Memphis, Tenn. — Fire Millen. Fire Leyland. Fire Hoke.
Fire Ausmus. Fire Caldwell. Fire Holland.
Fire Van Gundy.
In recent years, Detroit sports fans have had their bloodlust for coaches and general managers they think are past their time and usefulness. When it becomes a hashtag on social media, the chants reach a derisive crescendo and they often get what they want.
Maybe not this time — at least not yet.
The calls for Stan Van Gundy to be fired as Pistons president and head coach are only growing louder, especially after they were eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday. It’s the third time in Van Gundy’s four-year tenure that they will miss the postseason, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be let go after the regular-season finale in Chicago this week.
There are plenty of reasons to argue that Van Gundy should be fired — namely, his issues with selecting and developing young talent, his coaching foibles and the team’s apparent malaise at his message.
There’s an alternate reality: he’s just as likely to stay — at least for part of next season — to get one last chance to steer this roster in the right direction.
Pistons owner Tom Gores said last month that he’ll meet with Van Gundy after the season to discuss the future of the organization. He indicated that whether the team made the playoffs this season would not be a deciding factor in whether Van Gundy stays for the final year of his contract.
“It’s about what happened this year, what we’re going to do and our future,” Gores said. “Stan is a team player and we’re going to discuss it. We’re not winning enough, so we have to talk about that.”
The Pistons have topped the 40-win mark just once in Van Gundy’s tenure, hitting 44 in 2016, when they were swept out of the playoffs by the eventual-champion Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the high point of this group but this era has been defined by Reggie Jackson’s injuries, which have short-circuited the last two seasons.
Jackson missed 37 games this season, during which time the Pistons went 12-25 without their most potent offensive threat. They’re 26-16 with Jackson in the lineup, more than enough reason to have hope.
Getting Blake Griffin — and his massive contract of $171 million over five years — before the trade deadline seemed to turn the tide a bit, but going with the big caveat in acquiring Griffin, he succumbed to another injury and could miss the rest of the regular season.
That’s where the optimism lies with the Pistons — and likely why Van Gundy will get more time to make a run in the first half of next season: There’s still some intrigue about what Van Gundy’s assembled roster can do, with a core of Andre Drummond, Jackson and Griffin — if healthy — along with complementary players such as Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson.
“I have great confidence, regardless of what happened down the stretch, that that roster will work,” Van Gundy said last week. “When you put Andre, Blake, Reggie (Jackson), Reggie Bullock, Luke, I’ve got great confidence in that.
“As far as looking at things you need to do, there are things we’d do differently with a training camp and a full season with Blake.”
Drummond’s staying, too
Although Drummond is having the best season of his career, there have been suggestions that the Pistons should just press the reset button and trade him, Jackson and Stanley Johnson for whatever return they can fetch and go forward with a youth movement, giving rise to Kennard, Henry Ellenson and others.
That’s just not going to happen.
And it wouldn’t be fiscally prudent for Gores to scratch out a check to Van Gundy for the $7 million remaining on the final year of his deal, only to bring in another front office and coaching staff — which will be saddled with the same roster, which is already overly flirtatious with the salary cap and luxury-tax line.
Gores made a hefty investment in Griffin, to get his long-coveted superstar to be the franchise centerpiece. That suggests that there’s more belief in the current roster, but given time and good health, they could be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
That’s possible, but the notion that Gores is willing to let Van Gundy see it through seems more likely than the alternatives. What would be the point of getting Griffin, only to quickly dismantle the roster around him?
“Our ceiling is pretty high. Having Reggie and Andre and a full group healthy and ready to go, I like our squad,” Griffin said. “We have a pretty high ceiling and we can make a run in the East.”
Whether that “we” includes Van Gundy and the current coaching staff — whose contracts expire this summer — will be the intriguing question of the offseason.