistons were more than happy to do, and a deal was struck.

So. What now?

There are a couple of major issues that need to be resolved before we can talk about what the Pistons will look like next year. First, the three-headed frontcourt monster of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond needs to be killed and possibly pitched off a cliff, as long as we’re at it. Those three simply did not fit together in any way, shape, or form. That probably means Monroe is headed elsewhere, as he’s a restricted free agent and might well get an offer sheet worth more than Detroit is willing to spend, but also because Josh Smith basically has negative trade value right now and there is no scenario under which Drummond goes anywhere. And though Monroe’s post-up skills are valuable in the right setting, there is a lot to be said for the defensive potential of a full-time Smith-Drummond pairing, assuming you can get Smith to stop taking so many damn jumpers at the other end.

The other major issue is the draft. If there were no lottery and teams just picked according to their final records, the Pistons would pick eighth. Coincidentally, the pick they sent to the Charlotte Bobcats Hornets in 2012 to dump Ben Gordon — which created the cap room used to sign Smith, so that went well — is top-eight protected this year. The problem, of course, is that there is a lottery, and there’s a chance that one of the six teams — Cleveland, New Orleans, Denver, New York, Minnesota and Phoenix — currently expected to pick after the Pistons would jump into the top three, moving Detroit down and sending their pick to the Bobcats Hornets. That would be less than ideal.

But let’s suppose that the Pistons hold onto that pick and take Doug McDermott, because that’s who DraftExpress has ranked 8th on their board and I don’t feel like thinking about this too much. Now we’re back to the Monroe/Smith thing.

I posited back in March that Detroit should offer Smith to the Los Angeles Lakers free of charge, and while I don’t think that will happen, I think Detroit should explore their options with Smith. Monroe is younger and less of a headache than Smith, even if Smith is probably a better player overall … you know, assuming he keeps his head on straight. If you can’t deal Smith, you definitely want to do a sign and trade of some sort, though most of the teams that seem to be interested in Monroe have the cap space to sign him outright without giving anything back. Then you’d be stuck with either matching whatever offer sheet he signs or letting him walk for nothing. Not an ideal set of circumstances.

Elsewhere, shooting has to be high on the priority list. Only one Piston shot better than 34 percent from deep while taking at least 100 threes (Kyle Singler). That is the entire list. Jonas Jerebko and Josh Harrellson also shot well, but took just 105 threes combined. And the Pistons could have somewhere between $12 and $22 million in cap space, depending on what happens with Monroe, so they’ve got some options.

We really don’t know enough about SVG’s priorities and how the offseason will play out to get any real idea of what will happen. What we do know is that Andre Drummond is really, really good, and SVG has some experience working with centers who are athletic marvels. As a Bulls fan, seeing SVG and Drummond pair up is mildly terrifying. It’s likely that Drummond isn’t as good as Dwight Howard, but even 80 percent of Dwight Howard is a damned good player. As an NBA fan, I would very much like to see Detroit spacing the floor for a lot of Drummond-centric pick and roll action. As a Bulls fan, not so much.

The defense is where SVG figures to make his mark, though. Here’s the always excellent Zach Lowe on the Pistons’ defense last year:

The Pistons did not appear to have much of a scheme. They changed the way they defended the pick-and-roll almost on a game-to-game basis, sometimes asking Monroe to jump way out to corral ball handlers — something he’s just not equipped to do. There was no five-man coordination among players. Nobody helped the helper, and defenders on the weak side had no clue what to do against a pick-and-roll or in response to a double-team on the block. The Pistons were the opposite of “on a string.” They just lit the string on fire.

So, you know, that’s cool. Van Gundy doesn’t figure to tolerate much of that. His teams have traditionally excelled defensively, and he’s a perfectionist in much the same way that Tom Thibodeau is on that end. And a coherent scheme can do wonders to make up for individual deficiencies. Just ask Carlos Boozer.

So rejoice and be glad, Pistons fans. There is much room for optimism here. You’re in good hands.

Caleb Nordgren

Caleb is a proud Chicagoan still adjusting to life away from the big city. He's a journalism student at Michigan State, the Editor of Pippen Ain't Easy and can be found at any given time on Twitter, talking about basketball and generally being sarcastic.