Pistons new coach and president Stan Van Gundy won't have a first-round pick in next month's NBA draft, thanks to the 2012 Ben Gordon trade. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — The NBA draft lottery produces plenty of manufactured drama in the made-for-TV setup, but for the Pistons and Stan Van Gundy, it was made-for-misery as sliding down one spot meant losing it all.
When the Charlotte Hornets’ logo was pulled from NBA deputy Mark Tatum’s hands, payment on the money-saving Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette trade in 2012 fully came to fruition, as the Pistons were vulnerable to losing their top-eight protected draft pick this season.
When they didn’t use the amnesty clause on Gordon to get from under his $25 million deal, whether it was management’s call to make the deal or Pistons’ owner Tom Gores’, it set the wheels in motion for something disastrous to happen.
It saved the Pistons $14 million on the front end, but could have caused them a valuable player for the foreseeable future, as Van Gundy’s first act as an executive won’t be introducing a ready-made 20-year-old to build around.
“Tonight’s results are disappointing, but not disastrous,” said Van Gundy in a statement released by the team shortly after the lottery. “We knew we would lose our pick this year or next.”
Apparently a 72.47 percent chance at staying eighth isn’t worth much in the way of guarantees, especially when it comes to the topsy-turvy NBA draft lottery. Pistons assistant general manager George David nearly echoed Van Gundy’s words in a conference call.
“Disappointing but not devastating,” David said. “When you see that, your mind immediately turns to ‘how do we make ourselves better?’ That’s the only way you can look at it.”
Lottery luck doesn’t seem to work for the Pistons, as they haven’t risen in the lottery to the top three since 1994. Their 2003 second overall pick was a result of a similar trade with the then-Vancouver Grizzlies.
But good fortune works for the folks in northern Ohio, much to the Pistons’ chagrin, as they also fell one spot in 2011 and 2013, but didn’t have any trade stipulations attached to it.
That team’s name was the Cleveland Cavaliers, which keeps landing in the top three, as they turned their 1.7 percent chance into the top pick for the third time in four years. And it leaves the Pistons on the outside looking in, in one of the deepest drafts in years, perhaps the best since 2003.
The Milwaukee Bucks had the best odds to finish first, at 25 percent, but will select second. And the Philadelphia 76ers will select third.
Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and the entire lot of franchise changers, difference makers and even some valuable soon-to-be role players will be out of the Pistons’ reach.
They interviewed a bunch of players with first-round talent, and now the only way the Pistons can get back in is to make a trade, although that seems unlikely, considering they own the 38th pick.
“We will continue our evaluation process and preparation for the coming draft,” Van Gundy said.
“We’ll also explore other opportunities to use the draft to improve our team — whether that’s moving up, moving down or staying at No. 38.”
“We still have many assets and tools at our disposal to upgrade our roster, including the free agency period in July.”
The Pistons will have cap space this summer, even if they take care of restricted free agent Greg Monroe, to go after needs they could have obtained in the draft, where a player’s salary is slotted for the first four years.
Shooting and perimeter help will be on the agenda, and they’ll likely have to unearth a player like Kyle Singler — who represented the Pistons on the lottery stage — whom they drafted in the second round in 2011 and who is entering the last year of a three-year, cap-friendly deal.
Gores’ urge to win immediately — or Joe Dumars’ desire to get away from the underachieving Gordon, whom he signed in the summer of 2009 when the team was about to go up for sale — caused it.
If Gores calls hiring Van Gundy his “defining moment,” perhaps this situation will be termed his “greatest lesson,” if there is anything to be taken from this.