AUBURN HILLS — Before the NBA draft, Stan Van Gundy laid out the first steps of his plan for rebuilding the Pistons.
As of Tuesday, most of that mission has been accomplished. One day after introducing Jodie Meeks to the local media, Detroit brought in Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. All three are players that fit nicely into the mold Van Gundy plans to use for the new roster.
Without a first-round pick, he and his staff had made an exhaustive list of the players they wanted to pursue in free agency, and while he wasn’t about to announce who was at the top, he did make it clear what the team needed.
First, he needed wings. When Van Gundy took over from John Loyer and Joe Dumars, he inherited only two players that he thought could help the team at small forward and shooting guard — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler. That led directly to the team’s next issue, a lack of 3-point shooting. While Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings were more than willing to fire away from behind the arc last season, they weren’t good at it, leaving the Pistons as one of the NBA’s worst 3-point teams in recent memory.
The third thing that Van Gundy stressed was character. While he couldn’t come right out and say it, he needed veteran players who could help him keep Jennings and Smith in an offensive system late in games, instead of the freelancing that hurt the Pistons down the stretch so many times last year.
With Meeks, Butler and Augustin, along with the smaller deals given to Cartier Martin and Aaron Gray, Van Gundy has been able to do a lot to fill those holes. Other than Gray, a center who will fill the roster spot held by Josh Harrellson a year ago, all of the new Pistons can hit 3-pointers, and Butler, Meeks and Martin all play on the wing.
That means, instead of just two players, Van Gundy now has five that will need playing time at shooting guard and small forward. Martin isn’t expected to be a member of the regular playing rotation, but Van Gundy said Tuesday that training camp will work out the other four spots.
"It’s going to be a wide-open competition," he said. "We’re going to find the best way to get these guys to fit together."
Meeks is considered the star of the group — his career took off when he replaced the injured Kobe Bryant last year for the Lakers — but Butler might have the biggest role to play. At 34, he brings exactly the kind of experience that a young team needs in the locker room. He can still play — he was getting 23 minutes a game during Oklahoma City’s run to the Western Conference Finals last season — but he didn’t hesitate when asked what he brings to the franchise.
"Veteran leadership, both on the court and in the locker room," said Butler, who is also looking forward to working with Van Gundy again. He spent his first two NBA seasons in Miami, with Van Gundy serving as an assistant to Pat Riley during the first year and as the head coach in the second.
So, as Van Gundy predicted last month, the Pistons have a free-agent class made up of high-character guys who know the role they are here to fill. There probably isn’t an All-Star in the group, but they are exactly the type of players that Van Gundy put around Dwight Howard in Orlando, and he’s planning to do the same with Andre Drummond in Detroit.
There’s still one major step left, however. Van Gundy acknowledged Tuesday that the Pistons aren’t close to reaching a deal with restricted free-agent Greg Monroe. The new coach has talked since his first press conference about how much he loves Monroe’s game, and the rare opportunity to have a pair of talented young post players like Monroe and Drummond, but the sides haven’t been able to agree exactly how much that pairing is worth.
"The Monroe situation has taken center stage, remains center stage and will be center stage until it’s resolved," Van Gundy said. "It’s really not anything going on there right now. There’s not really a whole lot more that can go on. We’ll just see where the situation takes us."
It might not happen quickly, either. Monroe could wait until October to make his final decision.