ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported today that Stan Van Gundy has “parted ways” with the Detroit Pistons after four years of serving as the team’s coach and general manager. Van Gundy had one year remaining on a five-year, $35 million deal he signed in 2014, and Pistons owner Tom Gores said the change had to be made to take the Pistons to “the next level,” which I assume means losing in the first round every year instead of every other year.
Van Gundy went 152-176 in his four uneventful years in Detroit, once taking the Pistons to the playoffs, where they got swept in the first round by the title-bound Cavs despite putting up a hell of a fight. They never lived up to the expectations they set in that series, and although trading for Blake Griffin gave them a short boost this season, they wound up four games out of the playoffs after a dismal post-All-Star break run. As a coach, Van Gundy helped turn Andre Drummond into a beast, though none of the Pistons’ other players really developed, and he leaves a roster full of misshapen young players who have yet to deliver on their potential. As a GM, he has left the Pistons in cap hell, which is probably a major factor in the team’s decision to cleave the two roles starting next year.
Van Gundy was one the last of what looks now like a dying breed: the coach-GM hybrid. Almost none of the coaches hired into similar roles as either GM or decision-making president of basketball operations over the last few years are left, and those who still hold both gigs are either showing how they’re not quite cut out for it (Tom Thibodeau) or are Gregg Popovich (who works alongside R.C. Buford anyway). Doc Rivers was hired into a hybrid job in 2013, though he had his GM duties stripped last year, in large part because he never built a competitive roster around his stars. Mike Budenholzer served as Hawks president for two years, and while he wasn’t the GM, he had final say over Wes Wilcox.
Under Van Gundy, the Pistons committed to a core of Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, and Griffin, who are all locked into long-term deals. That core has already shown that it’s not exactly competitive with even its mid-tier rivals in the East, and inexplicable contracts for Jon Leuer and Ish Smith mean that the Pistons are already over the salary cap for the next two seasons. They also gave up a first-round pick for Griffin, which could look very bad in hindsight. Then again, given how the Pistons have drafted over the past half-decade, its absence might not hurt them that much anyway.
Maybe Griffin will kick ass in his second season in Michigan and fill up their hollow stadium, but there won’t be an easy way to buff out the roster around him given the contracts Van Gundy has saddled the Pistons with and how little he’s developed the team’s young talent. Stan Van Gundy the coach and Stan Van Gundy the GM never did each other any favors, and that’s whey neither of them have a job today.