For the third time in the past four summers, the Detroit Pistons’ Joe Dumars is looking for a new basketball coach. It’s a search that is becoming so frequent in its repetitiveness, you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or yawn.
Dumars, the Pistons president, has been unshackled now that the sale of the team has officially been finalized. For nearly two years, while the Pistons were on the block, Dumars says he was reduced to helpless bystander status while Rome burned around him.
As Pistons players mutinied against coach John Kuester, who was himself shackled—to a roster that was the antidote to winning—Dumars says he could only watch, unable to do anything brazen or bold, thanks to the pending sale.
Dumars confirmed this at the press conference introducing new owner Tom Gores. Personnel moves of any significance were placed on hold. Kuester never had a chance, coaching the prima donnas and stiffs that Dumars had provided.
Kuester is gone, but the prima donnas and stiffs remain.
Three coaching searches in four summers. Sooner or later, a cockeye has to be turned to the guy doing all the searching.
The next hire is likely to be another yawn inducer.
The candidates have been identified, parroted by newspapers and websites so much that their identity surely must be accurate.
The names don’t exactly inspire any Pistons jingoism.
Former college coach Kelvin Sampson, supposedly the front runner, is an NBA assistant coach with three years experience, all with the ho-hum Milwaukee Bucks. The extent of his experience in the NBA is that, period. He never played in the league, never coached in it as the head man.
Yet Sampson is the front runner.
Lawrence Frank—what do they say about never trusting a man with two first names?—is another who has been interviewed, according to those all-knowing sources.
Frank, at least, does have NBA head coaching experience, with the New Jersey Nets. But Frank never did anything spectacular with the Nets, and was fired after a 0-16 start to the 2009-10 season.
Mike Woodson is definitely in the mix, those sources say. Woodson was an assistant with the Pistons in 2004 under Larry Brown, the year of the franchise’s last NBA championship. Woodson, too, has been a head coach in the NBA, with the Atlanta Hawks.
Woodson’s first Hawks team won 13 games, but then they steadily improved to playoff status.
It should be noted that Kuester, too, was an assistant on that 2004 Pistons team. Despite Woodson’s OK tenure in Atlanta, it floors me that Dumars would even go there—to the 2004 assistant coaching well—again.
Dwane Casey has been mentioned as another who Dumars has either already spoken to, or will shortly. Casey is another former NBA head coach (Minnesota) who is now an assistant with the new champions, the Dallas Mavericks.
Casey might be a fine coach, but I’m fighting back a yawn just writing about him.
But finally, an intriguing candidate who you don’t dare yawn at—former Pistons Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer, currently an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But Laimbeer’s candidacy seems perfunctory, and his interview (it’s supposed to be next week) has a bunch of courtesy to it.
The Pistons don’t excite. They don’t get anyone’s basketball juices flowing in this town. The empty seats nightly at The Palace for the past two years, where you once couldn’t get a ticket without doing so illegally, confirms that.
It’s a team bereft of star power and filled with unlikable characters, with an attitude that is the polar opposite of what blue-collar Detroit sports fans are all about.
The next coach must want to be an NBA head coach awfully badly to even consider leading this dysfunctional bunch.
But Dumars is headed for another yawner. Laimbeer, the only one among the candidates who’d re-pique interest in Pistons basketball, doesn’t have a prayer of landing the job. My opinion.
Dumars hired overmatched assistant Michael Curry in 2008, with nary a look elsewhere. Curry’s one year on the Pistons bench was all that Dumars needed to assess the former’s coaching skills.
In 2009, Dumars wanted Doug Collins, but Collins was put off by the revolving coach’s door at The Palace.
Dumars then set his sights on Avery Johnson, but Johnson quickly realized the Pistons needed him a whole lot more than he needed the Pistons, and so Johnson’s salary demands reflected that. Dumars flew home from Texas after meeting with Johnson, coach-less and twice rejected.
Enter Kuester, propped up as the offensive whiz that was behind the curtain with the championship-contending Cleveland Cavaliers. To hear some talk, you’d have thought LeBron James was taught everything he knew about basketball by John Kuester’s brilliant offensive mind.
Kuester, though, was Dumars’s third choice, and the results were not unexpected.
In the interest of full disclosure, Chuck Daly was Jack McCloskey’s third choice—at least—when Daly was hired in 1983. But Daly had decades of basketball coaching under his Gucci belt, unlike Kuester.
Whoever Dumars chooses as his next coach, that individual won’t do much for the casual basketball fan in Detroit. Neither Sampson, Frank, Woodson nor Casey is going to spur new season ticket sales.
The next Pistons coach isn’t going to be the one to lead them to the franchise’s fourth championship. The Pistons are too far away from contention for that to happen with this next fellow.
The Pistons almost need to go for style over substance with this next coaching hire. The roster, as it is now, isn’t going to make anyone get the chills, unless they’re symptomatic of the flu.
The man the Pistons should hire, but won’t, is someone they’re not even considering: Isiah Lord Thomas.
Thomas knows what being a Piston is all about. He’s been a train wreck after his playing career, but that’s been as an executive. As a coach, with the Indiana Pacers, Isiah did OK.
Thomas could work with disjointed guard Rodney Stuckey, to whom the team just tendered a contract, making Stuckey a restricted free agent.
It’s one thing to not listen to Kuester, as Stuckey was prone to do. It’s quite another to not listen to a Hall of Famer who essentially played your position.
Hiring Thomas would sell some season tickets. It would be a splash for the new ownership, and it would buy Dumars some time so he can assemble a proper NBA roster.
The hiring would have to be preceded by a heart-to-heart between the former Pistons backcourt mates, mainly to delineate boundaries between Thomas, who can be power hungry, and Dumars’s authority.
Thomas was asked by the media in April about his thoughts of coaching the Pistons.
“It would be an honor,” Thomas told them.
Yet none of this is going to happen. Dumars told the media that he wouldn’t even consider Thomas so as not to risk their friendship.
That’s chicken-excrement management.
Sometimes the job of the sports columnist isn’t to only write about what did happen, what is happening, or what might happen. Sometimes it’s to write about that which will never happen.