Seidel: How Jeff Bower helped rebuild the Pistons

The Pistons' general manager 'doesn't get enough credit' for putting the team back in the postseason this year

BY JEFF SEIDEL, THE DETROIT FREE PRESS

He works mainly behind the scenes. Under the radar.

But Jeff Bower, the Detroit Pistons’ general manager, is one of the main reasons this team has been transformed and is back in the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

If Pistons president Stan Van Gundy is the architect, then Bower is the general contractor — the guy who gets it all done.

“Jeff Bower, and Stan will tell you the same thing, deserves a lot of the credit,” said Pistons owner Tom Gores, whose team will open the playoffs Sunday at the Cleveland Cavaliers. “He’s the guy doing a lot of the heavy lifting, in the background, to make the right moves.”

Gores made a tremendous gamble when he hired Van Gundy to be both the coach and president of the Pistons. It could have blown up in his face. But the structure has worked to this point, in large part, because Van Gundy and Bower both view the game the same way, like a coach.

And they both hold the same belief in how to build a roster: Slowly, thoughtfully, meticulously, one move at a time.

“I think that’s where Jeff Bower is really at his best,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not just one big splash. He really understands how to put a team together. I think we have a lot of good people in our organization, but he is the one who has run a team before, and he is a guy who understands team building and how to put it together."

“He doesn’t get enough credit. All of these moves were him. He put together the Marcus (Morris) trade; he put together the Tobias (Harris) trade; he put together the Reggie Jackson trade. He put together the Steve Blake deal. Those are all him.”

Résumé has everything

Now, here’s the crazy part.

Bower never played professional basketball. He never even played in college. As a senior at St. Francis College (Pa.), while finishing a Bachelor of Arts degree in history/education, Bower was a volunteer student assistant coach.

“You could tell, as a 21-year-old college student, he was all in,” said Jeff Nix, who was then a St. Francis assistant coach. “You could tell he was going to be a heck of a coach. I could see from day one that this guy was all in. It was his acumen. He’s very cerebral about the game.”

Nix is now the Pistons assistant general manager, working directly under Bower.

“If you want to dissect Jeff, he’s different,” Nix said. “He’s very smart. He’s tactical, with almost the precision of a military general. He’s so organized and he’s thoughtful. In a world where everything needs to be microwaved, he refuses to try a quick fix.”

After more than 30 years in basketball, Bower’s résumé includes a little bit of everything. He has been an assistant coach (Penn State, Marist College, New Orleans Hornets), a head coach (Marist, Hornets), an advanced scout, a director of scouting, a director of player personnel and general manager (all with the Hornets).

“There is no one in the NBA who has had to go through the things that Jeff Bower has had to go through, in building a team, moving a team from New Orleans to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina, moving the team back and the logistics, with the hurricane and the facilities,” Nix said. “He checks all the boxes of anything that could ever happen with a team.”

 (Photo: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press)

Making the moves

Van Gundy was named the Pistons’ president and coach on May 14, 2014.

Since then, here are just some of the Pistons’ moves: declined a team option on Chauncey Billups, signed Jodie Meeks, signed D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler, traded Will Bynum to Boston for Joel Anthony, cleaned up a Joe Dumars’ disaster (Josh Smith), sent Spencer Dinwiddie back and forth to Grand Rapids so many times he knows every exit, signed Aron Baynes, traded Butler and Shawne Williams to Milwaukee for Ersan Ilyasova, traded absolutely nothing (OK, a future draft pick) to the Phoenix Suns for Morris in a salary cap dump, sent Quincy Miller to Brooklyn for Steve Blake, drafted Stanley Johnson and traded Brandon Jennings and Ilyasova to Orlando for Harris.

“I think every move has provided us with something,” Van Gundy said. “We have a general manager who understands that every move is important, every move affects your talent, your chemistry, your team dynamics."

“He treats every move as a big move. Every piece of the puzzle has been important, even ones that a lot of people would look at as minor.”

Each move is interesting for different reasons.

For instance, the Pistons were attracted to Anthony Tolliver, not only for his ability to shoot, but because of what he brought to a young locker room. “Our professionalism really, really started to change with guys like that,” Van Gundy said.

They wanted Harris, not only because he could score, but because his game began to evolve earlier this season.

They wanted Baynes, not only because he can rebound, eat space and make free throws, but because he is so different from starting center Andre Drummond.

“It’s always good to have a different element coming into the game,” Bower said. “It’s just a little nuance, perhaps. If you have one style, completely at that position, you become accustomed to it.”

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 (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, DFP)

Attention to detail

The Pistons have four scouts working under Nix. Last year, they broke down 1,100 regular-season games. They produced mountains of information, but Bower is known for going over all of it.

He values the scouts. He values opinions. He is known for his discipline, for his attention to detail and for his thoughtful, methodical, reasoned approach.

But it goes beyond stats. He is trying to figure out how different players will fit on this team, both on the court and off it. He talks about “natural instincts” and “natural behaviors” and “compatibility.”

“You want everybody to be different,” Bower said. “You want everybody to be unique. At the same time, you want everybody to have something in common. And that common bond has to be a willingness to sacrifice and chase a championship.”

In many ways, he’s talking about the way the Pistons’ organization is set up, too.

And then, Bower stressed something else.

They aren’t done.

It’s still a work in progress.

 

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