Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘Rasheed Wallace’ Category

Saunders Never Found True Love In Detroit

In Flip Saunders, Joe Dumars, Pistons, Rasheed Wallace on June 4, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Flip Saunders never truly got entrenched in Detroit. He was the Pistons coach for three seasons, but two things about that: 1) GM Joe Dumars has a fetish for canning coaches after a couple years or so, and 2) you never got the feeling that Saunders was securing his place, about to defy the odds created by item #1 in this paragraph. He won a ton of games — 176 of them in three years — but couldn’t push the Pistons past the NBA’s Final Four.

“When you get to where we were,” Dumars said yesterday at the press conference announcing Saunders’ ziggy, “you never feel like you’re not good enough to get to the Finals. Nobody gets to the conference finals and wonders if they’re good enough to move on.”

Dumars used those words to deflect any heat he might face from firing a coach with a winning percentage of over .700 in Detroit. What Joe D was saying was that the Pistons didn’t luck themselves into these last three Final Fours. Yet they couldn’t take that next step, falling in six games three straight times — kind of like Groundhog Day, only with a different groundhog each time. First, it was the Miami Heat, on their way to an NBA title behind the nearly flawless Dwyane Wade. Then it was the Cleveland Cavaliers, behind the nearly flawless LeBron James. Then it was the Boston Celtics, a team that went from 24 wins to 66, and a team that Dumars chided.

“They got some very good players, and didn’t have to give up much to get them,” Dumars said of the Celtics’ acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett over the summer. “It’s not like they had to give up depth. I would have liked to have done that, too,” he added with a wry grin.

So now Dumars may have just set a record for firing the most coaches with 50+ win seasons than any GM in history. He let Rick Carlisle go in 2003 after two 50-32 campaigns, it being hinted that Rick simply wasn’t all that nice a guy to team employees, and wasn’t all that nice to his bosses, either. Dumars replaced Carlisle quickly with the mercurial Larry Brown, who was shown the door after a title and two Finals appearances and two more 50+ win seasons, largely because owner Bill Davidson found Brown despicable toward the end, with the coach’s wandering eye and career restlessness always taking center stage. Again Dumars acted quickly, and brought in Saunders, a coach with some success in Minnesota but none to speak of in the playoffs.

Ahh, the playoffs. That’s where you can start tracing the fan base’s distrust of Saunders — and maybe even the players’, too. I, for one, wasn’t all that giddy about the Saunders hiring three summers ago, mainly because I looked at the standard being set in Detroit — the team was coming off another Finals appearance — and then I looked at the results Flip was getting in Minnesota (there were a lot of early exits with good teams) and I felt a little squeamish. But I also subscribed to the In Joe We Trust mentality, and figured that Saunders must have something for Dumars to commit four years of Davidson’s dough into him.

Then the Pistons went out and started 35-5 in Flip’s first season, and they looked damn near invincible. The second half was a bit more disjointed, and the team had to scramble to beat the Cavs in seven games in the Elite Eight before being melted by Wade’s Heat.

From there, it was dicey, as far as overall belief and trust in Flip Saunders in Detroit. While I hate to give the sports talk radio jabbermouths too much credit, they and their often misguided callers seemed to unite under one common belief: the Pistons win in the regular season despite of Saunders, but will never get back to the Finals — mainly because of Saunders.

Saunders was, by far, the least embraced coach in Detroit — ranking below even the Lions’ Rod Marinelli, who has largely been judged as more of an innocent bystander than anyone with losing blood on his hands. There wasn’t any sort of true affection for him. We never knew much about him, for starters. We knew he had a kid who played at the University of Minnesota, his alma mater, and that he coached the T-Wolves all those years. And that he narrowly missed being a victim of that bridge collapse — also in Minnesota. Maybe he was just too much Minnesota for our liking. Regardless, there wasn’t any of the lovable gruffness and supposed genius that Tigers fans found so alluring about Jim Leyland. There wasn’t the quiet calm and confidence exuded by Red Wings coach Mike Babcock that hockey fans find reassuring. There wasn’t even the “Aw, shucks/pound the rock” affability projected by Marinelli. With Saunders, he was like the outsider who was just keeping a seat warm until Dumars decided to satisfy his fetish again. No real connection. No real affection. No real empathy about what would ultimately happen to him.

Fair? Probably not.

I think that Flip Saunders became the Pistons coach at a very difficult time in team history. And all his regular season success couldn’t wash away the film that the disappointing playoff endings always left on the organization. He had to win another championship, Saunders did — or at least make it to a Finals or two — to continue to coach here. He was the victim of the expectations built first by Carlisle and then reached by Brown. And in the end, for whatever reason, Saunders simply didn’t have enough moxie to achieve those lofty goals.

There was his relationship with Rasheed Wallace, for one. Sheed is a reminder that coach killers are still a long ways away from becoming extinct in the NBA. They’re alive and well, and Sheed contributed, more than any other player, to the decision Dumars reached regarding Saunders’s status. Ironically, Wallace himself may also be gone — but not before having plunged a knife into Flip’s back. You can’t kill a coach killer, but you can get rid of him. Maybe Wallace will be some other team’s headache.

Dumars spoke — and with some definite agitation — of the final ten minutes of the Pistons’ season, those final, ghoulish minutes against Boston in the fourth quarter of Game 6. The ten minutes that put Saunders in the coffin and lowered him six feet under the daisies. The ten minutes that saw the Pistons turn a 10-point lead and a raucous crowd and an imminent Game 7 into yet another ugly, gut-churning, cold ending to a season. The ten minutes that gave Wallace one more chance to show why he’s one of the least clutch starters in the league, and why the Pistons didn’t have the heart or the guts to beat back the Celtics, even on their home floor, their crowd behind them and their opponents about ready to gag.

The Pistons coughed up two hairballs in the Final Four: Game 3 and the final ten minutes of Game 6 — both at the Palace. They were 58 minutes of basketball that are now the first domino of a summer of change in Auburn Hills. Flip is gone, just as we all suspected he might be. But this isn’t a fire-the-coach, keep-the-players sort of thing. Not even close.

“I’m open for business,” Dumars declared of his personnel plans. “No one is a sacred cow.”

No; they’re four fatted calves — you know who I mean — and at least one of them is about ready to be slaughtered.

No Sheed – It’s Time For Wallace To Move On

In NBA playoffs, Pistons, Rasheed Wallace on June 1, 2008 at 2:17 pm

It got to the point where they called it “the black hole.” The basketball would get tossed into it, and, basically, would never come out again. The derisive nickname came from the coaches and teammates, and leaked out.

Basically, the Pistons half-court offense would go like this: Isiah Thomas, slapping the ball against the floor, boogying left and then right, and maybe a pass to Joe Dumars or Bill Laimbeer would ensue. Then, the shot clock ticking away, the ball would end up in the hands of Adrian Dantley – somewhere on the wing. The Black Hole.

Dantley would hold the ball, rocking back and forth on his heels, and the only thing that was certain was that no one was getting it back. He either would drive to the hoop or launch a set shot from 20 feet away.

It was abided, Adrian Dantley’s ball-hogging ways, for a time after the Pistons acquired him from the Utah Jazz in the summer of 1986 for another who was infatuated with touching it, Kelly Tripucka. The Pistons, behind Dantley’s post presence to complement the whirling dervish Thomas and the tough but flat-footed Laimbeer and the smooth as silk Dumars, became a force in the NBA almost overnight. They went to the conference finals in 1987, Dantley’s first season in Detroit. Then they made it to the league finals in ’88, coming a whisker from beating the Lakers.

But the Pistons brass and the others who shared the court with Dantley began to get mystified and maddened at the Black Hole the following season. The offense was coming to an absolute halt whenever Dantley touched the ball. You could practically hear the THUD in the brand-new Palace of Auburn Hills when Adrian Dantley was given the basketball.

So the day after Valentine’s Day, 1989, GM Jack McCloskey stunned the basketball world by trading the Black Hole to the Dallas Mavericks. Coming to Detroit would be another problem child, Mark Aguirre – like Dantley, a prolific scorer. And, like the multi-traded Dantley, Aguirre tended to try the patience of his coach. Dick Motta was the coach in Dallas, and over the years he’d used words like “coward” and “jackass” to describe Mark Aguirre.

And yet here came Aguirre to the Pistons – a team many thought were world title contenders, despite the Black Hole portion of their offense. McCloskey was upsetting the apple cart, purposely.

“The trade had to be made,” he told me a couple years ago when I asked him to, you know, explain himself. “There were issues. Let’s leave it at that.”

The issues were solved when Dantley’s equipment bag and sneakers were shipped out of Detroit, for with Aguirre now on the team and behaving, the Pistons cruised to the NBA championship. And they won it again next year, also with Aguirre.

Rasheed Wallace has become the current Pistons’ Black Hole.

Wallace has more in common with Dantley (above) than you think

It’s not the same kind of thing, really – in the sense that Wallace doesn’t keep the basketball all to himself. But the welcome mat beneath his flippers is wearing away.

Wallace has just authored another chapter in the Book of Rasheed, and like so many others before it, it’s gothic and grotesque and self-defeating. And it carries the rest of his team down with him.

The Pistons are done for the summer, vanquished by the new-look Boston Celtics in six frightful games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Wallace and company worked like mad to wrestle home court advantage away from the Celtics in Game 2, then regurgitated it back up in a Game 3 performance so awful that it almost defies description. But not scapegoats.

Rasheed Wallace, throughout the Boston series, made a lot of news. None of it was very good. His play was horrific, his actions perplexing. From tossing up more bricks than the masons to carelessly handling the basketball to hugging Celtic opponents after games to being on the verge, yet again, of earning a suspension due to too many technical fouls, Wallace has just shown us in one playoff series why he should be politely shown the door, never to wear the Piston uniform again.

I don’t hate the guy. I’m not blaming the Pistons’ failure in the conference finals over the past three seasons solely on him, but I am suggesting that he shoulders most of it. Wallace can no longer be a Piston because he is simply becoming too much for the team to handle and overcome. He shows up flat – or not at all – at too many inopportune times. He has been, frankly, why the Pistons have lost in big games far more than he’s been the reason why they’ve won. His cashiering would be a classic example of addition by subtraction.

Game 6 sealed it for me. Wallace threw the ball away several times, handling it with all the care of a child with someone else’s toy. He rattled shot after shot off the rim in ugly fashion. He played as if in a fog most of the night – matching his countenance for most of the series. The Pistons, sadly, were not only playing the Celtics in this series, but their own No. 36 as well. And Lord only knows who, or what, Rasheed Wallace was competing against. I suspect there are some basketball demons in there. The world according to Wallace is a world that I don’t think any of us have ever inhabited.

It’s time for Pistons GM Joe Dumars to pull a Trader Jack McCloskey and rid the team of Rasheed Wallace while he still has some market value. The dude was fun and all, but he’s just not worth the trouble anymore. No Sheed.