Auburn Hills — When it comes down to it, there isn’t a simple answer to the quandary of why the Pistons fell so far short of expectations this season.
For Pistons president-coach Stan Van Gundy, the solution isn’t as simple as trading away his best two players, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson — effectively throwing the baby out with the bathwater — and starting from scratch after their 37-45 finish.
“It was a disappointment; we’d be lying if we said anything else,” Van Gundy said Friday afternoon at the season-ending press conference at The Palace. “I don’t think it’s the end of our process or a final verdict on our team. We’re still moving forward and we have young guys.
“We didn’t make the progress we wanted to make this year, but I still like the core of our guys and we have the makings of a good basketball team. We’ve got to come back and have a better year.”
After the third season of his tenure, Van Gundy has a lot more questions than answers regarding the direction of the team, which will be hampered in free agency with very little wiggle room in the salary cap and some hard decisions about some of their key players, starting with Drummond and Jackson.
Van Gundy pointed the finger at himself, vowing to spice up the offense to help facilitate better shots and to get more players involved. They were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league and just didn’t make shots when it mattered.
“We’ve got to shoot the ball better; a lot of that can be internal development,” Van Gundy said. “We had virtually an entire roster other than (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) that took a step back in that area this year and they can all get back to where their career numbers are — and in some cases, even above that.”
There’s a certain element that it’s Van Gundy’s roster and though he’s in the dual role of president and coach, he doesn’t feel like he’s letting his allegiance to players he’s acquired and kept shade his assessment of their performance and production.
That starts with Drummond, who took a step back from his All-Star season, with the well-known free-throw issues and questions about his motivation and drive. It’s an ongoing process in getting Drummond to improve, but one that Van Gundy isn’t willing just to give up on.
The next step needs to come from Drummond trying to become an elite player, commensurate with his max salary.
“He needs to have a sense of urgency to elevate his game,” Van Gundy said. “He’s been in the league five years and he’s still young — he hasn’t turned 24 — so he has time. He’s a very talented guy and he’s been one of the elite rebounders in the league.
“He’s got some great things to work with but there’s more there; the sky’s the limit for him. He’s got a chance to be really good to great, but he needs to do some work to get there.”
Van Gundy said he will meet one-on-one with Drummond on Monday to talk in detail about establishing a plan for the summer and how they plan to move forward.
With Jackson, the plan seems to be much clearer. There’s no apparent plan to trade their point guard; rather, there’s an optimism that he can return from tendinitis issues a better player than he was last season, when he played at a near All-Star level.
“I think we need to tweak some things with our roster, but I don’t think we’re far off base,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve built a pretty good roster and obviously we were really built around Reggie’s pick-and-roll abilities. We had 30 games he didn’t play in — and I don’t think he was ever at full strength.
“He can get back there — in fact I’m really confident he can get back there. The roster was put together with one group in mind and we really didn’t have that.”
In many ways, Van Gundy sees that Jackson’s extended absence had a residual effect by making the other perimeter players’ shots more difficult and stunted the offense. Instead of clearing the whiteboard, he’s more willing to make smaller moves to refine the edges, but not throw away some of their big pieces to accomplish minimal improvement.
“There are some moves that we can make that can benefit us — maybe a big move, but maybe not. I would never come out and say we’re going to make a major move because those are harder to make,” Van Gundy said. “Realistically, you just always think you have a better chance at tweaking some things than some bombshell move. I also don’t think we need a bombshell move.
“There’s a couple things we’d like to do and make us a little bit better but I don’t think we’re broken. Getting our point guard situation back to where it was or even better is more than feasible and corrects a great deal of the problems we’re talking about. Our roster is pretty good from there.”