Van Gundy's focus is small forwards in free agency

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Now that Pistons president Stan Van Gundy is past the NBA draft, the next priority is free agency. That means shoring up the young roster with some veteran leadership and filling a gaping hole — namely at starting small forward — in the starting lineup.

Though the Pistons drafted Stanley Johnson with the No. 8 overall selection, the prevailing thought is that Johnson won't necessarily be the starter from Day 1, giving him an opportunity to find his way and improve without having to be thrown into the fray immediately.

"We know where we're going. We know what our targets are; we know Plan A, Plan B and Plan C, both with starting (small forwards) and backup wings," Van Gundy said Saturday after an introductory press conference at The Palace for Johnson and second-round pick Darrun Hilliard.

Van Gundy indicated that there are two unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents that the Pistons will target: "At the top, there are two guys we'll go after hard right away and try to make a big play for that are not only good players but also fit with the way we want to play."

But the most important targets will be their own — namely point guard Reggie Jackson — and finding out for certain whether unrestricted free agent Greg Monroe will be gone.

"(Jackson is) the first, priority No. 1 — even above the small forward," Van Gundy said. "We have to deal with Greg. I have a feel for what's going to happen with him. Reggie is priority No. 1; there's nothing more important to our summer than getting that situation resolved."

The list of unrestricted free-agent small forwards includes the Hawks' DeMarre Carroll and the Heat's Luol Deng, who has a player option for next season.

Restricted free agents such as Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio), Tobias Harris (Orlando) and Draymond Green (Golden State) could be targets, but Van Gundy wants to focus on unrestricted free agents before looking at restricted possibilities, where teams can match the Pistons' offer.

The process is complicated by timing, because although the free-agency period begins on July 1, restricted free agents have a different timeline.

"If you're going to start talking to restricted free agents July 1, you actually can't put the offer in front of them until July 9 and then they have three days from there," Van Gundy said. "Our philosophy is we'd have to be really, really careful and have a good indication that there was a high probability that the team would not match an offer sheet for us to wait through that first nine days to wait on putting an offer on somebody.

"We can explore some things with those guys — and we will — but the other part is to see if there's something we can do with the unrestricted free agents that we like, where we don't have the risk involved."

If Van Gundy approaches unrestricted free agents first, he'll know where he stands for the later period for restricted targets instead of doing it in reverse, even though the more favorable options could be in the restricted category.

Plans for the Summer

The Pistons begin practice for the Orlando Summer League this week and although their roster for the weeklong competition isn't finalized, they have some idea who the main cogs will be.

Johnson and Hilliard will get their first action, alongside point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and forward Quincy Miller, who will play at power forward to give him an opportunity for more playing time.

"We like where we are with him. He's had really good workouts and we're anxious to get him down there and see him play," Van Gundy said. "We'll probably play him mainly at the (power forward) because we'd like to get these guys on the floor as much as we can."

Miller can play both forward positions, but playing the balance of minutes will help Van Gundy and the staff to get a good look at his developing skill set and evaluate how he fits.

"He can play some (small forward) too but we'll give most of those minutes to Darrun and Stanley and Adonis Thomas, who was with our development league team," he said. "They'll take up most of those 80 minutes at those positions and we'll play (Miller) primarily at the (power forward) so we can get him out there 30 minutes a night."

Backup center options

Backup center is also a priority for Van Gundy in replenishing the roster. His preference would be to bring back veteran free agent Joel Anthony, but he'll prepare for other options if that doesn't work out.

"I'm really hoping we can keep Joel here. We can't negotiate with him yet but I talked to him yesterday and we've told him consistently we would like to have him back," Van Gundy said. "We're going to sign another guy and we'll go from there; part of that is competition.

"He's far from being done but he's getting up there in years. We would like to sign a younger guy there and he's been made aware of that. We don't hide many things when we're talking to our guys."