Billups-to-Pistons report draws denials from both

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Phoenix — The Pistons have three weeks left in the regular season, but the rumor mill already has started churning out bits about the direction the franchise could take next season.

Over the past few weeks, there already have been whispers that the Pistons were leaning toward reshaping their front office, with current vice chairman Arn Tellem shifting to the basketball operations side.

The latest came Tuesday from the New York Times’ Marc Stein, who added a name to the mix: former Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups.

“Detroit has expressed interest in hiring the former Pistons star Chauncey Billups to work in tandem with Arn Tellem in a totally revamped front office, according to league sources,” Stein posted on Twitter.

Stan Van Gundy currently has both roles as team president and head coach and has one year remaining on his five-year deal, $35-million deal.

Billups’ name is familiar in basketball front-office circles, after he was a candidate for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ role as general manager last summer. The two sides never came to an agreement and Billups continued in his role as an ESPN NBA analyst.

An NBA source told The Detroit News on Tuesday that there’s “nothing whatsoever” to the rumors of a Tellem-Billups tandem in the front office.

Billups further diffused Stein’s report, going on ESPN’s “The Jump” on Tuesday afternoon.

“That’s flattering — it really is; everybody knows how I feel about Detroit — but it’s 100-percent false,” Billups said on the show. “I haven’t spoken to anybody with the organization about the possibility. Actually, I hate when these things come out because that job is not open.

“Stan has done a good job with what he’s doing right now, so it’s unfair that something like that would come out, especially when it’s completely false. I feel for the people involved because they have to deal with that and listen to quotes. It’s just unfortunate.”

The Pistons entered Tuesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns with a 31-39 record, six games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They have just one playoff appearance in Van Gundy’s tenure — a sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers in 2016 — but the past two seasons have been derailed by injuries to point guard Reggie Jackson.

More: Reggie Jackson looks good in return; Pistons win 2nd straight

Jackson missed 30 games last season because of knee tendinitis and has missed 37 games this season because of a Grade 3 sprain in his right ankle, which he sustained on Dec. 26. The Pistons were 19-14 before the injury and are 12-25 without him.

Pistons owner Tom Gores said this month that he and Van Gundy will discuss the team going forward after the season is done. Though there’s some disappointment that they haven’t won, there is nothing imminent about whether Van Gundy will get his final year or Gores might choose to go in a different direction.

“After the last game of the season, Stan and I will get together. He’s dedicated four years and the culture has changed; as much as we haven’t won, the culture has changed and we’ll go from there,” Gores said March 9.

“I’m disappointed, not angry. I would be angry if they weren’t working hard, but they’re working hard. Stan is working hard. I can’t be angry about that. Disappointed, yes, for sure.”

Van Gundy hasn’t shied away from the issues the Pistons have had, including going just 8-13 with Griffin in the lineup. They won the first four games that Griffin played but have fallen on hard times, including losing the first three games of the six-game western trip before Monday night’s win over the Sacramento Kings.

Van Gundy said he and Gores stay in constant communication but there’s been no determination about the plan for next season.

“(Gores) and I are totally on the same page. Our team is playing hard, I like the guys we’ve had. Some things have happened that are out of our control,” Van Gundy said on March 9. “At the same time, I’m not looking to make excuses. This business is about winning games and we haven’t been doing enough of that.

“At the end of the season, we’ll sit down and talk and he’s got to make a decision about the best way to go for the organization."