AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy churned through the roster handed him, bringing only three players – Andre Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and an injured Brandon Jennings – he inherited to his second training camp.
Roster stability was a goal, but first he needed to acquire guys he wanted to grow with and together. The Pistons were on the cusp of achieving remarkable continuity this off-season. The only looming question entering July was whether they’d retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But he was a restricted free agent and history shows “restricted” is an apt description of their movement.
As it turned out, the Pistons were presented a limited-time offer to capitalize on Boston’s need to shed salary and moved on from Caldwell-Pope by trading for his replacement, Avery Bradley.
In the process, they also traded continuity for possibility.
There was a case to be made for staying the course and letting the core Van Gundy put together to snap the franchise’s six-year playoff drought the previous season come back intact – with a healthy Reggie Jackson – and see where it took them.
There was an equally compelling case to alter the mix. Even with a healthy Jackson, the Pistons were heavily reliant on his pick-and-roll explosiveness and decision making. The two starters lost, Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris, gave the Pistons plenty of competitiveness and were willing shooters but didn’t do much at the wing positions to relieve the pressure on Jackson to make plays.
The players who figure to consume most of their minutes, Bradley and Stanley Johnson, go a long way toward fulfilling Van Gundy’s wish to diversify the offense by adding secondary ballhandlers. Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard could wind up playing important roles, too, and they’ll multiply Van Gundy’s possibilities. If Henry Ellenson takes minutes at power forward – a virtual 7-footer who can put the ball on the floor with either hand – the offense adds another layer of complexity.
But as much as diversifying the offense, injecting Van Gundy’s fourth edition of the Pistons with fresh perspective might be just as important. Bradley brings stature and aura with him, not just a guy who’s started 39 playoff games – that’s 14 more than the rest of his teammates combined – but who is universally respected for his consistent effort and fearlessness at both ends. If Bradley isn’t a leading voice – and quite likely the leading voice – by the time training camp ends, it’ll be an upset.
If the Pistons hadn’t slumped to 37 wins from 44 in Van Gundy’s second season, would they have responded differently to the chance to obtain Bradley at the cost of one starter (Morris) while essentially cutting ties with another (Caldwell-Pope)? Maybe. But there was a danger in bringing back essentially the same team that grew visibly frustrated with its inability to further the momentum generated by their 2016 playoff berth, even if the Jackson injury was the driving force.
Had the Pistons returned virtually intact and not experienced immediate success, they ran the risk of running aground with a capped-out roster. The injection of newcomers not only achieved Van Gundy’s goal of diversifying the offense and adding 3-point shooting, it gives the Pistons emotional breathing room to weather an early adjustment period.
The departure of Caldwell-Pope means only Drummond remains from the 2014 preseason roster. Continuity is a desirable quality and Van Gundy isn’t making haphazard personnel decisions in hopes of randomly striking upon a winning mix. But in an era when few contracts last longer than three years and a third or more of the league hits free agency every summer, Van Gundy’s front office isn’t going to value continuity at the expense of possibility.