Milwaukee — With the considerable physical distance Pistons owner Tom Gores is away from the daily operation of his team, Stan Van Gundy is in constant contact with the man who signs the checks — who also wants the delicate balance walked between competing and developing young talent.
Van Gundy, after a chunk of games that has his team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, paying an early deposit with the 76ers for a good seat at next May's draft lottery, has begun to realize that balance is probably more delicate than his dual titles as coach and president of basketball operations.
"I don't think it's gonna be overnight," Van Gundy said. "I'd like it to be. Tom would like it to be, but I don't think it's gonna be an overnight thing."
"Last night it was an hour and a half, just talking about our roster and where we're headed and the whole thing. What I feel good about, what I don't like. It was two days of texts."
Whether it's a 90-minute conversation or the usual text communication that happens 4-5 times during the week, much of the focus is on where things stand currently, as this wasn't the start either envisioned.
"We talk once a week or so. Last night for a long time," Van Gundy said. "I think that we're very much aware of what his thinking is and feeling and he is of mine and we're on the same page. I don't think somebody in my position can have much closer communication with an owner than I do. I can't imagine that."
It's not uncommon for Gores to have constant communication with coaches in his short time as steward of the franchise.
Former Pistons coach Lawrence Frank used to tout his two-and-a-half hour phone calls with Gores, but it didn't stop Gores from firing Frank after two seasons, while Maurice Cheeks didn't have much direct communication with Gores, and he was jettisoned after just 50 games.
The urgency is the conversations is certainly a point of emphasis, but Van Gundy said "I don't think anyone's on the ledge right now.
"Oh I think he's got at least as much sense of urgency," Van Gundy said of Gores. "I can see things where we're getting better and it's gonna take some time and that's the part he misses. If anything I think he's got more a sense of urgency to see things change."
Clearly the Pistons are behind in the win column, and in terms of player development the early returns haven't yielded much. Brandon Jennings has had an efficient start to the year, but the other young players on the roster haven't taken steps forward.
Andre Drummond, whom Gores loves, is shooting just 40 percent from the field and hasn't taken the step toward All-Star status, looking lost on offense and a step slow defensively. Van Gundy talked about running more plays for second-year guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who's playing a lot of minutes but still hasn't found a consistent stroke.
"All the different factors. One of the tough things with us is weighing each game and each possession within a game, with longer-term goals with that too," Van Gundy said. "That's the balance I find difficult, I do."
Running plays for Drummond has almost been disastrous, and his growth lies at the centerpiece of "competing now" with "development for the future." Van Gundy didn't point out Drummond specifically, but could've had him in mind when talking about his early failure in fostering improvement for the young players.
"There's some things there with some key guys that we haven't created enough of, and we haven't worked on developing things enough," Van Gundy said. "I get stuck on running things that will be the best on that possession for that game. I think I've hurt our development over the 13 games because you think about running that play for somebody and you're going, 'Ehh, I don't know how we'll do on that.'"
Van Gundy isn't running away from the Pistons' putrid start, but he believes the team is improving in some areas, hence his statement on this not being an easy transition to winning.
"I've got a handle on things to make us better," he said. "I wish I'd have the thoughts earlier but I didn't, and there's nothing I can do about it. I hope I can put them in better spots.
"I hope we can get progressively better."
Clippers at Pistons
Tip-off: 7:30 tonight, The Palace, Auburn Hills
Outlook: The Clippers, led by the 1-2 punch of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, are making their only visit to The Palace this season.