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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Stan Van Gundy and the art of trading up

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Jake Hirschmann
Jacob is currently a senior at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio with the hopes of persuing sports journalism as a career.

On May 14, 2014, Stan Van Gundy was hired as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Since that day, Van Gundy has made seven trades, acquiring nine players in the process.

Of those nine players acquired,  seven are on the roster today, with only Danny Granger and Tayshaun Prince moving on to other teams. Of the seven players, three are currently starters and the other four have all played in at least one game so far this season.

Yet, the story of Van Gundy’s transactions aren’t all about the players that he acquired. Much of the story lies within the players he gave up. Specifically, it’s about how little he gave up to build the team the Pistons are putting on the court as we speak.

During his first season with the Pistons, Van Gundy made four separate trades. After swapping Will Bynum (no longer in the NBA) for big-court depth in the preseason by acquiring Joel Anthony, Van Gundy made one of the more underrated moves of the season two months later, when he traded Tony Mitchell (no longer in the NBA) to the Phoenix Suns for Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver almost instantly began earning big minutes for Detroit as the lone stretch-four threat that Van Gundy desires for his offense.

The Pistons sat tight until Deadline Day this past February. It was then that Van Gundy made a move that changed the future of the franchise. He traded Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Reggie Jackson. Van Gundy also traded Luigi Datome (no longer in the NBA) and Jonas Jerebko to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Prince.

In Jackson, the Pistons got their point guard of the future. Jackson signed a 5-year, $80 million deal this offseason and locked himself in as the No. 2 in command next to Andre Drummond for years to come. With some wondering if Detroit had overpaid for his services, Jackson has shown he’s worth it, averaging 19.9 points and 6.7 assists, including a 34-point, 16-assist showing against the Suns on Wednesday. Van Gundy made this possible.

If Detroit hadn’t traded for Jackson, he more likely than not would have tested the free agent market more so than he did. During his three-month trial period at the end of last season, Jackson proved to Detroit he was worth the investment, and the Pistons showed Jackson they wanted him here. And to think we brought Jackson to Detroit by giving up a backup point guard and Kyle Singler, who has fallen off the map, is impressive.

Yet, Van Gundy wasn’t done with deals once his first full season as Pistons’ coach was over. He had a vision of the type of team he wanted, and he went out and got the players to fit his system through trade.

This past June, Van Gundy traded Caron Butler and Shawne Williams (no longer in the NBA) to the Milwaukee Bucks for Ersan Ilyasova. The Turkish-born stretch-four was exactly what the Pistons needed, a big man with range who could allow Andre Drummond room to operate inside. Ilyasova has responded by averaging 10.4 points while hitting 42.3 percent of his three-point attempts.

One of Van Gundy’s most recent moves ranks among his best, when acquired forwards Marcus Morris, Danny Granger, and Reggie Bullock from the Suns in exchange for a future second round draft pick. In Morris, the Pistons got their starting small forward on a cheap contract and a young wing with some upside in Bullock. The injury-prone Granger has since been waived.

Van Gundy has already done so much to improve Detroit’s team in a year and a half simply by working the trade market. To some, this may not seem like a big deal, but it is, especially when put in perspective of what the prior regime was doing.

In under two years, Van Gundy acquired three starters and a slew of effective bench components via trade. For all those pieces, the most prominent player sent out the door was D.J. Augustin.

The total damage:

Out: Will Bynum, Tony Mitchell, Luigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler, Shawne Williams, Quincy Miller, 2020 2nd Round Draft Pick

In: Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Anthony Tolliver, Reggie Bullock, Joel Anthony, Steve Blake

On the other hand, the last trade made by the prior regime was acquiring Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton.

I rest my case.

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