Detroit Pistons basketball fans collectively laughed across social media after Stan Van Gundy’s hiring as the New Orleans Pelicans head coach.
And it was for a good reason.
After his tenure as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, many Detroiters never thought they would see him coaching on any sideline again. After all, look at what he did during his tenure in Detroit.
Then as more details started to surface regarding Van Gundy’s hiring, the laughter ceased. The laughter didn’t stop because he agreed to a four-year deal to coach a young and talented roster. Quite frankly, that deal was the foundation of many jokes. Whether it was on Facebook or Twitter, many of Van Gundy’s detractors lit him up. Many are placing bets amongst each other of how long it will take for the Pelicans to fire Mr. “Form A Wall” to get in The Big Easy.
So why did the laughter stop?
It stopped when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Van Gundy sold his teaching abilities with young rosters to Pelicans management. Along with that, his forte of building top defenses was an additional bonus.
And the icing on the cake in Van Gundy’s hiring? His personnel decisions in Detroit were not even a factor.
A Wall of Crappy Van Gundy Signings
Whether Stan Van Gundy deserves to be an NBA head coach is debatable. While he’s by no means a horrible coach, but he’s not a great one either. When it comes to his tenure as the Pistons head coach, Van Gundy was simply a trainwreck.
When you move from job to job, you have to update your resume. And for most employers, you’re only as good as your performance in your last position. Knowing this context, let’s examine what Van Gundy did in Detroit.
Let’s start with what the Pelicans didn’t factor into hiring him. You know, those asinine personnel decisions. The way Van Gundy acquired Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin were franchise-altering. On paper, both players were good enough to help the Pistons reach the playoffs. The downside were their contracts. Both deals handicapped the organization financially.
Both players were untradeable. And they provided no return on investment with their performance.
Van Gundy’s tenure also came with a slew of forgettable signings.
Ish Smith and Arron Baynes were dependable pickups for the Pistons rotation, so SVG gets a pass there, but he’s far from off the hook. Caron Butler, Jodie Meeks, and Jon Leuer, and DJ Augustin were horrendous signings.
And for clarification, the ONLY reason Augustin’s signing was horrendous is that Van Gundy traded him (prematurely) after the injury to Brandon Jennings. In 10 starts after Jennings’ injury, he averaged 20.3 points on 47% shooting, 8.2 assists, and was a 96% free throw shooter.
There was NO REASON to move him, especially for Reggie Jackson. Then to turn around and sign Jackson to a five-year, $80 million deal was absurd. It was one of several deals the Pistons had trouble getting off their books.
Let’s Not Forget the Draft and Trade History
Stan Van Gundy was either a hit or miss signing free agents. That’s generally the story with most NBA coaches, even the great ones. That still doesn’t excuse SVG from his decisions in the NBA draft nor his trades.
He was a failure at both. There is no need to beat the deal horse of how bad acquiring Blake Griffin’s contract was. It’s well-known SVG got the raw end of the deal. The other non-sensical trades he made during his tenure brought back these returns: Steve Blake, Danny Granny, Marcus Thornton, Donatas Motiejunas, and Tobias Harris.
And just like the D.J. Augustin signing, Harris’s acquisition was horrible because he too was prematurely traded for a player (Griffin) with an unmovable contract.
Quite frankly, the Pistons could have benefitted more the past several seasons with a player like Harris instead of Griffin, who has a career of questionable health.
Then there’s the draft.
Hindsight is always 20/20. Be that as it may, Van Gundy’s draft history is a fireable offense in itself. The selections he could have made during the draft versus who he took are night and day different. Drafting Henry Ellenson in 2016 over Pascal Siakam is one a person could view in that light, but Siakam went under the radar for a lot of teams. Still, he took Ellenson of Caris Levert and Malik Beasley.
There’s also the selection of Stanley Johnson over sharpshooter Devin Booker, at a time when the Pistons desperately needed spacing. However, his most infamous pick is taking Luke Kennard over Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell’s immediate rise to one of the NBA’s best players is the biggest blemish on SVG’s track record to this day.
So How Did He Get The Job?
As previously mentioned, none of Van Gundy’s personnel decisions as Pistons president of basketball operations were a factor in the Pelicans hiring him.
It was strictly off his coaching philosophy. Knowing that tidbit, it should also include his coaching in Detroit. Van Gundy’s 152-176 record during four seasons in the Motor City wasn’t the biggest problem. The problem also wasn’t LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers sweeping his team during his only playoff appearance (2016) while in Detroit.
The problem was his team did not gel together at any point. The rotations were inconsistent, and young talent did not meet expectations. While the Pistons hovered around the top 10-15 defenses under Van Gundy’s coaching, they finished with a record over .500 only once under his watch.
The Pelicans firing Alvin Gentry to turn around and hire Van Gundy is a lateral move at best.
Regardless, the man who Shaquille O’Neal calls the “Master of Panic” is back in coaching. With the Pelicans adding David Griffin in 2019 as executive vice president of basketball operations, it was pretty obvious Van Gundy wouldn’t make significant personnel decisions.
However, the Pelicans stated Van Gundy’s coaching philosophy and teaching went into the decision to hire. And his last stint in Detroit did not provide to be a valid reason.