Cleveland — If it were only as simple as doing what Stan Van Gundy, and no doubt plenty of Pistons fans, ached to do following Friday night’s massacre at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Pistons were bludgeoned by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 104-81. They were so badly outplayed their head coach clearly hinted lineup changes were, if not on tap for tonight’s duel against the Celtics at The Palace, definitely under consideration.
“Yes,” Van Gundy snorted, fire all but spewing from his mouth, when asked if a personnel shake-up might be an option.
But what changes will compensate for the Pistons’ biggest, and most obvious, issue, the absence of their point guard, Reggie Jackson, whose left knee and wright wrist spend most of their waking hours wrapped in ice bags?
Jackson is still as much as two weeks from returning. And that, not coincidentally, might be when a Pistons team begins to act like the team Van Gundy anticipated would build on last year’s playoff cameo.
“Coach is going to coach, and what we have to do is play,” said Ish Smith, pondering moves Van Gundy might or might not be ready to make.
Smith, it should be noted, shot 1-for-9 during Friday’s fright fest and finished with four points.
“We’re missing layups,” said Smith as he no doubt remembered missing perhaps the most makeable reverse lay-in in NBA annals. “You’ve got to know that eventually they’ve got to fall.”
Well, yes. But the heat-index in Van Gundy’s voice late Friday suggested his waiting days might soon be over.
The Pistons have few inviting options, even if Van Gundy wants a shake-up.
Jon Leuer is always a possibility. He had 15 points, the only Pistons player to hit double-figures. He is 6-foot-10 and obviously presents Van Gundy with occasional advantages.
But left unsaid is that all the lineup combinations in the world aren’t likely to help the Pistons as much as getting one man into the lineup.
Jackson is still days away. And so, perhaps, is any semblance of the Pistons’ true 2016-17 potential.
How to get Morris going was heavy on the Pistons’ to-do list.
And after Friday night’s rubout, the Morris Project remains daunting.
He played more than 31 minutes and scored seven points on a night the Pistons specialized in failing grades. He was 3-for-11 from the floor.
Van Gundy acknowledged after Friday morning’s shoot-around that he had talked with his suddenly struggling power forward on the team’s homebound flight from New York following Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks.
“Marcus is not playing at his normal level,” Van Gundy said. “You go through it. We didn’t get the ball to him (Wednesday). And that’s probably as much my fault as anyone’s.”
Then came Friday night’s travails. They are part of a sudden case of NBA frostbite for Morris, who had been playing lovely basketball through the Pistons’ first eight games, when he averaged 16.4 points and was shooting 45.9 percent.
But he scored only seven points (3 of 9) in Wednesday’s 105-102 tumble against the Knicks. With a sad Friday follow-up, Morris is now averaging just over eight points in each of his last five games.
Van Gundy can’t quite figure it out. A team that rebounded so niftily last season has, at least for now, been one of the league’s worst at snagging missed shots.
There wasn’t any relief Friday when the Cavaliers had a 47-33 edge.
The Pistons were coming off a year when their NBA rebounding margin (plus-3.8) was second in the NBA. As they dressed Friday for their Cavaliers showdown, they were 20th in the league (minus-2.1).
Van Gundy could be content with Andre Drummond — his defensive boards, anyway. On the offensive end, he’s down.
“And everyone else is down,” Van Gundy said, speaking of his lineup’s net rebounding. “It’s been a little bit of a disappointment.”
They are the world champions, the Cavaliers. And even if it sometimes seems not to be the case, they are more than LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love.
It prompted Van Gundy following Friday’s shoot-around to remind a media crowd that the Cavaliers’ general manager has helped with a championship team’s overall assembly.
“Give David Griffin a lot of credit for structuring a roster around him,” Van Gundy said, speaking of James, principally, while mentioning also how Irving, as well as Love, became part of a nucleus built partly on good fortune.
What a personnel man of Van Gundy’s makeup admires is how Griffin has turned an NBA roster into a mosaic that wins playoff games and trophies.
“Channing Frye,” Van Gundy said of Cleveland’s 33-year-old backup center, “has been an absolutely great fit here.”
Part-time man Iman Shumpert, 36-year-old Mike Dunleavy, signing 31-year-old J.R. Smith – Van Gundy had a long series of back-slaps for Griffin.
“He probably doesn’t get enough credit for a roster structured around those three,” he said, speaking not only of a Cavaliers troika that helped sweep the Pistons in their playoff round last spring, but of second and third waves Van Gundy believes Griffin has melded niftily.