July 15, 2014 at 9:18 pm

John Niyo

Pistons moving up but biggest step awaits

Meet new Piston Jodie Meeks
Meet new Piston Jodie Meeks: Pistons introduce their No. 1 free-agent acquisition.

Auburn Hills If youre waiting for something more from the Pistons this offseason something more than improved marksmanship and citizenship then youre not alone.

In fact, youre a bit like new team president and coach Stan Van Gundy, who says hes done with most of his offseason shopping even as he admits theres still one expensive item left in his cart.

Greg Monroe is neither here nor there, and theres no telling where or when that situation will be resolved.

The Pistons big man is a restricted free agent, and one of the biggest names remaining on the market. But with no offer sheet yet from another team, and no hint of progress on a long-term deal to remain in Detroit, theres not much left for Van Gundy to say on the matter.

That didnt stop us from asking about it Monday, as team officials held a new conference to officially announce the signing of shooting guard Jodie Meeks. Or today, when officials trot out Caron Butler and DJ Augustin, two more under-the-radar additions wholl undoubtedly help The Gang That Couldnt Shoot Straight.

Look, Im not sweatin it right now, Van Gundy shrugged when the Monroe subject was brought up. Theres nothing that we can do at this point.

Itll play out. I wouldnt say that Im not a little nervous about it. I am. But its out of my control, at least at this point.

And really, that speaks to a larger challenge for the Pistons boss this summer. Van Gundy was handed control of the franchise with his dual titles. He was handed some salary-cap flexibility, too, with expiring contracts (Charlie Villanueva, Rodney Stuckey and Chauncey Billups) and Monroes matching rights.

Vision far from reality

But beyond that, hes stuck selling an idea, and a vision thats clouded by the current reality a roster that clearly doesnt fit those grand plans. Not with Brandon Jennings running the point. Not with Josh Smith, easily the teams highest-paid player, perhaps destined for a sixth-man role. And probably not with David Falk, Monroes agent, playing a wait-and-see game with the Pistons, presumably angling for a maximum-contract offer from another team.

The assumption is Monroe weary (and wary) after enduring four years of dysfunction in Detroit may prefer to continue his career somewhere else. He hasnt said so publicly, and Van Gundy was quick to praise Monroe for handling this current sit-in very professionally. But no one, least of all Van Gundy, would blame the offensively-gifted big man if that were indeed the case.

Its hard to sell (your plan to) guys you havent coached, Van Gundy said. Yeah, youre going in, talking to em and everything else, trying to give them an idea of what your vision is. But itd be a lot easier if I had coached him. I think itd be a lot easier for him, too, quite honestly. Because he would have a feel for whether he wanted to be here or not.

Of course, Monroe may not have a choice in the end. If no offer sheet comes, hell either have to settle for something less than a max deal in Detroit or for considerably less with the one-year qualifying offer thatd allow him to be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

By then, Van Gundy will have had a chance to show what he can do as a coach, and what he has done with great success in previous stops in Orlando and Miami. For now, though, having done what he could to address Detroits desperate need for perimeter shooting and if it meant overpaying to do so, so be it Van Gundy says our rosters pretty well set.

And I think were gonna make some noise, added Meeks, the primary Pistons target who signed a three-year, $19 million deal Monday. Especially when you see all the moves that are going on the NBA with free agency. The East is wide open.

East only tougher

Thats one way of looking at it, I suppose. This summers free agency certainly has altered the landscape surrounding the Pistons, whove missed the playoffs five years running. But if anything, theyve probably lost ground.

The Cavaliers rolled out the red carpet for LeBron James, still may swing a deal for Kevin Love, and insist theyre going to keep Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in last months draft. Theyve averaged less than 25 wins a season since James bolted for the Heat in 2010, but now theyre the NBA title favorites with the Las Vegas oddsmakers.

Elsewhere, the Bulls, who won 48 games without Derrick Rose last year, have brought in veteran Pau Gasol and rookie Doug McDermott. Indiana still needs to re-sign Lance Stephenson, but it has added a couple shooters to a team that owned the best record in the East last season. And though the Heat took a huge hit, it did keep two-thirds of its Big 3, filling part of the void with Luol Deng.

Young teams on the rise in Toronto and Washington remained largely intact the Wizards replaced Trevor Ariza with Paul Pierce and even New York, which finished eight games better than Detroit in the standings, managed to convince star Carmelo Anthony to stay with the Knicks with the promise of a brighter future.

I certainly notice what youre noticing, Van Gundy said, when asked about the Easts changing dynamic. I mean, people are getting better. But I just worry about us.

Unfortunately for him, thats about all he can do for the moment: Worry, and wait.


New Pistons guard Jodie Meeks, left, and president and coach Stan Van Gundy try to give all the right answers at The Palace. / Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News