Patience pays off as Pistons get Johnson

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — As the first few picks in the first round progressed, Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy knew he had to stick to his plan.

He had formulated his draft board and figured out his preferred players but he didn't want to deviate from the blueprint he set, seeking to get a small forward. Facing a likely choice between Arizona's Stanley Johnson, Duke's Justise Winslow and Kentucky's Devin Booker, among others, Van Gundy was patient and it paid off.

The Pistons were able to get Johnson, a 6-foot-6 forward, with the No. 8 pick, after some jumbling of the projected two seven picks in the lottery.

The Lakers started the shift by taking D'Angelo Russell second overall, bucking many of the mock drafts that had Duke's Jahlil Okafor going No. 2. After Kristaps Porzingis went fourth to the Knicks and Mario Hezonja fifth to the Magic, things started to get interesting for the Pistons.

Willie Cauley-Stein was selected sixth by Sacramento and Van Gundy knew that both the Kings and Nuggets coveted point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, paving the way to get Johnson or Justise Winslow.

"Those were the next two guys on our board but we knew going in that if Mudiay went higher (we'd get one)," Van Gundy said. "We knew there was no way he was getting to us because we knew both those teams wouldn't let him go.

"Once Cauley-Stein went, we knew we were going to get Stanley."

For Pistons owner Tom Gores, the key was not reaching to get a player that they coveted and at the same time not trading down and losing a talent that they wanted.

"There wasn't a lot of gambling for us tonight," Gores said.

Van Gundy indicated that there were overtures by other teams to trade up and get Johnson after he was picked and that Pistons GM Jeff Bower looked into trading up to get a higher pick, but after the dust settled, they were happy with getting Johnson.

"Both then and after our pick with Stanley (and late into the first round), the phone's been ringing with four or five different teams wanting to trade for Stanley, offering the guy they took this year and some who hadn't picked already — plus their future picks, plus players," Van Gundy said. "We've had a ton of interest all night on people with that pick.

"At the end, we said no to all of them because we have a belief that this guy not only has the game but the mentality that we need and want going forward."

Gores was satisfied with the process that Van Gundy and his staff used to arrive at the right pick for the team, with plenty of optimism moving forward.

"This whole organization did their work on Stanley and we got what we wanted tonight," Gores said. "I'm very excited and I know that (Van Gundy) does all his homework."

Justise deferred

Over the past few weeks, fans and experts had tossed around Winslow's name as a potential target for the Pistons with the eighth pick. Winslow played for the Blue Devils in the national championship game and was seen as a better shooter than Johnson.

But Van Gundy said that the Pistons valued both players — Johnson just happened to be a bit higher on their draft board. Van Gundy, however, didn't fall into trying to compare Johnson and Winslow and explaining why the Pistons didn't pick Winslow.

"Justise is a very good player and a great kid and competes very hard. The main reason people ask that question is because he's from Duke and they won the national championship," Van Gundy said. "It's not like people sat down and analyzed their games.

"I'm not going to get into anything that would negate Justise. We thought Stanley was the best player on the board at that point."

Winslow stayed on the board for two more spots after the Pistons, when the Miami Heat got him with the No. 10 pick.

Staying put

The Pistons also coveted Henzonja, but realized that the price for moving up in the top 10 picks would be costly. That meant likely giving up a current player in addition to the No. 8 pick.

In the end, the price tag was too high to reach for Hezonja or anyone else.

"We contacted everybody. The one thing is you always want to be thorough. Jeff (Bower) talked to everybody about what the possibilities are and what you would have to give up," Van Gundy said. "We did not want to surrender other assets; we're at the point where we need to get better players but we also need more of them.

"To have to give up a player to move up, at the end of the day, we didn't want to do that."