Stan Van Gundy has done great things in the NBA and it almost feels as though he does not get enough credit. After early season struggles in Detroit, he managed to help his young core turn things around with a more set rotation. Now, with nearly half of the season completed, the Pistons are firing on all cylinders and looking to make a push for the eighth seed in the East.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Van Gundy Became an NBA Head Coach in Miami
After eight years serving as an assistant coach under Pat Riley, he was given the opportunity to take over a team that had went 25-57 the year before. Miami played that season with a rookie head coach and a rookie superstar in the making.
The Heat lost their first seven games of the 2003-04 season before slowly turning things around. Miami was 27-38 with about a month remaining in the season before becoming one of the hottest teams in the NBA, finishing the year 14-3 and going above .500.
Van Gundy was fortunate that Riley was able to pull off a major trade to acquire Shaquille O’Neal to turn the scrappy Heat into NBA contenders. The Heat made the Eastern Conference Finals and went up 3-2 against the Pistons before a Dwyane Wade injury potentially cost them the final two games of the series.
2. VG Made the NBA Finals With Orlando
Van Gundy defied all odds with an unexpectedly great roster in 2009. With Dwight Howard as the centerpiece, the Orlando Magic managed to battle to 59 wins, good for third in the Eastern Conference behind the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers and the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics.
After a successful first season as Orlando’s coach, he really helped show the potential of Howard, as the former Magic superstar won three Defensive Player of the Year awards with Van Gundy at the helm. Howard became a proven centerpiece of an NBA title contender as Van Gundy helped surround him with legitimate three-point shooting all around him.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the two ended poorly, as the two parted ways after the 2012 season when Orlando fired Van Gundy and traded Howard later on that summer as the franchise prepped for a fresh start.
3. He’s Jeff Van Gundy’s Older Brother
Jeff Van Gundy has coached some excellent basketball teams, including the 1999 Eastern Conference Champion New York Knicks. He has had an impressive resume as an NBA head coach, as he is not just the commentator for ESPN and ABC.
Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks were capable of having more success in the 90s if Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were not dominating much of the decade. It was difficult for any team in the East to make a title run during that time but Van Gundy got the eighth-seeded Knicks to the Finals the season after Jordan had retired.
One of the most memorable moments of his career was the infamous fight between New York’s Larry Johnson and Miami’s Alonzo Mourning, where Van Gundy jumped in to break the fight up but was found dangling on Mourning’s leg as he was dragged along for the ride. The video of the fight is shown above.
His run as the coach of the Houston Rockets was not as successful but Van Gundy did manage to make the playoffs three out of his four seasons as the coach, though he was never able to make it past the first round.
4. Van Gundy is Detroit’s Head Coach & President of Basketball Operations
On May 14, 2014, Van Gundy was announced as the new president of basketball operations of the Detroit Pistons as well as the head coach. The Pistons have not had a winning record since 2007-08 and the franchise needed a coach with a respectable history to change the team culture. Van Gundy wanted more power within any organization he signed with after his final season with the Orlando Magic ended on bad terms.
The deal is set for 5 years for $35 million and will give Van Gundy the ability to make roster decisions. During his tenure in Orlando, the roster was changed often and did not allow for any continuity, even after enjoying some successes. Van Gundy will have an opportunity to build his own roster, likely around Andre Drummond.
5. Van Gundy Waived Josh Smith in December
Joe Dumars had money to spend during the 2013 offseason. He went out and made a big splash, giving Josh Smith a four year, $54 million deal. Smith was signed to play small forward next to Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Many had high expectations for the franchise after the signing but it did not turn out well.
The Pistons did not perform at either end of the court and only managed 29 wins in his lone full season in Detroit. A 5-23 start forced Van Gundy to make a change which has the Pistons playing their best basketball in years. Detroit has won eight of their last nine games since waiving Smith on December 22, with signature wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and the Toronto Raptors.
With approximately $26 million remaining on his contract after this season, the Pistons will likely utilize the stretch provision and pay off the contract over a longer period of time so his salary does not take a major hit to their salary cap.
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