The Pistons have officially hired Stan Van Gundy as head coach and president of basketball operations, the team announced. The deal is for $35MM over five years. Van Gundy had previously been considered the leading candidate for the Warriors’ head coaching position, though talks stalled when Golden State proved unwilling to grant him full autonomy over all basketball decisions. Van Gundy’s deal with Detroit is also significantly more lucrative than the reported $25-$30MM that the Warriors were willing to offer.
“Stan is a proven winner in our league. He instills his teams with passion, purpose and toughness. He is a great teacher who will help our players grow and develop,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement. “Stan is more than just a great coach, he’s a great leader. What I’m most excited about is how Stan can help us shape the franchise and instill what it means to be the best. He’s also a great communicator. My time with Stan has me convinced that he will bring our players, team and community to a very proud place.”
The Pistons reached out to Van Gundy about their coaching vacancy several weeks ago, but those talks ended after Van Gundy requested some degree of player personnel control. Detroit evidently had a change of heart as they warmed to the idea of hiring someone as both coach and primary front office executive.
Gores became determined to do whatever it took to land the former Heat and Magic coach, and while he outbid the Warriors, the opportunity to lead the Pistons basketball operations department was most appealing to Van Gundy. That led him to turn down the Warriors, even though they have a superior roster and they’re the team he’d grown up rooting for. Golden State’s front office is crowded with GM Bob Myers, adviser Jerry West and assistant general managers Kirk Lacob, son of co-owner Joe Lacob, and Travis Schlenk, a one-time candidate for the Pistons top front office job. Joe Lacob also takes a hands-on role.
“It is an honor to be chosen to help Tom Gores build the Pistons into a team that competes for championships,” Van Gundy said in the Pistons statement. “Tom’s vision of building for the future, while seeking immediate improvement is a challenge that I embrace. We will work to put a team on the floor that reflects the franchise’s rich tradition and embodies the toughness and work ethic of fans in the Detroit area.”
Van Gundy said earlier this year that he was highly unlikely to coach, but it appears as though the opportunity to take on player personnel duties for the first time in his career was too attractive to pass up. He spoke recently of his desire to have a strong working relationship with the front office in whatever coaching job he would take, and with the Pistons, he won’t have to worry about anyone other than owner Tom Gores looking over his shoulder. Former Magic GM Otis Smith is one of the candidates Van Gundy is considering as an assistant front office executive.
Van Gundy takes the reigns from assistant GM George David and director of basketball operations Ken Catanella, who’d been running the front office on an interim basis after longtime president of basketball operations Joe Dumars stepped aside last month. Today’s hiring also displaces interim coach John Loyer, who took over when the Pistons fired Maurice Cheeks in February. David, Catanella and Loyer were all candidates to have their interim tags removed.
Van Gundy’s name has come up frequently in regard to coaching vacancies ever since the Magic fired him in 2012. He took the Magic to the Finals in 2009 and won 50 games five times in his seven full seasons as an NBA head coach. He publicly feuded with then-Magic star Dwight Howard, but the two have since repaired their relationship.
In additon to Schlenk, the Pistons were also rumored to be considering former Raptors and Suns GM Bryan Colangelo and Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren, who had appeared to be the front-runners for the job. Cavs GM David Griffin, NBA senior vice president of basketball operations Kiki Vandeweghe and Magic assistant GM Scott Perry were also candidates to replace Dumars, who remains with the organization in an advisory capacity. The Pistons were reportedly considering Michigan State coach Tom Izzo for their coaching job. Gores had retained Phil Norment and Bob Wentworth, partners in his private equity investment firm, to conduct the search for a new top basketball executive.
Ryan Raroque contributed to this post. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press tweeted the news that Van Gundy and the Pistons had a signed contract. Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported that Van Gundy and the Pistons had reached an agreement in principle, Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News was the first to report they were close to a deal, and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports originally had the story that the Pistons were pitching Van Gundy on the dual executive/coach role. Wojnarowski noted that the sides were working on a five-year, $35MM arrangement. He also tweeted that Van Gundy is considering Otis Smith for an assistant executive role, while Ellis clarified that Smith is one of several candidates for that position. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reported the initial talks between Van Gundy and the Pistons. Jeff Zillgitt and Sam Amick of USA Today and Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group provided additional detail.