May 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Pistons' Stan Van Gundy has the power, and the voice to use it

New Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy
New Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy : Stan Van Gundy is introduced as Detroit's new coach and president of basketball operations.

Auburn Hills — Stan Van Gundy is here for one reason. Well, two reasons actually.

He’s here because the Pistons craved a top-notch coach, a singular voice after several years of disarray. And also because Van Gundy isn’t shy about using that voice, even when it gets hoarse.

Owner Tom Gores made a bold leap that can work if Van Gundy can keep the voices straight in his head. He’s a coach with a tremendous track record, and a president of basketball operations with no track record. Gores was so desperate to unify his team, he squeezed two huge jobs into one (sort of tight) jacket.

I like the move, partly because Van Gundy appears bright enough, driven enough and grounded enough to keep the jobs separate, while doing both. The coach might wonder why Josh Smith shoots so erratically, or whether Greg Monroe can thrive alongside Andre Drummond. The front-office guy must deal with contract realities.

It should make for some interesting late-night conversations. Van Gundy joked about the split persona, and described it perfectly earlier Thursday during a radio interview.

“One advantage and one disadvantage in this job is, I now have a reasonable chance of getting along with the front office, since I am the front office,” he said. “But the problem our organization has is, our president and our head coach, both of them are jerks. So there could be some conflict.”

Two become one

The recent Pistons history of discord, and Van Gundy’s short history of front-office disputes, actually brought them together. Sick of being burned by strife, they created a direct link between the front office and the floor, a model only used by two NBA teams.

The Spurs are successful with Gregg Popovich in control and the Clippers are successful with Doc Rivers.

It hasn’t worked many places but it hasn’t failed either because few teams ever try.

Gores was uniquely motivated to try after failing in his first three seasons. He and Joe Dumars gave it a shot, but in retrospect, it was a mismatch. Dumars is a behind-the-scenes guy who understandably wanted to hire his own coaches. Gores wanted more noise, literally and figuratively, and didn’t fully trust Dumars because of all the previous mistakes with coaches. Right or wrong, he decided to cut out one layer of decision-making.

When the two met in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Gores was wowed by Van Gundy’s preparedness, and surely entertained by his self-effacing glibness. Don’t let the jokes and rumpled look fool you, though. Van Gundy presented a 45-page binder detailing his plan for the Pistons, and brought along a 500-page playbook just for fun.

I asked Gores why the Pistons were so disjointed before, and why Van Gundy could correct it.

“I think it’s a problem in the league, it’s just really hard to connect the floor and the front office,” Gores said. “It’s why I really like this model. I think Stan and I will take it to a whole different level. I think it takes a unique skillset, and Stan’s got it.”

Let's talk

That skillset includes Van Gundy’s respected communication ability, which helped produce a .641 winning percentage in eight seasons with Miami and Orlando.

He wears his bluntness well, although he prefers to call it simple honesty.

If that’s the case, the Pistons players can use some, ahem, simple harsh honesty, although Van Gundy isn’t planning to kick in doors — just yet. He actually praised Smith and the team’s talent, while acknowledging the defense was really bad. Van Gundy also knows he’s here to expand Drummond’s tantalizing game and build around him, as he did with star big men Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal.

In a way, it’s like the Lions hiring Jim Caldwell, brought in partly to unearth Matthew Stafford’s potential. The first meeting between Gores and Van Gundy lasted 6˝ hours, and the genesis of the five-year, $35-million contract offer was born.

“I couldn’t quit talking,” Van Gundy said. “I was getting more excited as we went on… . The other thing this model does is, there’s no excuses now. Coaches say I’m doing a great job but this guy isn’t getting me good enough players. And the front office is telling ownership, we put together a great roster and the coach is screwing it up. There’s none of that anymore.”

There was plenty of that before, and to be fair, the Pistons used to win big with unorthodox methods. But the players gained too much control as the coaches lost control and a major shift was necessary. As long as we’re tossing around analogies, Van Gundy will try to supply what Jim Leyland did when he took over the then-woeful Tigers — he’s tough, he’s talkative, he’s different.

All the buzz phrases were flying Thursday, and this one came up again and again — “one voice.” Gores and Van Gundy were tired of hearing other voices, so they went ahead and did something about it.

New Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy owns a .641 winning percentage at coaching stops with the Heat and Magic. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News
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