Otis Smith Named Head Coach of Grand Rapids Drive

Former Magic GM anxious to work with Van Gundy again

If not for Stan Van Gundy and the Grand Rapids Drive, Otis Smith may've never returned to pro basketball. It might have been the way it ended in Orlando, or the fact that he's had nearly every job title there is, from player to GM and everywhere in between, or maybe just the fact that he's made enough money to spend the rest of his life riding his beloved Harley. Either way it took a special man and a unique gig to bring Otis back, and he's found that working for Van Gundy as the first head coach of the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons’ new NBDL affiliate.

“I think the opportunity to work with him (Stan) was probably the biggest thing. The opportunity to get back into sports? I can honestly say I wasn’t looking for that. But this is the last thing to check off on almost everything I’ve done in basketball. From the player side, from the business side, from the management side, so I’ve never really coached at this level so it’s a great opportunity,” Smith said.

 There was quite the turnout for this fairly private event Wednesday at the Drive's team shop in downtown Grand Rapids. Amazingly, the largest contingent was probably the Pistons coaching staff. Van Gundy, Brendan Malone, Bob Beyer, Charles Klask and Malik Allen all showed up not just to support the Drive, but to support Otis.

 “It speaks to the esteem that people hold Otis in that so many of us are up here today. Four of my assistant coaches came up because we all worked under Otis or in Malik’s case played under Otis in Orlando. And I think anyone who has worked with Otis has great respect not only for his knowledge and his competence, but for his integrity and his professionalism, and so we all wanted to be a part of this day,” Van Gundy said.

 Having a one to one affiliation from Detroit to Grand Rapids is the key to all of this. Many NBDL franchises are independent operations with numerous different affiliations, IE players from many different teams. But as a president/head coach, how much could you really trust those organizations with your players? From medical staff to coaching and even to the folks in the front office, you're essentially leaving the development of your guys to complete strangers. When you combine all of that: Van Gundy’s total control over the Pistons basketball operation, the one to one affiliation with The Drive, the hiring of Otis, and even the proximity from Grand Rapids to Detroit – it makes for a unified voice from the top down. And it means Van Gundy can utilize Grand Rapids in a meaningful way.

 “This is really important to us, in a lot of ways. Number one: Our own players being able to come back and forth, our young guys, guys coming off injuries and things like that, being able to come here, it’ll be valuable to us in that way. Developing some other people, our staff has put a lot of time into identifying people for the D-League draft… And then the development of staff people too,” Van Gundy said.

 Smith won’t just be the coach. He will be the face and voice of the Grand Rapids Drive, much like Van Gundy will be in Detroit. Otis literally has worn all the hats; he played for 8 seasons, including one overseas. He has headed Community Relations departments in both Orlando and Golden State, he’s worked in player development, and he’s been the General Manager of the Orlando Magic; a tenure that peaked with a trip to the NBA Finals in the spring of 2009. Through it all, the one thing Smith missed was developing young players.

 “I’m excited about the opportunity. The biggest thing for me is I like the fact that development is in the league’s name. That way I can spend a little more time on staff development and player development, both on and off the floor.”

Otis and Stan made a pretty dynamic team in Orlando. In their first 4 seasons together the Magic won 52, 59, 59 and 52 games. The fifth was lockout-shortened and hampered by Dwight Howard trade rumors, and the team still went 37-29. These two have a proven track record, but more important than that is their mutual respect. It wasn’t just a love-fest yesterday; serious words like integrity and accountability and work ethic were major themes too. Smith made it clear, Van Gundy is the type of man you want working for you, or in this case, the type of man for whom you want to work.

”You’re picking up some of the tools from one of the good guys in sports… He’s one of the good guys. He works his tail off. He puts guys on the floor that give him an opportunity to win. He believes in guys and guys believe in him. And he holds himself accountable. So it’s easy to work with and for someone that holds everybody in the room accountable for doing their job.”

This was the final piece to the puzzle. Van Gundy finally has his entire staff in place, from the top all the way down. Not surprisingly, about ten minutes after the press conference was over Stan and Brendan Malone were talking x’s and o’s in the corner of the room. The Pistons have been made over, and they now have an incubator in Grand Rapids to develop talent on all levels. And for Smith, development is what it’s all about.