The Firing of Stan Van Gundy (And Why it Won’t Matter)

Finally, something good to talk about with the Pistons. It only took three weeks since the season ended. Just ten days after owner Tom Gores met with his now ex-head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy. Only three months after the same Van Gundy sent this organization into financial purgatory by trading for a 30-year-old power forward with a $172 million contract. Three months after Van Gundy shipped the Pistons 2018 first round lottery draft pick in the same horrific trade. Almost one full year after Van Gundy passed on Donovan Mitchell to draft rookie phenom Luke Kennard. Two years after choosing prolific shooter Stanley Johnson to be the future of the Pistons instead of scrubs like Terry Rozier and Devin Booker. Two years removed from sending 2014’s second round pick Spencer Dinwiddie to the Chicago Bulls for Cameron Bairstow, who averaged 1.2 points per game over his two year career, and never saw the floor for the Pistons.

Yes, I know Dinwiddie is not the prototypical name to fly on SVG’s laundry list of dreadful front office moves, but there’s a reason to include him. Take a look back to this years All-Star break. The Pistons had just traded for Blake Griffin. Owner Tom Gores had just appeared seemingly intoxicated at Little Caesar’s Arena to throw shirts at fans and pop a boner for “Blake Day”. If you think Philadelphia 76ers dropping confetti in a playoff loss seems bad, imagine the most exciting day of your season involving the acquisition of a 30-year-old power forward with what is widely regarded to be among the three worst contracts in the league. While casual fans began to sip the Kool-Aid, watching the Pistons go on a winning streak during their inaugural week with Griffin; the more basketball savvy of us saw what may go down as a move even worse than drafting Darko Milicic ahead of Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. Inconceivable? It’s not as far off as you may think. SVG traded away this years first round pick, one which will come in the lottery, and committed $276 million to the front court pairing of Griffin and center Andre Drummond.

So why the All-Star break? Why Spencer Dinwiddie? All-Star weekend is filled with festivities for players and fans alike, including but not limited to the skills challenge, three-point contest, and dunk contest. While mostly meaningless events, and in some cases (dunk contest) severely overrated as far as entertainment value, they add shame to Van Gundy’s legacy. Dinwiddie won this years skills challenge, a contest which puts emphasis on passing and three-point shooting. Van Gundy traded Dinwiddie away. Devin Booker won the three-point contest. Van Gundy passed on Booker in the 2015 NBA Draft, instead drafting Stanley Johnson for his *ahem* three-point shooting. Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest. Van Gundy passed on Mitchell for Luke Kennard to average 7.1 points as a rotation player. To make matters worse, all Donovan Mitchell has done is carry the Utah Jazz to the Western Conference Semifinals.

This is Van Gundy’s legacy. He came to a Pistons organization brimming with optimism. He left it a dumpster fire that makes Ken Holland look brilliant. An unorganized mess that makes the Lions history look tidy. A perennial rebuild that will make the Tigers feel like light speed.

I’m glad you’re gone, Stan. I hope the door knocked you flat on your face on your way out. I sincerely hope you never get a job in this league again. I would hate for you to ruin another organization the way you ruined this one. Good riddance.

Bye Felicia.

But, wait. That’s not everything. It’s not all Stan’s fault. In fact, what if Stan is more symptom than cause? What if Stan is a symbol of a more insidious disease plaguing the Pistons organization?

Enter Tom Gores.

When a dog bites the neighbors kid, and it’s seen as a pattern of behavioral issues, in many cases the dog is euthanized. It must have been poorly tempered. Too often we look at what the dog did wrong without looking at who let the dog off it’s leash. We can punt Van Gundy as far out of Detroit as we want. It won’t change culture. Not unless team owner and Beverly Hills private equity man Tom Gores develops some sort of understanding on running a team (beyond increasing it’s value by over 200%). Gores is one of the best at making money, true. He is one of the worst at managing a basketball organization.

What’s worse? Indifference or ineptitude? Gores displays one or the other. If he weren’t indifferent, he would never have allowed Van Gundy to dictate the next five years of this organization by trading out of the draft and committing 45% of the payroll to two players. God forbid Gores has a deep passion for not only the sport, but for the Detroit Pistons. That would only leave utter ineptitude as his reason for allowing Van Gundy to pull the pin on that live grenade. Gores is a smart guy, exclusively at making money, but he lacks foresight. Teams that win are more profitable than teams that lose. Gores knows this. He has to. Which means he’s either fooled himself into thinking a core of Griffin, Drummond, and china-doll Reggie Jackson is enough to compete with Lebron James, let alone the Golden State Warriors; or he’s developed a complacency where he will allow himself to be content with peaking at fifth seed in the East and a first-round playoff exit.

The fan-base should demand a team sell. Gores can hire and fire as many coaches that agree with his misguided philosophies as he pleases, just as long as organizational value continues to rise. What he can’t do is weather a storm of fan backlash. Stop buying tickets. Stop buying jersey’s (this one should be easy considering there are zero noteworthy players). Stop watching on television. Make Gores’ pockets hurt. This franchise with a storied history deserves better than this. The city of Detroit has some of the best sports fans on the planet. The fans deserve better than this. Firing Van Gundy is a step in the right direction, but it does not fix the Pistons. Only ownership can do that.


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