Storyline: Pistons Front Office

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After four seasons with only one playoff appearance under Van Gundy, it’s apparent that [Pistons owner Tom] Gores is seeking change. “We got to make some changes,” Gores said toward the end of the season. “I’m just not sure what they are and he’s been working the whole season so I need to hear from Stan. I can tell you he’s an extremely dedicated man so I think he’s been good for our franchise. “That I know for sure.” Discussions are very amicable, but those changes have yet to be determined, two sources told the Free Press this week.

Stan Van Gundy's future nearing resolution

An ESPN.com report earlier this week, citing unnamed sources, said Gores wants Van Gundy to return as coach, but wants changes to the front office structure. The report hinted at change centered around general manager Jeff Bower. The report also said Bower would meet with Gores. The Free Press confirmed that meeting took place Thursday in Los Angeles. A source also told the Free Press that Gores and Van Gundy would speak Friday, although a resolution isn’t expected until next week.

He is open when it comes to his ambition to run a franchise; he just won’t seek to dig another man’s grave. “I think that was in bad taste,” Billups said after signing autographs and posing for photos. “Everybody knows that I have the desire to run a team at some point, but I would never discuss or talk about a job that’s not open. That’s not my character. “That’s not how I am, so I was a little angry about the report that came out. The timing of it was bad. It was false.”

Where all this would leave Van Gundy, though, remains to be seen. Would Van Gundy, as he nears the end of the fourth season in his original five-year, $35 million deal, be willing to stay with the Pistons in a coaching-only role if his decision-making power is handed to Tellem or Billups or both? Will Van Gundy even have that option? The most recent signals coming from both Van Gundy and the Detroit owner Tom Gores would suggest that a mutual parting at season’s end is a growing possibility.

Nate Duncan: What do you make of recent comments by [Pistons owner] Tom Gores’ about Stan Van Gundy [being] a team player, and that they’re evaluating things? Marc Stein: Everyone in the league is sort of looking at Detroit and saying, ‘How broad will the change be’? They’re gonna miss the playoffs, the Blake Griffin gamble, to this point, has not worked. You have to assume that at the least, Stan Van Gundy will lose his front-office power. I think I reported about a month ago that the rumblings are out there that Arn Tellem, the long-time power agent who’s been running the business side with Detroit for the last two or three years, that he would take over the basketball side of things. Those rumblings are even louder now.

Tom Gores has a big decision to make. Apparently, so might Stan Van Gundy. That was the logical conclusion from the owner’s rare public comments at Little Caesars Arena Friday night. If you sift through the ambiguity, Gores is considering a change after the season, as the Pistons meander to the finish. With a polite — and purposeful — non-committal on Van Gundy’s future, Gores might have begun the process of parting ways. With the Pistons likely to miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, it’s not a surprise.

Would Gores outright fire Van Gundy? I’m not sure it’ll come to that. When the two meet, my guess is, it’ll be amicable, and might end up being mutual. Gores could remove one of Van Gundy’s dual roles — president of basketball operations — and perhaps give him the last season of his contract solely to coach. At 58, Van Gundy might prefer to walk away than accept a new arrangement. “It’s about what happened this year, what we’re gonna do, our future,” Gores said. “Stan’s a team player. We’re not winning enough, so we have to talk about that.”

Van Gundy did a good job early here, completely remaking a woeful team, with Andre Drummond the only inherited player remaining. But amid curious moves, shifting directions and key injuries, it has stalled. “I think Tom and I are totally on the same page,” Van Gundy said. “Our team’s playing hard, I like the guys we’ve had, some things have happened out of our control. But I’m not looking to make excuses. This business is about winning games, and we haven’t been doing enough of that. … I’ve been through this several times, but never this upfront and direct, and never with this kind of relationship with an owner. I have total respect for Tom. I love the way I’ve been treated here, but I also understand and respect Tom has to do what he thinks is best for the franchise.”

If [Blake Griffin] been a free agent in 2017 and it would have cost the Pistons Harris and Bradley to sign him, no one would have thought twice about it. He’s a superstar, and the Pistons, as much as they try to promote All-Star Andre Drummond, don’t have one. “We’re serious about winning and we’re not afraid to make a bold move and seize the opportunity,” Gores said via e-mail Sunday night. “Chances like this don’t come along very often. The move is not without risk and we gave up a lot to get him. We know that basketball is a game full of risk, but it was really clear that he is worth it.”

People throughout the league had indicated just after the New Year that the Clippers were making Blake Griffin available in potential trade scenarios. But this specific deal didn’t come to fruition until near the end of the month. And Gores didn’t hesitate when the proposed deal was put on his table. “Don’t really want to get into internal discussions,” Stan Van Gundy said, “but it didn’t take much selling. Tom was all for it.” Said Tom Gores: “I was involved from the beginning of the discussions. Once we realized this was a real deal, that it was a real opportunity, I told our guys we should get it done. Keep our young guys, keep some flexibility, but get it done.”

Marc Stein: Before the Blake Griffin trade, the buzziest thing that was coming out of Detroit, and I’ve heard this from multiple rival teams in the last couple of weeks, there seems to be an anticipation that Arn Tellem, who, of course, is one of the most successful agents in this league’s history, and has been running the Pistons business side for two-plus years now, there is a lot of chatter that, don’t be surprised if Arn Tellem ends up running the Pistons basketball operations in the near future.

Not that Van Gundy is likely to be terribly concerned about the down-the-road financial implications of this trade for the Pistons should the Griffin/Drummond tag team fail to flourish. The deal comes with Van Gundy running out of time to deliver some certifiable progress in the fourth season of a lucrative five-year deal to serve as Detroit’s coach and team president. It also comes at a time when rival team executives have been buzzing about the prospect of longtime player agent Arn Tellem, who has been heading up the Pistons’ business side as vice chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment since June 2015, succeeding Van Gundy as the head of Detroit’s basketball operations.

It’s also not a fait accompli that the Pistons will need to cross that threshold to retain Bradley. Van Gundy, general manager Jeff Bower and associate GM Pat Garrity, the organization’s point man on cap issues, have game planned for multiple scenarios with regard to the cap and roster for next summer. “We’ve got other strategies,” Van Gundy said. “The finances will not inhibit our ability to re-sign Avery at whatever it takes. If we’re in a situation where we want Avery back and Avery wants to be here, we’ll be able to bring him back.”

As assistant general manager Justin Zanik is preparing the franchise for the NBA draft, the Milwaukee Bucks continue to reach out to potential general manager candidates and plan to begin formal interviews on Monday, league sources told The Vertical. The Bucks were granted permission to speak with several more GM candidates late this week, including Portland Trail Blazers assistant GM Bill Branch, Miami Heat assistant GM Adam Simon and Detroit Pistons assistant GM Pat Garrity, league sources told The Vertical.

But Van Gundy reiterated that it won’t hinder the Pistons’ other potential plans in free agency, as they are nearly fully committed in their current roster. “It doesn’t really slow us down a lot because it’s not like we have a lot of cap space,” Van Gundy said. “More than likely, the guys we could pursue in most cases — as the situation stands now, unless something changes before then — would be guys that would be later in the (process) anyway.”

The Pistons announced their 100,000-square-foot facility in partnership with Henry Ford Health System last month and released artist’s sketches, but many of the details of what will go into the future home of the team – offices for basketball operations and the business side will move to the Detroit campus as well as the team’s practice headquarters – are still in development. “We’re still in the design phase,” general manager Jeff Bower said. “We’re still adding and researching different components. Things will change, but not substantially.”

One feature of the new practice facility will be two regulation-size NBA courts side by side. Their current practice facility on the grounds of The Palace has only one court with baskets at each end and an additional basket on either side of the half-court line extended. “We’ve got four baskets when we shoot (in drill work),” Van Gundy said. “You’ve got to make sure all four baskets are working on the right side so you’re not bumping into each other. Now you’ve got a lot more room to do things. And we’ve also done a lot of after-practice playing on days we’re light. Eight of the lower-minute guys are playing full court while other guys have to wait if they want to shoot. Now they wouldn’t have to, so there’s actually a lot of benefit to it.”
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May 27, 2018 | 7:11 pm EDT Update