AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Now that Stan Van Gundy is in place as the coach and president of the Pistons, he can start working on his biggest challenge — rebuilding a team that’s gone from playing in June every season to one whose season is usually over by the All-Star break.
At his introductory press conference on Thursday afternoon, Van Gundy gave the fans a few hints as to how he’s going to get that done.
In the process, he might have ended one of the hottest debates about what the Pistons are going to do in the offseason: How will they react when a team signs restricted free agent Greg Monroe to a massive offer sheet?
At just 24 years old, Monroe is something that most NBA teams would crave — a young, talented big man — but the Pistons would have to find a way to make a huge new deal work on a roster that already includes Andre Drummond and Josh Smith.
Van Gundy didn’t swear that he’ll keep Monroe come hell or high water, but he came close. Drummond and Monroe were the first two players he mentioned when he talked about the reasons he wanted to come to Detroit, and he has already started the process of keeping them together.
"We got going on that right away," Van Gundy said. "I had a long conversation today with David Falk — Greg’s agent — and I want to sit down and talk to both he and Greg as soon as possible. I think Greg is one of the elite big men in the league because he has so many skills. He can pass the ball, he’s athletic and he can score the ball in the post.
"I value him very highly, and I want them to know that I value him highly. We will sit down with them, and if they have any concerns, we will try to work them out."
Of course, Van Gundy didn’t hide the fact that, although he’s a fan of Monroe, Drummond is the jewel of the franchise. As a coach who has worked with Shaquille O’Neal in Miami and Dwight Howard in Orlando, Van Gundy knows how to appreciate a great, young big man.
"There is nothing about Andre Drummond that doesn’t appeal to me," Van Gundy said. "He’s the kind of player that you build a franchise around, and that means we have some responsibilities toward him.
"First, we have to make him into the best player he can be, and that goes beyond teaching him skills on the court. We have to make sure he is prepared to play as well as he can be, and that he learns as much as possible by watching film.
"Second, we have to surround him with the best players possible. That part might take a little bit longer, but I’m hoping to have a lot of it done by July 15. I’m not very patient."
The next question will be how Smith fits into that plan. The Pistons spent a large amount of their cap space to bring him in, thinking that he would create an unstoppable front line, but things didn’t work last season.
Playing at small forward cost him the defensive value that made him such a valued free agent, and his questionable shot selection made him into a major offensive liability.
Van Gundy acknowledged that he will discuss 3-point shooting with Smith, although Van Gundy didn’t go as far as saying that he’d ask him to never take one again.
But he still sees Smith as a valuable player.
"I’ve heard the negatives about Josh, but I think he’s a hell of a player," Van Gundy said. "I don’t know if the three of them together will be our primary lineup, but he gives us three elite big men. I don’t think there is any team in the Eastern Conference who can match that.
"There may be some things we need to adjust with their roles and with our roster, but he’s a definite asset."
Van Gundy knows that the roster needs help — the only two other players he mentioned by name were Brandon Jennings and Gigi Datome, and the latter was only because he attended the press conference — but he’s ready to get to work.
A little luck on Tuesday, when the Pistons find out if they’ll keep their first-round draft pick, would be a nice start. If Detroit stays at No. 8 in the lottery, or jumps into the top three, they will hang on to the pick. If any team jumps ahead of them, though, they will have to send the pick to Charlotte to finish off the Ben Gordon trade.
In one of the deepest drafts in years, that pick could help Van Gundy’s rebuilding project quite a bit.