Gores visits Pistons — and is smiling this time around

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Pistons owner Tom Gores had a wide grin as he came to check on his investment for the first time since Thanksgiving.

In the third quarter Wednesday, as appears to be his custom, he threw T-shirts into The Palace crowd from midcourt, attempting to show off some athletic prowess of his own.

As the Pistons built a 17-point lead at the end of the first half, well on their way to winning their 12th game out of 15, he addressed the team's shocking turnaround from an awful start.

"I'm surprised about that. It's one of those things you can't calculate," he said. "I'm not shocked because I know Stan (Van Gundy) is a great coach. It's a tribute to our team. If you look at our 5-23 start, there wasn't a lot of games where we just quit. We just couldn't finish. I feel great about where we are."

The process arguably started when he decided to cut a huge check to send Josh Smith away on Dec. 22, as the franchise used the Stretch Provision to cut Smith from the roster and to lessen the nearly $40 million remaining on his contract.

Gores said he and Van Gundy, the Pistons' coach and president, collaborated on the move for over a month. He isn't harboring many regrets about making such a bold gesture.

"Stan and I, even before he first came on, we talked about the future and building the future," Gores said. "And he didn't just call me one day saying this is what we have to do. Josh was a great talent but we had so many other great talents on the team and we really needed the ball in their hands."

"So as much as a lot of people think this decision was made overnight, it was made over a month-and-a-half. We just weren't delivering. We weren't getting it done, we weren't winning. It was a process."

With several more wins and a few thousand more fans in the seats, Gores sounded like a man who was satisfied with himself — and, for the first time in a long time, he wasn't issuing "playoffs or else" edicts.

Van Gundy himself confessed he'd begun to lose faith in his coaching acumen with the slow start, but Gores issued the most emphatic statement of support to anyone he's hired or inherited since taking over the team nearly four years ago.

"Never. You got that on the record? Never," Gores said when asked if he'd questioned the hire at some point. "We have an amazing guy and I'm so glad we got him in Detroit."

"I'm proud of Stan for not giving up. I'm just happy we're delivering something to Detroit. It's everything I wanted to do from the start."

As for the playoffs, Gores' words were measured but his eyes couldn't hide the excitement of potentially hosting a postseason series for the first time since 2009.

"I think Stan is coaching our players to play a game at a time." Gores said. "You can't get ahead of yourself."