In his two years away from the NBA, ex-Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy missed the challenge of pro basketball.
Now, he has a huge challenge ahead of him: rebuilding the Detroit Pistons.
Van Gundy agreed in principle Tuesday night to a five-year deal worth $35 million to run the Pistons’ basketball operations and become the team’s head coach, according to ESPN.
Van Gundy, who would not comment, will have full control over the Pistons’ personnel decisions.
Van Gundy compiled a 259-135 regular-season record and a 31-28 playoff record in five seasons with the Magic. His .657 regular-season winning percentage and .525 postseason winning percentage are franchise bests.
Having total control over basketball operations would be attractive to Van Gundy after the Magic fired him in May 2012 after five seasons.
The Magic ousted Van Gundy after the most tumultuous season in Magic history — a season that began with a trade demand by Dwight Howard.
Van Gundy felt Howard's situation was not handled well and that the situation would've been resolved better if the Magic's new CEO, Alex Martins, had not spent the first several months of the season trying to convince Howard to remain with the franchise.
Multiple news outlets said Van Gundy would be interested in hiring former Magic general manager Otis Smith to run the Pistons’ day-to-day basketball operations. Van Gundy and Smith forged a bond during Van Gundy’s tenure with the Magic.
The Pistons’ rebuilding project will be labor-intensive.
Detroit hasn’t reached the playoffs since the 2008-09 season, which also was the season the Van Gundy-coached and Howard-led Magic reached the NBA Finals.
The Pistons posted a 29-53 record this past season, and the Pistons decided not to renew Joe Dumars’ contract as head of basketball operations.
The franchise has some talented players, including young center Andre Drummond, forward Josh Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings. Big man Greg Monroe is going to be a restricted free agent, which will allow the Pistons to match any offer sheet he may sign with another team once free agency begins.
Van Gundy had been mentioned as a top candidate for the Golden State Warriors’ vacant head-coaching job.
Golden State’s coaching job is an attractive one. The Warriors won 51 games this past season, have All-Star point guard Stephen Curry and a pair of talented wing players, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. Van Gundy also hails from the Bay Area and grew up rooting for the Warriors.
But it appears the Pistons’ offer of full control over personnel decisions and the opportunity to rebuild the team intrigued Van Gundy.
Van Gundy and his family love living in Central Florida, and he had expressed a desire not to uproot his family before his children finish high school.
Still, he missed coaching.
Last week, during an appearance on 740 AM, he was asked whether he wanted to return to the sidelines.
“Part of me does, and part of me doesn’t,” Van Gundy answered. “Look, we’re so happy in Central Florida. It would really have to be a great situation for me to get back in. I miss a lot of it. I really do. I miss the competition. I miss the challenge. I miss the camaraderie of it. But I also like the time that I’ve had, so we’ll just have to see what happens. You weigh every situation.”
Josh Robbins covers the Orlando Magic and the NBA for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via e-mail at email@example.com and connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/JoshuaBRobbins. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.