Pistons changes imminent after 'year of misery'

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
After missing the playoffs this season, coach Stan Van Gundy said some changes are going to have to be made to the roster.

Orlando, Fla. — For many front-office executives and coaches, the end of a long season means taking a little bit of time off to refuel and decompress before starting the process of assessing the team in the summer.

That won’t be the case for Pistons president-coach Stan Van Gundy and his staff.

After a disappointing season and missing the playoffs, there’s an urgency to try to get things back on the right track. That entails a deep dive into assessing all of the front office and players to try to figure out what went wrong. It’s a challenge, but only the first step in trying to turn things around.

“It just hasn’t gone the way we would like. This has been a year of misery for me but I still want the challenge and want to keep going forward and I still feel confident we’re on the right track, our philosophy is right and we can get this turned back around in the direction that we want,” Van Gundy said. “It’s hard. It does mean you’re going to have to make some changes.

“You’re not going to see all 15 guys come back next year, but it’s also not going to be two guys.”

The Pistons’ salary situation is going to make things difficult. They’ll be over the cap and could be near the luxury tax if they choose to bring back restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who could command a salary in the range of $20 million or more.

Still, changes are needed.

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“With this team, it’s more subtle. I like the core of our team," Van Gundy said. "The thing I was disappointed in — and it’s on them and on us as a staff. Especially for a young team, we didn’t have enough guys make a step forward.

“That is the biggest reason we are where we are right now: We did not have enough guys where you can look and say he made a big jump. That’s something we have to address in the offseason as a staff and as players.

“We’re at an age where some guys should be making significant improvements and everybody should still be getting better — and we had some guys actually take a step back.”

Van Gundy didn’t single out individual players, but in generalities, many players fit into these categories. Only two players on the roster are over the age of 30; the rest are in various development stages.

As Van Gundy and his staff look to break down the season and decide the path forward, they’ll have individual interviews with players — and Van Gundy said he’ll listen less on the players’ self-assessments and more of what the staff saw on the court.

“There have to be some changes and we have to make, as a staff, some good evaluations on the guys who can and are willing to make some of those changes,” Van Gundy said. “That means who are the guys we’re going to bet on to make improvements in their game and who are the guys we can bet on their professionalism and commitment on a night-to-night basis?

“We had too many some-of-the-time guys who we couldn’t count on. If we don’t think those guys can change, well then they’ve got to be changed. I didn’t think on a night-to-night basis we were consistent in our approach.”

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The Pistons’ woes are head-scratching, to say the least. But most of it goes back to Reggie Jackson’s injury, which kept him out for the first quarter of the season. While Van Gundy didn’t mention other specific players, he did give Jackson an endorsement.

“There’s guys you look at and say he had a really tough year. Reggie Jackson had a really difficult year and it really affected our team,” Van Gundy said. “I think Reggie will come back and be as good as or better than he was two years ago. I honestly do. There were a lot of things that were physically and mentally very difficult for him to handle.

“He’s committed to getting those things changed. He’s a talented guy and he’ll be really good next year — I have confidence in him.”

It’s just part of the top-to-bottom scrutiny that Van Gundy and the entire organization will undergo to determine their path forward. For the players, it’s make-or-break time, with the swoon in the last few weeks. After they got to 33-33, they’ve gone 4-9 against a favorable schedule that featured many sub-.500 teams and could have led to a playoff push.

“That kind of evaluation has to go on with everybody, so it’s not just ‘He had a bad year; get rid of him.’ I’m not at that point,” Van Gundy said. “Hopefully, our evaluation process is a little more sophisticated than that and nothing is done out of blaming anybody or pointing the finger. If you’re going to blame anybody or point the finger, blame me and point the finger at me.

“When you’re the person in charge, it’s Harry Truman: The buck stops here.”

For Van Gundy to back Jackson seems to suggest that he’ll look to make other tweaks to the roster and not trade Jackson, who has three more years and about $51 million left on his contract. Getting Jackson back to full strength could solve many of the offensive woes, in addition to some of the defensive strides they’ve made this season.

Van Gundy took the brunt of the blame for the Pistons’ shortcomings this season, but will look to build things back up. It could include some bigger moves, but also it’s unclear whether they’re looking for a veteran leader to help pull things together.

“Yes, we may have to (find a veteran), but some of those guys should be saying that they don’t need a babysitter; I need to do things the right way,” Van Gundy said. “I will say I’m not totally happy with our professionalism and the way we approach things.

“That’s going to have to change and part of that is going to have to come from us being a little bit stricter and tougher with them on things in our expectations and part of it is going to have from them. You’ve been in the league four or five years — let’s take care of yourself better, let’s be more ready, pay more attention to the game plan, get our extra work in, be more dedicated to the lifting. All those things.

“The young part has to go by the wayside as an excuse. You’re a professional and you’re getting paid. If you don’t want that responsibility, don’t come out after one year. If you want to come out after one year, then you decided you wanted to be a pro — be a freaking pro.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard