Gores: Playoffs a vital ‘first step’ for Pistons
Auburn Hills — Pistons owner Tom Gores is happy with his team’s success, making the playoffs for the first time since he bought the franchise.
“It’s an important milestone for the organization and a really important first step,” Gores said. “I’m really proud of the players. A lot of them are new to the franchise and there’s a sense of relief that we’ve got our community in the playoffs.
“Over the last few years, it’s been hard to disappoint the fans; that’s probably the hardest thing of being an owner.”
Gores gave much of the credit for the quick turnaround — the Pistons had 32 wins last season — to coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower. They’ve retooled the roster and so far, the trades and signings have panned out.
“Stan deserves a lot of the credit,” Gores said. “He came in really quickly and changed the culture. We worked together setting up the organization. Jeff (Bower) has been very important in all this movement among players.
“Over the last couple years, (Van Gundy) just delivers. He’s hard-working, dedicated and a great role model for the players in terms of preparation.”
Bench in flux
Even though the playoffs are in sight, Van Gundy still is tinkering.
Van Gundy wants to keep his bench flexible, and after shuffling the reserves — moving Reggie Bullock to the sixth-man role — he’s looking to ensure he has a full complement of players available for the first round of the playoffs.
That means finding minutes for rookie Stanley Johnson, who has missed the last two games because of decreased production. Johnson had been the sixth man and was one of the better scoring options off the bench before a shoulder sprain kept him out seven games.
“If you look at the 14 or 15 games up until he got hurt, he was playing really well,” Van Gundy said. “He was starting to play well and his minutes were going up and he was up to 28 minutes a game, scoring in double figures, shooting the ball well.”
Since his return, Johnson had struggled, prompting the move from Van Gundy to try to bolster the bench with Darrun Hilliard and Bullock.
“We are going to make sure Stanley gets some playing time because we think there are some matchups in the playoffs where defensively he can really help us off the bench,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t want him to sit for four games and then try to get ready for the playoffs.”
After missing two games — plus two days off — Johnson hasn’t been in game speed for a week, but has been going through his regular routine to maintain his timing and skills.
Getting Johnson back in the lineup means the rotation will increase to 10, something Van Gundy has tried to avoid.
Still, benching Johnson was a tough call.
“When you get into the last five games of the year, the emphasis tilts a lot more toward winning games,” Van Gundy said. “He’s had 70 games of development and now it’s time to win.
“I want to get him back in there so he’s getting into some kind of rhythm.”
Pistons at Cavaliers
Tip-off: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Outlook: The Cavaliers have clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, so they’ll likely rest many of their regulars. ... Coach Stan Van Gundy said the Pistons will play their normal minutes, trying to stay fresh for the playoffs.