Rasheed Wallace was not retained as an assistant coach, which severs more links to a successful past for the Pistons. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — January is usually the month where “out with the old, in with the new” resonates with many, but the Pistons have undergone a dramatic transformation in terms of their organizational makeup in the spring and summer.
It began when longtime Pistons president — and employee of 29 years — Joe Dumars stepped aside, making way for Stan Van Gundy to hold the dual title of team president and head coach.
Other critical pieces to an organization that once brought the Pistons glory have left through The Palace doors since, including assistant general manager George David, who resigned after 17 years with the organization earlier this week.
David worked in various capacities over that time and worked his way up, first from scouting, then to the player personnel side and finally as assistant GM. Executives Scott Perry and John Hammond departed for other franchises, and although Perry is frequently mentioned as one of the “ready for the next step” executives, he didn’t receive strong consideration when the Pistons went searching for Dumars’ replacement.
Of course, the dominoes began to fall when longtime owner William Davidson passed away five years ago, and two years later Tom Gores took over as steward for a franchise that owns three Larry O’Brien trophies.
The Pistons were bound for a change, change that fit Gores’ sensibilities and comfort level. Change was inevitable, and bringing in Van Gundy was not the first indication of a sea change, merely the biggest.
Van Gundy has always been respectful when asked about other team employees — the scouts, assistant coaches and other executives — and is certainly putting his own stamp on this franchise. He’ll try to chart a course in which the season no longer ends in mid-April — one in which all hope isn’t lost before the All-Star break.
When Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups were not retained in different capacities — Wallace as an assistant coach, Billups as a veteran in the locker room who had a team option for 2014-15 — more history, more links to a successful past were cleansed from the building.
Wallace was never afraid to speak his mind as a player, and Billups has been one of the most influential players recently with his peers. They were strong voices who would have had opinions of the team’s direction, be it good or bad.
Van Gundy has a delicate balance of being respectful to the past, as he’s had no issues nodding to the team tradition, while also trying to revive the team with his own energy, his personality and his plans for the future.
At this point, the only proof the Pistons have won championships lies in the banners at The Palace and the practice facility. The two franchises that participated in the last two NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, have reminders of the groundwork that’s been laid all through their respective buildings. Former Spurs star David Robinson is prominent, and Sean Elliott is a team announcer.
For the Heat, a relatively young franchise, former mainstays Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning are always around and hold positions, but keep in mind, it was the franchise that many believed banished loyal employee Van Gundy after 12 years.
Of course, strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander and trainer Mike Abdenour are still with the Pistons, and fans should hear the familiar bark of Abdenour’s voice when the shot clock winds down from five, so everything hasn’t truly changed in Auburn Hills.
In today’s NBA, and the high-stakes world of professional sports as a whole, success is only loyal to more success, and teams usually make uncomfortable decisions, charting unknown courses in the effort to make new traditions.
Sometimes when teams go away from a definitive identity, it can have disastrous results, but change shouldn’t always be associated with negative attributes.
Van Gundy has been given a blank canvas on which to paint, to do things his way, and the results will be a form of something that hasn’t been seen in a long time — good or bad.