Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy introduces newest Piston Ersan Ilyasova to the media.
Auburn Hills —The coach knows what he needs.
So does his boss, implicitly.
And that's still the most encouraging thing about the Pistons, as a massive roster overhaul continues this summer.
Last week's trade for Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova, a versatile power forward who's expected to replace free agent Greg Monroe in the starting lineup, was another coup for Stan Van Gundy as Detroit's president of basketball operations.
It's also a relief for Van Gundy as a coach who admittedly was fretting about his lineup — as coaches tend to do — heading into the offseason.
"It was a little scary thinking about going into the summer and saying you might have to go get two starters," Van Gundy said Tuesday, as the Pistons officially introduced Ilyasova at a midday news conference.
"Now we feel like we've got four starters that we're really happy with, and that's a much better feeling. I mean, having to go get two starters in the offseason — not that you can't do it — but I'm sleeping a little bit better now."
That's understandable. It's also what he was referring to a year ago, when Van Gundy, at his own introductory news conference, insisted, "That's what the dual role is all about."
It's about synergy, sure. And Van Gundy was quick to credit general manager Jeff Bower for his persistence in making this latest trade happen.
But mostly it's about giving the coach what he wants, which is what the Pistons have done repeatedly in the last 13 months. Only four players remain from the roster Van Gundy inherited last May, and at least one of those – Monroe – figures to be gone, too, once free agency begins in July.
'Game's getting smaller'
The trade for Ilyasova made fiscal sense, dealing a pair of non-guaranteed contracts in Caron Butler and Shawne Williams to acquire a player like Ilyasova, who's under team control — at a decent price — for two more seasons.
It's also makes basketball sense, as Van Gundy tries to reshape this team into one that better fits his own philosophy. Ideally, he wants to spread the floor with shooters, the way he did in Orlando, where he routinely won 50-plus games. And the way so many teams are doing in today's NBA.
"The game's getting smaller and smaller," Van Gundy said. "I mean, hey, the Warriors are playing Draymond Green at center."
Of course, Golden State is a team Van Gundy might have been coaching, had things worked out differently last spring. And Green's (Michigan State) a player he'd love to coach in Detroit, if things work out perfectly this summer.
But they didn't, and they won't, most likely. And that's a big reason why Van Gundy did what he did last week. LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Paul Millsap aren't walking through that door — not yet, anyway — and the Pistons, who haven't made the playoffs since 2009, know it.
"As much as we would go out and try to be players in free agency, a great path for us to build a team is through the draft and trades," Van Gundy said. "As we build and get better, then obviously we become more attractive to free agents. But right now, quite honestly, coming off a tough year, I mean, this is a better path for us."
It's a path Van Gundy has laid out, quite clearly, since arriving in Detroit, something we knew for sure when the Pistons waived Josh Smith as an early Christmas present last December. And it's a future that's now being built around center Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson.
Neither of those commodities is a sure thing. Far from it, actually. But at least it's a plan the front office and coach can agree on. And with the draft only a week away, it presumably helps narrow the focus of the Pistons.
Most draft projections have the Pistons picking from a few options at small forward — Croatia's Mario Hezonja, Arizona's Stanley Johnson or perhaps Duke's Justise Winslow if he falls out of the top five.
And while Van Gundy says the list is longer than that — maybe "six or seven" players — if the Pistons stay put on draft night and make their selection at No. 8, "it will definitely be a best-player-available thing," he said.
Van Gundy was quick to caution what fans in Detroit already know about that, with the Pistons having spent the last half-dozen years in no-man's land in the back half of the lottery.
Looking ahead 3 years
"At (No. 8), you're not picking a guy that you expect to play 32 minutes a game next year and start for you," he said. "You really are projecting down the road. … It's not an easy choice, but you're trying to get the guy who'll be the best player three years down the road."
In the meantime, they'll try to land a starter in free agency, with Atlanta's DeMarre Carroll an obvious target — and maybe even a realistic one — among the unrestricted small forwards. Green's a restricted free agent, and most in the NBA expect the Warriors will match any offer, though that shouldn't stop the Pistons from trying.
If he can't land either, Van Gundy has to look elsewhere, because this summer's cap room — $18 million or so once Monroe is gone — is best spent now, with the league's cap expected to rise by more than $20 million thanks to an influx of new TV money.
Maybe that means making an offer to another high-end wing, or for a young player with potential, someone like Boston's Jae Crowder. And it probably means spending a decent chunk of money on a backup big man as well.
But one thing seems certain: Whoever the Pistons bring in — in the draft, and in free agency — it'll be a player the coach wants.