So, we’re about to find out if the young, African-American man has what it takes to be in charge, despite a rather thin resume and some naysayers. We’ll see if he can jump into a potentially explosive situation and provide calm and leadership. He certainly isn’t short on confidence, nor is he lacking a plan on how to be successful. Expectations, and the stakes, are high.
Shame on you if you thought I was talking about Barack Obama. This is a sports blog, after all. Politics isn’t just a four-letter word here — it’s twice as bad: it’s an eight-letter one.
The man in question is new Pistons coach Michael Curry. And we’ve gotten plenty used to placing the word “new” before “Pistons coach” around these parts. Certainly since Joe Dumars was handed the keys to the executive washroom some eight years ago.
George Irvine was new once, even though he really wasn’t. Rick Carlisle was new, for the most part. Larry Brown was old-as-the-hills/new, but new nonetheless. Flip Saunders was oldish/new, but also bottom-line new. Michael Curry is just plain new. And the youngest of the lot upon assuming the reins.
Curry, just a baby at age 40, for gosh sakes, makes his debut as Pistons coach tonight. No more summer league foolishness or exhibition season boredom. Tonight’s the real deal. Curry is coach #5 in the Dumars Era, which is just eight years old. Joe D. has an itchy ziggy finger, as we all know.
It’s tempting to say that Dumars is going retro here, returning the Pistons to their slapstick days of the 1960s and ’70s when the Pistons coach’s office could be entered through a revolving door. There are still rumors that we may have missed a couple of them, due to ill-timed blinking.
But there really is no comparison to Dumars’s Pistons and those of yore. Back then, coaches were fodder because the talent wasn’t there. Today, Pistons coaches are fodder because Dumars’s expectations are as high as they’ve ever been with this franchise.
This summer, that itchy ziggy finger was supposed to extend to the players themselves.
In a press conference that should be nominated for the Most Annoyed Speaker category, Dumars ranted, just days after the Pistons were eliminated in the Final Four (again) by the Boston Celtics, that no player was safe.
“You lose sacred cow status when you keep losing like this,” Dumars said, still bristling about the Celtics loss.
The doors were open at PistonsLand, Dumars said. I’m open for business, he told the rest of the NBA at that presser. Former sacred cows to be had, if the price was right.
But the market for Dumars’s wares proved shockingly dry. So instead, Dumars canned the coach (again) and signed one free agent of note: former no. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown.
The NBA is as cyclical a league as you’ll ever find when it comes to coaching. All the coaches in the NBA can pretty much be divided into two categories: nice guy and tough guy. That’s it. Which one you prefer is determined by what you just had.
The confident Curry has one thing on his mind: a return trip to the Finals
The Pistons are coming off having had a nice guy (read: not enough player accountability) in Saunders, so now they turn to “no-nonsense” Curry (read: tough guy), who ran a spirited, if not grueling, training camp. Before Saunders the Pistons had tough guy Brown, which they needed to get to the Finals because the man before him, nice guy Carlisle (the term “nice guy” here in reference to Carlisle is clearly relative), couldn’t get past the Final Four. The man before Carlisle, the curmudgeonly Irvine, never really wanted the job but was promoted anyway, and by all accounts certainly wasn’t a nice guy.
The Pistons feel they need a tough guy, and Curry, they think, fits the bill, despite his lack of coaching experience. But, as with others who get a gig like this with questionable credentials, it’s pointed out that Curry was “like a coach on the floor” as a player. It’s what they say about bench warmers who were never stars. Kind of like praising the ugly girl at school for having a great personality.
But I’m actually a Curry guy, despite my smarminess. It’s a player’s league, this NBA, and a quick look around it reflects that. Nowhere else do young (i.e. under 45 years old) men rise to the level of head coach as fast as they do in the NBA. They’re almost always former NBA players. And often they’re practically ripped from their warmups, or their TV analyst headsets, and thrust into the coach’s chair. Curry did a one-season internship as one of Saunders’s assistants, and was himself a player just a couple seasons ago. But, strangely, that may be all it takes for him to be successful. New coaches have taken over teams with far less talent, you know.
It’s all there, really, for Michael Curry to win. He’s got the players, clearly — both old and young. He has the support of his boss, no matter how fleeting that’s proven to be in the past. He has the advantage of a sort of back-door hunger, the result of four straight seasons sans a championship, and three without an appearance in the Final Two. And he’s a recent player who appears to have the respect of his charges. Not to mention, he’s that all-important tough guy.
Now, all Curry has to do is go out there, win the expected 50-55 games, navigate through the Eastern Conference’s minefield during the playoffs, and reach the Finals. All in his first season.
It says here that he has the chops to do it. Bald-headed guys named Michael have done OK in the NBA in the past.