Many times in sports a troubled franchise is easy to spot. The players are in and out of trouble, the team is doing poorly and staff members are constantly being replaced.
One exception to that rule is the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. For the past eight years they’ve been a winning team and have kept a core group of players. Yet they’re very much a club with a tarnished image.
Last week the Pistons announced former player Michael Curry will be their new head coach. Curry was an assistant coach for the club this past season.
Curry is a well-known name to Detroit’s front office. In his 11 year playing career, which ended in the 2004-2005 season, he played for some six teams and twice made stops to wear the Pistons uniform.
Curry replaces the venerable Flip Saunders, who lost his place earlier this month after a three year stint with the squad. Saunders leaves after taking the team to the Eastern Conference finals for the third consecutive year.
Saunders also amassed an impressive record with the squad. He has posted a 176-170 regular season record and a winning percentage of roughly 72 per cent. That percentage is the highest in the history of the franchise.
My honest reaction is of pure amazement. I’m baffled by this move in so many ways. Saunders has steadied the ship in his tenure and ensured the Pistons remain among the NBA’s elite. Thanks to Saunders’ work, the Pistons have not missed the playoffs since 2000.
Saunders, I think has done a great job in keeping everyone relatively in check. Yes Rasheed will get technical fouls from time to time and bark at the referees. But on the whole I saw a team that was very much committed to playing together, even if they had more than their fair share of bravado.
The other side of it is who is replacing Saunders. Curry, with all due respect, is not ready for the Detroit hot seat. Yes he was on the sidelines watching the club and how it operates for the last twelve months or so. But he is in a position where he has no room for error in the slightest.
Why would the Pistons choose an unproven commodity over one that is? Saunders has taken his teams to the conference finals four times (including the one instance he did so with Minnesota). Before Saunders, Larry Brown guided the Pistons to a championship and Rick Carlisle made the squad into perennial contenders.
I reckon if Dumars elected to keep Saunders on longer that the Pistons would have made it to the Finals at least once. It’s no secret that the squad has been arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference for nearly a decade.
The reality of this situation to me is that Curry is a new face in coaching. Barring some miraculous luck, the Pistons will end up only as far as they did this year.
To be fair to the man, I see where the Pistons are going. They’re hoping Curry is the next former player who can be a great coach like Avery Johnson and Sam Mitchell. Johnson and Mitchell were former stars who have gone on to be coaches of the year.
Johnson became a head coach of the Dallas Mavericks after about three years under the tutelage of renowned Coach Don Nelson. Mitchell was an assistant coach for nearly three seasons with two teams before he was named coach of the Toronto Raptors.
Nevertheless, I just don’t see the logic in this move. Choosing an unproven ex-player to lead a club that’s on the brink of a title run doesn’t add up to me.
I’m also very much in doubt over why Saunders had to leave. Reports claim that he lost the respect of the players.
I don’t buy that reasoning. In my opinion when a team loses respect for a coach, they start to slowly fall apart. They don’t play smart, they lose easy games and they show a general lack of effort.
If anything, the Pistons may have let their success go to their heads. They remind me a lot of baseball’s New York Yankees after winning the World Series in 2000. Both squads only made an effort to play well when their seasons were on the line and of late both have come up short.
Seeing the Pistons get rid of yet another quality coach in Saunders is disappointing. To me it looks as if the front office is intent on blaming the shepherd instead of the flock for all the follies endured. Why else would a winning team like the Pistons have changed head coaches three times in roughly the last six years?
I guess Joe Dumars doesn’t want to touch the resurrected ‘bad boys’ label these Pistons have. Back in the day Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman were the pioneers of it and now Rasheed Wallace and company are simply carrying the torch.
However, I think Dumars overlooked one fact. There was also a very telling aspect of those squads aside from the aggressive basketball. Namely Bill Laimbeer and company answered to one stoic figure, Chuck Daly.
In the end, the Pistons desperately want to get back to those glory days. It may not happen overnight but one way to go about is keeping a steady figure at the helm of the team.