Van Gundy: Pistons' top four 'have to play better'

Rod Beard
The Detroit News


Detroit — There is enough culpability to go around.

There has to be in a seven-game losing streak.

It’s on the starters, the reserves and the coaching staff. And no one was running from it after the Pistons’ 103-84 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

The starting unit had a new look, with Reggie Bullock in for Stanley Johnson. Everything seemed to collapse from the first quarter, with the Pistons falling into a 12-point hole in the first 10 minutes.

The other four starters — Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond — didn’t bring their best games, either. Fans can point to the starters, but Van Gundy isn’t ready to make sweeping changes to the lineup to try to generate a different effort; rather, he pointed to the starters as the keys to any potential turnaround.

“The answer for us, in large part is Tobias, Andre, Avery and Reggie Jackson — those four guys, those are our four best players,” Van Gundy said. “Those guys have to play better. We can sit them all down and play the other guys. We’re not going to be a better team unless those four guys play better. Period.

“However we do it — maybe it is bringing one of them off the bench — I don’t know. But those guys have to play well for us to be good and we’re in holes too many nights with them and I’ve got to find an answer to that.”

It’s a vexing commentary on where the Pistons are now. Even before the skid, they had been plagued by bad starts to games, but were sometimes saved by their bench. They’re in a space where not only are the units not playing well in the same game, but they’re not playing well at all.

While the attention is on the starters, it’s also on Van Gundy, who accepted the accountability for the poor play in his dual role as team president.

“I can take those guys and sit them down and not play any of them on Friday. The bottom line is we have to have those four guys playing well,” he said. “I’m not blaming them for tonight any more than myself or anyone else. I’m saying for us to be a good team, those guys have to play well.

“I don’t think we can get to where we want to go if we basically eliminate two or three or four of those guys and win with the other nine guys. I don’t think we can be a good team.”

The depth of the bench and solid acquisitions were seen as a strength, but when they’re not contributing on both ends of the floor, it’s always a liability.

The mix is part of it and Van Gundy’s decision to take Stanley Johnson out of the starting lineup messes with the mojo. It’s not that the starters had been on a hot streak, but they were familiar with Johnson, who had been better on the defensive end.

Jackson seemed to endorse Johnson as a starter, but respected Van Gundy’s decision.

“I don’t coach,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, I don’t coach. It’s tough.

“(Johnson’s) very tough and has been a defensive captain for us all year. He’s played well. (Bullock) is going to come in and we’re going to try our best. That’s coach’s decision.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard