Chicago — After the Pistons beat the Bulls, 119-87, in the season finale Wednesday night, their thoughts didn’t shift immediately to vacations in exotic locales.
Instead, they watched the final minutes of regulation and overtime of the win-or-go-home matchup between the Timberwolves and Nuggets on TVs at United Center. Blake Griffin paced around the locker room, devising strategy as if he were in the game himself. Other Pistons called out plays they would have used in those situations.
In short, they weren’t done with basketball — even after their season was finished.
At 39-43, they missed the playoffs again but they have the talent to get there themselves next year this time. They’ll just need some luck and good health and maybe some tweaks. That’s the prevailing theme as they headed their separate directions for the offseason. There’s no wondering what could have been this season; rather, it’s what can be next season.
The big question is who’s going to be at the helm. It could be Stan Van Gundy, wearing both hats as the team president and head coach. Or either hat. Or neither at all. Van Gundy is scheduled to meet with Pistons owner Tom Gores next week in California and Gores insists he’s not leaning any direction.
Van Gundy is the fourth coach in Andre Drummond’s six seasons and Gores has a close relationship with Drummond — and likely will consult with Drummond on Van Gundy.
Drummond acknowledged it’s an uneasy time for the team, wondering what the future will look like — potentially with a new coach or front office next season.
“That’s completely out of my control, when it comes to that front-office talk. It’s definitely going to be a tough few weeks for (Van Gundy), with that conversation coming up,” he told The News. “Who knows what’s going to happen — I really don’t know. He brought in structure to this team and helped us get on the right path.
“He definitely did a good job of that from when he got here.”
Rod Beard breaks down the end of the Pistons season. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Part of Van Gundy’s strength was bringing stability to the franchise, after it had languished even below the line of mediocrity prior to Van Gundy’s arrival, not getting more than 30 wins in the four years before he arrived.
Van Gundy said Thursday that Griffin addressed the team at the end of their final team meeting, accentuating some of the positives. The key is making the next jump from purgatory to consistent playoff team.
“We feel like we have a good team and talked about the things that need to be done to get to where we want to go,” Van Gundy said. “We spent three years hanging around the middle of the pack (eighth, ninth or 10th place) in the East — how do you climb out of that and get to the middle of the playoff pack, at least?”
That’s the gauge Gores and his advisers will have to use to determine whether Van Gundy is the right leader moving forward. The next step could be a hybrid approach of bringing in new voices in the coaching staff or front office or lessening some of Van Gundy’s control in either area.
Van Gundy is under contract for next season — still owed $7 million — and will continue to work in the offseason on how to improve the team until he’s told something different.
While Gores appears focused on making changes, if those changes aren’t palatable for Van Gundy, he could choose to leave himself. Part of the issue for Gores is there could be a drain on potential replacements. The Knicks and Magic fired their coaches Thursday and there likely are openings coming. If they go in a different direction, they may have competition — much as they did for Van Gundy — for a coach, as well as a new general manager and team president.