All are wonderful storylines, but one story perhaps even more intriguing than how pitiful the 76ers are is how sorry the Detroit Pistons are. They sport a 5-23 record, and on the NBA horizon aren’t a whole lot of wins waiting for them.
So dreadful are things in Motown that it looks as if new coach Stan Van Gundy, the mastermind behind some good Orlando Magic teams, has already lost his locker room.
"We're really messed up right now," Van Gundy told a columnist for The Orlando Sentinel recently.
The coach was right, too. Nobody expected him to turn the Pistons he inherited from Joe Dumars into an NBA champ, but Van Gundy didn’t arrive in town with a roster as limited as, oh, the 76ers are.
He can pencil in 21-year-old Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe as his rising stars on the front line, but Van Gundy fields an NBA team that relies too much on the scoring of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, two players whose offensive inefficiency has bogged down the offenses of every team they’ve played for.
Pointing fingers at Smith, whom the team cut Tuesday, and Jennings would be to give Van Gundy a pass. This team is his, not anybody else’s. As Pistons president, he’s the person who kept this mess intact. The blame is all his.
What he’s doing in Detroit is what we’ve seen him do in Orlando, although he wasn’t as responsible for the roster there as he is in Detroit. He’s a coach who taxes his players, a coach who grinds the life out of them. His results have led to teams good enough to compete in the division but never good enough to win the grand prize.
Now, Van Gundy’s got no grand prize for his team to compete for, unless the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft is a big enough prize for Pistons fans.
It is not. It never can be for a franchise that has the legacy of Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Vinnie Johnson and rest of the “Bad Boys” of an earlier generation of Piston teams to live up to.
The thing people must remember about the franchise’s glorious years is that the Pistons were a team then. Indeed, the franchise had stars, but it also had players a coach could coach.
If Piston fans were expecting Van Gundy to be their 2014 version of Chuck Daly, they missed their guess. Van Gundy is more like Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer, the suits on the bench for the franchise before Van Gundy rode into Motown.
Slick talk and a flashy résumé weren’t what Pistons fans were looking for in Van Gundy. Rather, they wanted a coach to put a competitive team on the floor. Yet what they got is a listless team that makes its home in the basement of the NBA standings.
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