Beard: Van Gundy's future murky as Pistons freefall

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Miami — It’s not time to start writing about the Pistons’ offseason plans.

Not yet.

It’s time for them to start winning if they’re going to make the playoffs for the second time in coach/president Stan Van Gundy’s four years at the helm, though. And that might dictate whether he’s going to be around for his final year.

The Pistons have dropped the first two games — to the lowly Orlando Magic and the team they’re chasing, the Miami Heat — in their three-game trip. They finish the set at Cleveland Monday before hosting the Raptors and Bulls this week.

The Pistons (29-34) are four games behind the Heat for the final East playoff spot and it’s looking more like they’ll be back in the lottery than trying to make a postseason run. Reggie Jackson could be back to full-contact practices in the next week or so but the season might be too far gone to salvage anything with his return.

Van Gundy unloaded after Friday’s loss to the Magic, when asked about trying to focus on making up ground to catch the Heat and get to the playoffs.

“I don’t care about that. I’ve said that and you guys keep asking me,” Van Gundy said. “What matters is that we play well and win games. We have no control over the rest of it. I don’t give a (crap) about that.”

It’s not that Van Gundy doesn’t care about making the playoffs; rather, he’s focusing on playing better, which would lead to winning and getting to the postseason. Sound reasoning, but many took the quote out of context to mean he was just playing out the string this season.

Quite the opposite.

The thought isn’t limited to this year. If Jackson returns this season, just getting a better sense of what the roster and rotation would look like moving forward has significant value. There have been some encouraging signs with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond — who combined for 53 points and 22 rebounds in Saturday’s loss to the Heat.

The Pistons were 19-14 before the Jackson injury and having him in the lineup with Griffin and Drummond could be missing piece to making the Pistons a contender. If there’s a compelling reason to let Van Gundy finish his contract, that would be it.

Van Gundy might not be around to see it come to fruition, though. He told The Detroit News this week that he hasn’t heard anything about his future, amid reports that he likely will be replaced in his role as team president.

“Nothing has been said, so I won’t even comment on that,” Van Gundy said.

“I don’t have any idea. It’s (owner Tom Gores’) team and he’ll make whatever decisions he wants to make and we’ll go from there.”

The model of having one person as the coach and team president is becoming rarer around the league and there’s a premium on winning, especially with the Pistons’ payroll and lack of salary-cap space.

More observations

■ Stanley Johnson looks comfortable in his new role coming off the bench. He’s handling the ball more and can get in transition and play downhill with the reserves. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to work with the starting group. While James Ennis III also looks comfortable in that starting spot, everything still seems dependent on how Jackson looks whenever he returns. Another shooter and driving threat will make defenses react differently and open more options on offense.

■ Drummond got a well-deserved All-Star selection this year and he’s showing that he’s a better all-around player. The instances of disengaged play are far less frequent and he’s expanded his skill set. There’s still an adjustment in fitting with Griffin, but all signs suggest that the Pistons made the right move in not dealing him last season or in the offseason.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Pistons at Cavaliers

Tip-off: 7 Monday, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland

TV/radio: FSD/WXYT 97.1

Outlook: The Pistons (29-34) are reeling, having lost eight of their last 10 and falling four games out of the playoffs. The beat the Cavaliers, 125-114, the day after the Blake Griffin trade.