Pistons hope to take big step under Van Gundy
DETROIT (AP) After five straight seasons without a playoff berth, Joe Dumars' long run as Detroit's general manager came to an end.
Enter Stan Van Gundy, who took over this offseason as coach and team president of the Pistons, a double dose of power and responsibility that could give the franchise some much-needed stability - if Van Gundy can handle both roles.
Van Gundy brings impressive coaching credentials to the job after winning at least 50 games once with the Miami Heat and four times with the Orlando Magic. He takes over a Detroit team coming off back-to-back 29-win seasons, and although the Pistons do have a talented frontcourt, the lineup looked disjointed for much of 2013-14.
Van Gundy the executive may eventually give Detroit's roster a more significant overhaul, but for now it's up to Van Gundy the coach to make the most of what he has.
''We can win. We can, but we have to do the things that it takes to win every night,'' Van Gundy said. ''It's not easy and sometimes we don't do those things and we give too many possessions away just from not competing hard enough or playing tough enough. There are habits to change. When you've lost for a long time, you get into losing habits.''
Detroit added forward Josh Smith last season to a lineup that already included big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Those players each possess undeniable talent, but the whole seemed considerably less than the sum of its parts under coach Maurice Cheeks, who was fired in the middle of last season.
Van Gundy tried to add more outside shooting, but the Pistons will still rely on their core of Drummond, Monroe, Smith and Brandon Jennings - a group that didn't come close to living up to its potential a season ago.
''Nobody wants to lose and a lot of times guys don't even realize the habits they've fallen into,'' Van Gundy said. ''I think they want to change, it just has to be more consistent.''
Here are a few things to watch in Van Gundy's first season with the Pistons, who open the season at Denver on Oct. 29:
MONROE'S FUTURE: Monroe signed a one-year qualifying offer from Detroit, meaning he'll be back for a fifth season with the Pistons. But the move set him up to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Another dismal season would presumably leave Monroe with less incentive to stay, so the pressure is on for Detroit to show significant improvement.
DRUMMOND'S DEVELOPMENT: Drummond averaged 13.5 points and 13.2 rebounds last season, and there's no question he has the potential to become one of the game's top big men. But there is still some room for growth. Although Drummond has shot 62 percent from the field over his first two seasons, he could use more polish at the offensive end. Drummond is dominant around the rim, and offensive rebounding was one of the few areas in which the Pistons excelled as a team last season.
SMITH'S SHOTS: Smith attempted a career-high 265 shots from 3-point range in 2013-14 and made a woeful 26 percent. While it may seem like there's an easy solution to that problem - take fewer 3s - the presence of Drummond and Monroe appears to exacerbate Smith's tendency to drift toward the perimeter.
AT THE POINT: Jennings averaged 15.5 points and a career-high 7.6 assists in his first season as a Piston, but he faces the same questions as Smith about his offensive efficiency. Jennings shot 37 percent from the field.
BEYOND THE ARC: Perhaps in response to the shooting struggles of Smith and Jennings, Van Gundy acquired Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin, both of whom shot 40 percent from 3-point range last season. Meeks, however, is expected to miss all of November with a back problem, and second-year guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope strained his knee during the preseason.