Foster: Pistons can be good if pair listen to Van Gundy

Terry Foster

Auburn Hills — Former Piston Jerry Stackhouse is no longer in the game but he knows the game.

And he brings a shocker the day before the Pistons come to training camp. He said the Pistons could finish as high as a fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. But a big if comes with it.

Actually there are two big ifs. He said Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings must buy into what coach Stan Van Gundy is selling. Smith cannot be the guy that floats on the perimeter. The Pistons now have outside shooters to help him when he is double teamed.

And Jennings must buy into playing solid man-to-man defense rather than take chances and leave his team vulnerable.

This has a chance to work because Van Gundy is coach, president and ear to owner Tom Gores. Attempted mutiny has a consequence now. Van Gundy can sit the pouters or ship them out on his terms. He is the most powerful man outside of the owner in Pistons history. And that includes Chuck Daly, Jack McCloskey and Joe Dumars.

Stackhouse knows the history of Pistons stabbing coaches. Mo Cheeks, John Kuester and Lawrence Frank all have knife wounds.

"You don't know what the chemistry is going to be with Josh Smith," Stackhouse said. "If he comes in and buys in, then they've got a chance to jump all the way up to the five-spot. He is the key. I think the formula there is pretty good but, again, how are they going to mesh on the court?"

Jennings must be accountable

Stackhouse on Jennings: "They've got to hold Brandon Jennings accountable. He has to be held accountable defensively. He has always been able to gamble and put the team in a bad way. He would stab at the ball and somebody else would have to cover. That is not going to fly with Stan. If continues to do that, then they will play somebody else."

If Jennings and Smith don't like the Van Gundy way, they cannot go to Gores. They must deal with Van Gundy, who can embrace them, trade them or sit them. It is the ultimate power and it is exactly what the Pistons need. My guess is they will deal with Van Gundy if they want to stay.

That is the way Stackhouse would play it. He played in the NBA from 1995-2013 and played from 1997 to 2002 with the Pistons. He made three playoff appearances with the Pistons.

"You want to have a good relationship with a decision-maker," Stackhouse said. "No matter how much anarchy is on a team I had a relationship with Joe. Joe Dumars was the middle guy if I had an issue with the coach. So Joe would go to the coach and the coach would go back to Joe. Nobody will be stepping in the middle anymore."

Van Gundy mission got tougher

Van Gundy is an energetic and interesting guy who not only carries a big hammer but will use it. He does not mince words and he won't back down from his players. He has a bullish personality behind him and he has the shield of Gores and the Pistons behind him.

But his job is tougher than previous Piston coaches. A few hundred miles away the landscape of the Eastern Conference changed. LeBron James went to the Cleveland Cavaliers, turning that team from one that missed the playoffs into one that is a title contender. The Miami Heat, the team James left, remains formidable, which means there is one more team that is clearly ahead of the Pistons.

The Pistons finished 11th in the East last season, four games behind the Cavaliers who finished fourth. I am not sure this team can leapfrog three teams and make the playoffs.

But in their defense, there was no leadership and no direction and teams toyed with the Pistons. I am convinced we will see way more fight out of the Pistons. But Stackhouse is right. Jennings and Smith must buy into the program, which they will at first.

The key is, will they stick with the program?