Programming note: Pistons-Warriors coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area, and streaming live right here.
OAKLAND – When the Warriors take the floor at Oracle Arena Monday night to face Detroit, they will come face to face with what might have been.
Coaching the Pistons will be Stan Van Gundy, who was contacted 18 months ago by Warriors executives seeking a coach to replace the fired Mark Jackson.
Van Gundy was available, willing to listen and actually did.
“I think there are some positives with Golden State,” he told NBC Sports Radio in May 2014. “As you say the talent level is there. Of the jobs that are open now they are clearly the most talented team out there. No. 2 you have a great, great fan base there, one of the best in the NBA. No. 3, and I grew up there so I can speak to it, there aren’t many better places to live in the United States than the Bay Area in California.
“There are some positives and they are going to have a lot of people interested. I think it’s a matter of fit, that’s key in coaching jobs. It’s not going to work if there is not some common ground on philosophy.”
For a few hours, at least, the Warriors thought Van Gundy might be their man. And it would have been a nice story. Van Gundy grew up in the East Bay city of Martinez, alongside younger brother Jeff and a father, Bill, who did his share of coaching in high school and small-college circles – including a stint at what was then called Cal State-Hayward.
Coming home would have been a nice story.
Van Gundy, however, always was the second choice. The Warriors first zeroed in on Steve Kerr and backed off only when they believed he was destined to coach the Knicks, where he would work under one of his mentors, Hall of Famer Phil Jackson.
The Warriors, after reaching out to Van Gundy, made one last push for Kerr. The second effort was successful. The Warriors last season won 67 games, a franchise record, and followed up with their first NBA Finals triumph in 40 years.
Van Gundy signed on with the Pistons, who gave him more money ($35 million over five years) and greater authority than he ever would’ve gotten from the Warriors. He’s the president of basketball operations and as such the general manager, Jeff Bower, works beneath Van Gundy.
The Warriors NEVER would have agreed to such conditions.
Yet their interest in Van Gundy was logical and should be understood. Even before the Warriors dismissed Jackson, team executives were pondering replacements. They wanted someone who could, above all, get more out of their offensive talent.
And within days they reached out to Kerr and Van Gundy, who have similar offensive philosophies. They believe in spacing the floor, moving the ball and power forwards capable of shooting 3-pointers.
Kerr had never coached, but Van Gundy not only had been an NBA coach but also had experienced success. His record was 371-208. He had taken his teams to the playoffs in each of his seven full seasons, two in Miami and five in Orlando. He took the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2005, took the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and to the conference finals in 2010.
He was, on paper, a solid candidate.
But things could not have worked out better for the Warriors. While they were winning a title with Kerr, the Pistons were going 32-50 with Van Gundy, who, to be fair, inherited a roster with as much youth as talent.
And while Van Gundy continues to remodel the Pistons, the Warriors are a running like a Swiss watch. Their record, playoffs included, since hiring Kerr is 90-20.
So when Warriors CEO Joe Lacob takes his courtside seat and peers across at Van Gundy, he’ll see what almost was and have no regrets whatsoever.