Archive for basketball
It’s the refrain of the real estate professional.
Location, location, location!
It’s true. You can take the same 1200 square foot ranch house, lift it from its current lot and plunk it down in another, and the property value will go up or down based on the neighborhood and other location-related factors.
The home itself is officially the thing that is being appraised, but everyone knows that where that home is located largely determines what price a prospective buyer is expected to pay.
Rochelle Riley, columnist for the Free Press and self-admitted non-basketball fan, recently joined the latest mini-consortium of folks who are calling for the Pistons to move downtown.
“We left at halftime because it was too hard to stay,” Riley wrote of a recent trip to the Palace with a girlfriend to watch the Pistons play. “The parking lot wasn’t full. The highway was clear. It took less than an hour to drive back. It just wasn’t the same.”
It wasn’t the same—she compared it to going to a game in 2004—because the team hasn’t won in years.
You want the Pistons to move downtown?
They tried that—remember?
In 1960, the Pistons started playing in a shiny new, circular-shaped arena at the riverfront called Cobo. The arena was an extension of Cobo Hall, which was built for conventions and other big events.
The team was three years removed from moving to Detroit from Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Pistons shared Olympia Stadium with the Red Wings in those days—and the experience was often less than desirable.
The floor would get slippery from the condensation that formed due to the basketball court being placed on top of the ice surface. The seats near the court—the supposed “good” seats—gave the patrons cold feet, literally.
The Red Wings were the primary tenants, and they weren’t about to constantly melt and re-freeze the ice to accommodate the new basketball team. So the court was plunked on top of the ice with minimal wooden planking in between.
On top of that, the Pistons were losers in the 1960s. Attendance was always going to be a challenge because basketball was—and still is—running fourth place in a four-team race for market share in Detroit, behind the Tigers, Lions and Red Wings.
Even the drafting of Hall of Famers Dave Bing (1966) and Bob Lanier (1970) couldn’t lift attendance at Cobo into five figures for a night on anything more than rare occasions, even when the Pistons won 52 games in 1973-74.
Owner Bill Davidson finally pulled up the stakes and moved the Pistons north in 1978, starting with the Silverdome in Pontiac and, 10 years later, the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Pistons have been in the northern burgs for 36 years—15 years longer than they spent playing downtown. That’s about 60 percent of their 57 years since moving from Fort Wayne.
The Pistons are in a conundrum, and they partly have their arena to blame.
The Palace continues to be one of the NBA’s crown jewels—still a state-of-the-art facility that was built ahead of its time, with some suites positioned at mezzanine level instead of in the nose bleed part of the arena, as was the norm for so many hockey and basketball arenas built in the 1970s and beyond. It simply isn’t old and decrepit and in need of replacing, as is Joe Louis Arena.
The Palace is a great venue but now that the Pistons are losing again, suddenly it’s in the wrong part of town?
In pro sports, the real estate mantra doesn’t apply.
It’s not about location—it’s about winning.
If the Palace was where Cobo Arena is, and the Pistons were losing like they are now, attendance would still be a challenge, despite the arena’s amenities.
Conversely, if you put the Pistons in a dump like JLA and the team is winning, the arena could be in Kalkaska and the attendance would be OK.
Fans will drive a bit to see a winner. The Pistons have proved that—twice.
They proved it in the late-1980s and they proved it again for most of the 2000s. The common denominator? Winning, championship-caliber basketball.
The Pistons simply don’t have, and never will have, the kind of following in Metro Detroit that their three brethren enjoy; i.e. the ability to draw fans even when the team isn’t all that.
The Pistons rely on winning for their attendance figures to remain aloft, more than any pro team in Detroit. It’s been that way since 1957 and that will never change.
Detroit has never been a pro basketball town. The major colleges draw very well, but the pro game is still the redheaded stepchild of Detroit sports.
Pistons owner Tom Gores has been pretty diplomatic when the subject of the Pistons moving downtown crops up, even when broached by heavy hitters like Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
Gores knows he has a gem in the Palace. He has backed up that adoration by pumping millions of dollars of improvements into the arena, including a monstrous new scoreboard, aiming to enhance the basketball attendance experience.
So when the question arises of the team moving back downtown, Gores has deftly demurred. He doesn’t want to hurt feelings, but he also wants folks to know that, for now, the Pistons are happy to play at the Palace, some 45 minutes north of downtown Detroit.
The question isn’t whether the Pistons should move downtown. It’s, when will they be good again?
The quality of the team has always driven Pistons attendance, not the location of the arena.
Been there, done that.
To hear the media tell it, the Stan Van Gundy hire is the first time the Pistons have given so much power to one man.
Don’t they remember Dickie Vitale?
On Wednesday, the Pistons will tip-off in Denver against the Nuggets to open the 2014-15 NBA season—which will be Van Gundy’s first as the team’s judge, jury and executioner.
SVG wears the hats of coach, President of Basketball Operations and de facto GM. Players will find Van Gundy at every turn, should they ever act out.
Power? Oh yes. But 36 years ago, the Pistons unwittingly gave lots of power to Vitale, and it didn’t end so well.
Vitale was a year removed from coaching at the University of Detroit in the spring of 1978, having just served one year as the school’s Athletic Director. He quit coaching because his stomach turned against him.
But Dickie V’s tummy made a miraculous recovery in time to accept a hefty contract from the Pistons.
There have been many cautionary tales of college coaches trying to make it in the NBA without first serving as an assistant. Vitale’s time with the Pistons should be the mother of all those tales.
Vitale was officially hired as coach only, but the Pistons in those days were a strange little organization. And Dickie got a lot more power than anyone thought he was going to have.
The Pistons had a GM when Vitale was hired, a former NBA player named Bob Kauffman, who also served as interim coach for half a season after firing Herb Brown.
But not long after Vitale was hired, Kauffman, who could see the writing on the wall, resigned. Kauffman knew that Vitale was ownership’s darling.
Oscar Feldman held the title of general manager, but like so many other GMs before him with the Pistons, Feldman was less of a basketball man and more of something else. In Oscar’s case, that meant lawyer.
So Vitale was the coach only, in title, but in reality, Dickie had pretty much the same power that Van Gundy enjoys now with the Pistons.
That meant Vitale could make trades and draft players, unabated.
There have been GMs in Detroit who have been among the most hated men in the history of sports in this town.
Ned Harkness with the Red Wings. Russ Thomas with the Lions. Matt Millen with the Lions.
Vitale wasn’t hated; he wasn’t with the Pistons long enough to hate him. But Vitale arguably did more damage to the Pistons in his 18-month reign than the above men did to their teams over many years.
Operating with little to no supervision, like a puppy left alone at home by his owner for the first time, Vitale ran amok. He had never been able to trade and draft players in college. In the pros, he could—and he wreaked destruction on the Pistons franchise.
Feldman, the feckless GM and owner Bill Davidson (who bought the bull that Vitale sold in his interview) pretty much looked the other way as Vitale traded, traded some more, and drafted very curiously.
First, Vitale apparently didn’t get the memo that the Pistons were allowed to draft players who went to school in states other than Michigan.
In 1978, Vitale chose John Long and Terry Tyler (both in the first round), his old players at U-D. A year later, he famously (and foolishly) gave the Milwaukee Bucks $50,000 to trade places in the first round, so Vitale could draft Greg Kelser from Michigan State. The Bucks wanted Sidney Moncrief anyway. Later in the first round in 1979, Vitale grabbed Phil Hubbard out of Michigan. In the third round, Dickie drafted Terry Duerod, another former Detroit Titan.
The NBA had killed the territorial draft allowance in the mid-1960s, yet Vitale drafted as if the state of Michigan was the only repository for NBA players.
Then there were the trades.
(above) Vitale, probably announcing the drafting of another Michigan-based collegian
Just a few games into his first season, Vitale dealt guard Chris Ford to Boston for Earl Tatum. It was a lopsided trade, one that was made because Ford and Vitale didn’t see eye-to-eye.
Later in that season, sticking with his U-D theme, Vitale brought in former Titan Dennis Boyd, whose claim to fame was hitting the game-winning jump shot that beat 8th-ranked Marquette in Milwaukee in 1977.
But the most egregious trade Vitale made occurred in the summer of 1979.
Again acting without supervision, Vitale had his good eye on scoring center/power forward Bob McAdoo, a malcontent who the Boston Celtics were eager to jettison.
McAdoo was a former multiple league scoring champion, but in recent years his stints with the New York Knicks and the Celtics hadn’t gone well.
Vitale had sugar plums dancing in his head about what McAdoo and center Bob Lanier could do together for the Pistons.
The Celtics, all too eager to trade McAdoo, told Vitale that they wanted M.L. Carr in return. For starters.
So Vitale engineered a deal that essentially brought McAdoo to Detroit and which sent the Celtics two first round draft choices and Carr.
The Celtics used one of those draft picks to select Kevin McHale and the other to trade for Robert Parish. Those big men, plus Carr and rookie Larry Bird, helped turn the Celtics from a 29-win team in 1978-79 to strong championship contenders, overnight.
And McAdoo? He didn’t want anything to do with Vitale and the Pistons, and so Mac spent an uninspired season-and-a-half in Detroit before being benched and eventually waived. McAdoo would turn up a few years later with the Lakers as a role player for championship teams in Los Angeles.
Vitale was fired 12 games into his second season with the Pistons, but he left the franchise bereft of draft choices and with little future.
But there was one good thing that came from Vitale’s reign of terror and subsequent dismissal.
He recommended that the Pistons hire, as a bona fide GM, a haggard assistant coach sitting on the bench with the Indiana Pacers.
Jack McCloskey told me that to this day, whenever he sees Dick Vitale he makes sure to thank him for the recommendation.
The question, I suppose, was fitting, because Travis Bader seems to like to do things in threes.
“They asked me what three celebrities I’d like to have dinner with,” Bader told Al Beaton, Adam Biggers and me on the latest episode of “The Knee Jerks” podcast last Sunday.
The “they” were a consortium of NBA scouts and coaches. The reason for such a question was the NBA’s version of the NFL combine, particularly the portion where the draft hopefuls are taken away from the court, away from the workouts, and interviewed one-on-one.
So how did Bader answer the celebrity dinner trio question?
“I can’t remember all three,” Bader said. “But I know Bill Gates was one, so I could appear smart.”
Three is Bader’s favorite number. He wore it on his jersey at Oakland University, and he made a college career out of 3, including setting a new all-time NCAA record for triples, breaking the mark set by Duke’s J.J. Redick.
Everyone knows Bader can drain a trey, so there was more to explore about the shooting guard when he had his 11 workouts for 13 NBA teams over the past several weeks.
Hence the oddball questions.
“They also asked me, ‘What does two plus two mean to you?’,” Bader told us on the podcast.
“I said four.”
When we cornered Bader on the phone, the NBA Draft had yet to occur. It was four days away, and at the time there was hope that somehow, some way, Bader would be selected in the two-round, 60-player process.
He wasn’t, but that’s OK.
That’s not the end of his NBA dream.
That he has gotten this far is a testament of sorts.
Bader’s dad was closely tied to the Michigan State University basketball program, and because of that connection, an adolescent Bader got to hang around the Spartans and coach Tom Izzo.
“Coach Izzo was great. He’d let me hang out at practice, shooting for hours,” Bader recalled. “I traveled with the team. I went to Sweet Sixteens and Final Fours.”
But despite Bader’s up close-and-personal relationship with the Spartans program, there was no real interest by Izzo from a recruitment standpoint. And Bader doesn’t blame the coach one iota.
“Whenever people suggest that Coach Izzo let me ‘get away,’ I always laugh,” Bader said. “I wasn’t very impressive coming out of high school. I was six-foot-two, 165 pounds.”
But one coach did see something in Bader.
Greg Kampe has won over 500 games, all at Oakland. He has built a program that flies under the radar but which has been very competitive over the past decade especially. And Kampe went after Bader, the skinny shooting guard from Okemos.
“Coach Kampe has been amazing to me,” Bader said. “He was the only one to offer me a Divison-I scholarship. He saw something in me that nobody else did. He’s very honest. When he says something, he means it.”
After Kampe recruited him, Bader grew a tad (he’s six-foot-five now), filled out some, and became perhaps the best player in Golden Grizzlies history, though Keith Benson, who has played in the NBA, is also in the conversation.
As Bader grinded his way through college, the three-pointers started raining down.
They kept coming to the tune of 504 in 1,246 attempts, which is not only an NCAA career mark for triples made, but Bader did so by making them at a 40 percent clip, which is another impressive stat.
The obvious question we had for Bader on “The Knee Jerks” was, “Was there any team that impressed you the most during the workout process?”
His answer was diplomatic but understandable.
“You know what? Not really. Every team treats you well. They put you up in nice hotels, give you a food stipend. I just want to be drafted.
“I’ll be a practice player, if that’s what teams want,” he added.
OK, so the guy can shoot, but what else does he bring to the table? I wanted to know why an NBA team should take a flyer on Travis Bader, according to Travis Bader.
“Well I’m a team player. I believe in the team. It’s not about me. My work ethic. But the idea is to put the ball in the hole. And that’s my real strength.”
The NBA game today is played so close to the three-point line, and so often. The most prolific three-point shooters aren’t just little guys. Big men are stepping behind the line with dizzying frequency. Whether you choose to call it The Dirk Nowitzki Effect or not, the fact is that being proficient as a long-range shooter is a very important weapon to have, no matter if you’re six-foot-two or nearly seven-feet tall.
But Bader knows that he can’t make the NBA on outside shooting alone.
“I’ve been working hard on my defense,” he told us on Sunday. “I want to show teams that I can defend multiple players and positions.”
But let’s face it. Bader’s real appeal is that three-point gun he carries in his holster.
So the NBA dream lives on, despite Bader going undrafted on Thursday night.
Just today, it was announced that Bader will play for Philadelphia and Golden State in two separate summer leagues next month.
“Travis thought it was the best-case scenario for each league,” coach Kampe told the Oakland Press. “He felt like each team was the best fit for each camp.”
After the draft, Bader texted me and said that six NBA teams were showing high interest in him and had already reached out to his agent.
Is one of them the Pistons, who are in dire need of outside shooting?
Not sure, but Bader listed the Pistons as one of his best workouts.
“To be honest, I’ve been thinking about the NBA since my sophomore year (at Oakland),” Bader told us.
Bader, who literally wore 3 on his chest at Oakland, could still find his way onto an NBA roster.
“The NBA is full of great, great players and specialists. He’s a specialist. Everybody needs a shooter,” Kampe said.
Stan Van Gundy was less than 30 seconds into his first press conference as the Pistons’ coach and director of basketball operations, and his voice was already hoarse.
But that’s par for the course. Basketball coaches always sound like they’ve been screaming bloody murder for days on end.
Listening to Van Gundy speak today at the Palace, two things came to mind. One was, get that guy a Sucrets. The other, was that Detroit is going to love this guy.
Van Gundy fits perfectly in what the Detroit sports fans crave in their coaches.
They like the fiery, no-nonsense type. The athletes can be quiet leaders of few words—Steve Yzerman, Barry Sanders, Nicklas Lidstrom and Calvin Johnson come to mind—but the coaches need to be engaged and have some hothead in them.
Based on that description alone, Van Gundy will win over many a fan, initially.
Van Gundy spoke with urgency, energy and fire, and if any franchise in this town needs that in its leader, it’s the Pistons.
The fan base is dwindling. Worse, they’re flat-out bored and disinterested.
There’s nothing boring about Van Gundy. Maybe the most exciting part about him is that he has never had a losing record as a coach. His .641 winning percentage ranks in the top five of coaches with at least 500 NBA games under their belt.
In the late-1980s, when the Lions were again stumbling and bumbling through the NFL, owner Bill Ford levied a most damning indictment against his football team.
“We’re losing,” Ford said as he made his way past the media in the press box after yet another loss, “but worse than that, we’re boring.”
Not long after uttering those words, Ford gave coach Darryl Rogers an overdue ziggy.
The Pistons have been losing for five years, and they’ve been boring—unless you count player revolts, a flavor-of-the-month coaching plan and the death of the owner and subsequent sale as exciting stuff.
No one comes to the games anymore, but that’s nothing new. Detroit has always been a front-runner’s town when it comes to pro basketball. Unlike its three brethren in football, baseball and hockey, the Pistons don’t get love unless they’re winning. It’s been that way ever since the team moved here from Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1957.
When you consider that the Pistons haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, the hemorrhaging of fans in five years from an already shaky base is significant.
Van Gundy will return some lost interest in the Pistons. He will be front and center, and not just because he is wearing two hats. His is a big personality, matching his physical girth. He won’t be a wallflower, operating in clandestine fashion behind the scenes. His face won’t end up on the side of a milk carton upon the first long losing streak.
It would be that way if Van Gundy was only coaching, or if he was only in the front office. There isn’t any run away-and-hide in him.
That was proven when Van Gundy went shoulder to stomach with Dwight Howard in Orlando. The coach lost, but he didn’t go down without a fight—nor without some hard truths about the All-Star center.
Howard, by the way, now counts himself as a Van Gundy fan, after further review.
This hire isn’t about whether Van Gundy can do both jobs—and Lord knows we’ll be hearing that question being asked relentlessly over the next several months.
This is about the Pistons frantically waving their arms and saying, “Look at us! We’re the Pistons! Pay attention to us!”
But that’s being a little unfair, too.
The Pistons needed a high profile hire at either coach or GM in the wake of the non-renewal of former president Joe Dumars’ contract last month. They ended up getting a high profile guy at both jobs, so hats off to Tom Gores.
That’s right, I said it. As someone who has been less than kind and thrilled with the Pistons owner, I must admit that he hit a home run here.
I was concerned that Gores, who I viewed as a clown of an owner, wouldn’t have the acumen to hire the right people after Dumars’ departure.
I was wrong.
Stan Van Gundy has respect, a fine track record and he’s refreshed after being away from the game for two years.
He can coach, big time.
This is the Pistons’ best hire at coach since Flip Saunders in 2005, and some cynics might go back two years earlier, to Larry Brown.
The dual hat thing even has some national people who don’t follow or cover the Pistons wringing their hands.
But I would ask them, how much worse can it get?
I’ll roll the dice with a coach who has a .641 winning percentage any day. I’ll gamble that he knows enough about the players in the league that he can cobble together a workable roster.
This isn’t Matt Millen, redux.
Millen, the atrocity of a president with the Lions, not only had zero GM experience, he had never coached. So he didn’t have an aura about him—a presence that would automatically attract good football people without any coercion or major sell jobs.
Van Gundy, on the other hand, will have little trouble, I believe, in attracting quality basketball people to Detroit—and that simply wasn’t possible under the previous administration, anymore. Dumars was too tarnished by the time his contract ran out.
So this won’t be Van Gundy doing two jobs. It will be Van Gundy coaching—and he’ll attract quality assistants as well—and a presumably sharp front office staff being the new man’s eyes and ears on a day-to-day basis.
This won’t be Millen, who hoarded power and who tried to take on too much by himself. The most egregious example was hiring a rookie head coach, which made things worse.
People already seem to have this misconception that Van Gundy will conduct practice in the morning, run upstairs to change from sweats to a suit in the afternoon to be the front office guy, and then race down to the floor to coach that night’s game, skipping lunch and dinner.
It won’t work that way, folks.
There’ll be quality (assumption) people in the offices, doing the grunt work, and reporting to Van Gundy at the end of the day.
It’s very doable. Frankly, I wonder why more NBA teams don’t try this model, which has been very effective in San Antonio and Miami, as Van Gundy pointed out in Thursday’s presser.
I’ll go you one further and say that more teams will go this route before too long.
Through it all, Pistons fans will enjoy Van Gundy’s blue-collar, no-nonsense manner of coaching and they’ll enjoy seeing the top dog in the front office not shying away from the cameras and microphones.
Dave Dombrowski with the Tigers, Kenny Holland with the Red Wings and even Marty Mayhew with the Lions aren’t afraid to show their faces on a regular basis.
You can now add Stan Van Gundy to that group.
This is all well and good, but of course there is a roster that needs some overhauling. There is a losing culture that needs to be discarded. There is a certain restricted free agent big man who needs to be addressed.
But at least we won’t be looking under rocks to find the man who is making the decisions.
Some 43 years after Gordie Howe got it, looks like another Detroit sports legend is about to get the “mushroom treatment.”
Old-timers will remember this one. The Red Wings, after Howe retired in 1971, gave him a job title—Vice President—and an office inside Olympia Stadium.
Gordie didn’t find the new “job” all that enthralling.
“They give me the mushroom treatment,” Gordie said to reporters back in the day about his new role, in words that reverberate to the old-timers—yours truly is guilty as charged—to this day.
The mushroom treatment, Gordie?
“They keep me in the dark and every so often they dump (manure) on me.”
The Red Wings’ pathetic effort to keep the franchise’s—and perhaps the sport’s—greatest player in a meaningful role lasted just two years before Gordie got tired of the mushroom treatment and came out of retirement to play in the World Hockey Association with his sons, Mark and Marty.
Gordie would play professional hockey for seven more seasons—six in the WHA and one last go-round in the NHL.
So now it appears that the mushroom treatment is being dusted off and brought back out of the dark office, so to speak.
Joe Dumars’ tenure as Pistons president and GM effectively ends at the final horn of Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma City. His contract, which officially expires at the end of this dreadful (again) season, will apparently not be renewed.
But that’s not all.
Dumars, it is being reported, will take an advisory position with the Pistons. It is shaping up to be a do-nothing, strictly titular job that will have no influence over the thinking—and I use that term loosely here—of owner Tom Gores and his Platinum Equity minions.
The Pistons are going to be giving Joe Dumars, one of the team’s iconic players, the mushroom treatment.
Let’s hope he doesn’t put up with it for two years, like Gordie Howe did with the Red Wings.
Maybe this will be Dumars’ way of slowly fading from view and from our consciousness. Maybe there is method in his madness. Frankly, if I were Joe, I would have told Gores to take his adviser role and shove it where a basketball doesn’t fit.
That, of course, isn’t Dumars’ style.
Maybe we’ll see Joe on TV sometime soon, perhaps as a studio analyst for NBA TV or ESPN. The cast of characters on those two networks is filled with ex-players but not really any executive types. Joe is both, but his playing days ended some 15 years ago. He’d bring a different perspective.
But today isn’t so much about Dumars’ future as it is about his recent past.
As the Joe Dumars Era, Part II winds down this week, it’s easy to do the “What have you done for me lately?” thing. I’ve been guilty of it already, in the wake of the news that broke last week that Dumars likely wouldn’t be coming back as team president/GM.
But then I got to thinking about what it is that Dumars is leaving. And he should be thankful that he’s going.
In too many horrific ways, current ownership reminds me of the Pistons circa 1978.
Bill Davidson, still finding his way as Pistons owner—he bought the team out from a group of investors in 1974—was clueless about the sports ownership thing in ’78.
Davidson moved the Pistons from Cobo Arena downtown to the cavernous Silverdome in Pontiac in time for the 1978-79 season.
To help augment the move from a PR standpoint, Davidson took leave of his senses and bowed to pressure from local riff raff, such as sports columnists, and hired Dick Vitale to be coach and de facto GM in the spring of 1978.
Vitale fed Davidson—and those same columnists—a line of bull and miraculously, his suspect stomach, which supposedly forced him to resign his gig as U-D’s coach in 1977, all of a sudden got all better in time for him to take the Pistons job.
Davidson bought the bull and, dazzled by the allure of hiring Vitale—who at the time could have been elected mayor of many cities around town—the owner gave Dickie the keys.
Of course, it all blew up in Davidson’s face just 16 months later and Vitale got the ziggy, but not before leaving a path of destruction to the franchise in Dickie’s wake.
The Pistons were a circus in those days, and Dickie Vitale was the leading clown under the big top.
The Pistons are back to being a circus again, but this time the owner is the biggest clown.
The Pistons, right now, are beneath someone of Dumars’ stature, and I have been one of Joe’s harshest critics in recent years. In fact, I was browbeating Dumars before it became fashionable to do so.
The Pistons are a joke, being run by an absentee owner who directs his Platinum Equity Dweebs—Phil Norment and Bob Wentworth, Detroit’s PEDs—to keep an eye on the franchise in Detroit while the owner hobnobs in TinselTown.
The Pistons were absentee-owned by Fred Zollner, who was based in Florida, when Davidson bought the team in 1974. Forty years later, they are again owned by someone who barely sees the team play in person.
Dumars, I have a feeling, may be somewhat relieved that his run as a Pistons executive has ended. The difference between Davidson’s personality and style, and that of Gores, couldn’t be much further apart. I also have a feeling that Dumars knows that what Tom Gores knows about sports ownership could fit into a thimble.
All this being said, Joe Dumars is certainly not without culpability for what the Pistons franchise has become since their last appearance in the NBA’s Final Four in 2008. There is blood on his hands, for sure.
But that’s what it has become on the basketball court. And the Pistons, today, are more than just broken on the court. They are broken upstairs, and the confidence level as to whether Gores can hire the right person to fix things from the top down can’t be terribly high among the fan base.
Nor should it be. Gores is a clown under a big top.
But the owner can stuff those words down my throat and reverse his image if he somehow, by hook or by crook, makes a good hire (or two) this off-season.
Pistons fans are pretty united that when it comes to turning points in team history, the biggest came on December 11, 1979, when Davidson, stung by Vitale’s turbulent tenure, hired Jack McCloskey off the Indiana Pacers bench (assistant coach) to be the team’s GM.
By the end of the next decade, the Pistons were starting a three-year run in the Finals, winning two of them.
Gores could make a great hire this summer. Because you know what? Davidson hired McCloskey off a recommendation.
The recommendation came from Dick Vitale.
So you never know.
The most consistently successful franchise in pro sports today is located in a city where they beseech you to remember the Alamo—not to mention George Gervin, Larry Kenon and Artis Gilmore.
It’s in a town where there isn’t any other major pro sports team. It’s the Green Bay of the NBA.
The San Antonio Spurs started playing seriously for the NBA championship in the late-1990s, and they haven’t stopped since.
Other NBA franchises, some steeped in history, have been made over—sometimes several times—in the past 20 years.
The Boston Celtics, who in the 1960s were as reliable every spring as the first robin and who won several more titles in the ‘70s and ‘80s, fell on hard times in the late-1990s, early-2000s before regrouping and becoming champions again in 2008.
The Los Angeles Lakers, by the mid-1990s, had become impostors wearing purple, like a bunch of department store Barneys. Then Phil Jackson arrived from Chicago and got the Lakers wearing championship belts again.
The Chicago Bulls sank like a stone after Michael Jordan “retired”, their six championships in the 1990s becoming distant memories almost overnight.
The Detroit Pistons…well, you get the idea.
But the Spurs? They’ve never dipped, really, since center David Robinson finally joined them in 1989 after serving two years in the Naval Academy following his drafting in 1987.
The Spurs’ won/lost records over the past 20 years have been as consistent as a working clock.
The Spurs win 50+ games every year, make the playoffs, and they’re typically one of the last few teams standing in June. Four times since 1999, they’ve been the only team standing.
Their coach, Gregg Popovich, has a career winning percentage of near .700 in over 1400 games. Popovich could win 50 games every season in his sleep.
The blossoming of the Spurs under Popovich came in 1996.
The Spurs had Robinson but hadn’t been able to put the right parts around him. Much of that was on Popovich, who became the team’s GM in 1994.
You have to be lucky to be good, and that was certainly true of the Spurs in 1996. The team got off to a 3-15 start, and Popovich fired coach Bob Hill and replaced him with…Gregg Popovich. I know—it doesn’t sound lucky so far. Give me a moment.
Popovich had been an assistant with the Spurs under Larry Brown for a few years starting in the late-1980s and he figured, what the heck—I’ll coach the team myself.
Robinson broke his foot during that 3-15 start of 1996 and missed all but six games of the ’96-97 season. Other key Spurs players missed significant time with injuries, and it all ended with a 20-62 record.
Popovich didn’t fire himself as coach. He kept wearing the dual hats of coach and GM.
Here’s where the good luck kicked in.
Because of all the injuries, not the least of which was suffered by future Hall of Famer Robinson, the Spurs ended up with the no. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft and drafted a big man from Wake Forest named Tim Duncan.
Duncan’s insertion into the lineup and Robinson’s return from injury put the Spurs back in familiar territory with 56 wins in 1997-98.
One year later, with the Spurs’ version of the Twin Towers manning the paint, the Spurs won their first NBA title in 1999, beating the New York Knicks in five games.
Popovich shed the GM label in 2002 to concentrate on coaching, which was like Frank Sinatra quitting acting to focus on singing.
It worked, though, as the Spurs won their second championship in 2003, overcoming the New Jersey Nets in six games. It was Robinson’s swan song as a player.
David Robinson retired, but the Spurs kept winning, which is their—and Popovich’s—genius. Players have come and gone, including Hall of Famers, yet the Spurs have never bottomed out.
The Miami Heat won the championship in 2006, and two years later, despite having Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, and a Hall of Fame coach in Pat Riley, Miami won 15 games.
Of course, the Heat rebuilt themselves in a hurry, but they had to occupy the outhouse before getting back to the penthouse.
The Spurs don’t do that collapse-before-you-can-get-better thing.
Another NBA crown was won in 2005, and again in 2007. The Spurs’ key trio then, as it is now, was Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili. The latter two are fine players, but probably not Hall of Famers.
That’s another thing. The Spurs rosters haven’t been filled with iconic names, like the Celtics, Lakers, Pistons and Bulls’ championship teams have been.
The Spurs win about 70 percent of the time under Popovich, but there have been no Bird, McHale, Parish or Kareem, Magic, Worthy-like combinations that Popovich has coached.
The Spurs draft well, trade cunningly and they have Popovich, 65 years old, a two-time Coach of the Year winner (2003, 2012) and four-time world champion.
The Spurs have been relevant for 15 years in a league where literally no other team of the NBA’s 30 franchises can say that.
OK, that’s the NBA, but what about other sports, you might ask.
Let’s look at other sports.
In baseball, even the mighty New York Yankees haven’t won as many World Series as the Spurs have won NBA championships since 1999. The Yanks have won three WS (1999, 2000, 2009) to the Spurs’ four NBA crowns.
In hockey, the Detroit Red Wings, perhaps the Spurs’ stiffest competition when it comes to consistent excellence in pro sports, have won two Stanley Cups (2002, 2008) since 1999.
In football, the New England Patriots have won three Super Bowls (2001, 2003, 2004) during the Spurs’ reign of terror.
Yet the Spurs are rarely mentioned when it comes to which franchises are the best in pro sports today.
Well, now they are, right here.
The beat goes on this season. At this writing, Popovich and the Spurs are 56-16. Another 60-win season, which would be Popovich’s fourth, beckons.
Duncan, Parker and Ginobili aren’t getting any younger, but it doesn’t appear that it will matter going forward, as Popovich has a deft ability of adding key players from the draft or free agency that is unmatched by any basketball man in the NBA—including execs like Pat Riley.
Popovich won with David Robinson and he won without David Robinson. It’s likely that in the near future he’ll win without Tim Duncan, who is going to turn 38 during the playoffs in April.
On second thought, forget the Alamo. Remember Gregg Popovich, the best coach in pro sports who has been hiding in plain sight for 15 years.
Back in October, when the Pistons were slogging through the exhibition season, a game was won at the Palace when Detroit’s Josh Smith hit a three-point shot at the final buzzer.
It was a meaningless game, as all exhibition matches are.
Yet running onto the court, celebrating as if his team had just won a playoff series, was Pistons owner Tom Gores.
Gores slapped it high with a few of the players, hooted and hollered, and clapped his hands, a big grin on his face.
It was a stinking pre-season game. Even some of the Pistons looked at their owner cross-eyed, as if to say, “What’s with this guy?”
It’s a question that haunts the team to this day, some five months later.
What’s with this guy, Tom Gores?
The Pistons have 12 games remaining. They won’t be making the playoffs. They play now to protect their lottery pick, though you’d be hard-pressed to get anyone within the organization to admit it. But it’s true.
Gores, the Hollywood owner whose Flint roots have been supplanted by Tinsel Town, was quizzed about his team on Saturday night, when the Pistons were halfway through losing to the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.
Specifically, Gores was asked about the firing of coach Mo Cheeks, which came just 50 games into Cheeks’ tenure as Pistons coach.
“I feel good about it,” Gores said, which tells you something right there. There ought to be some humility and consternation when firing someone. But Gores feels good about giving Cheeks the ziggy.
“I didn’t feel like the young players were developing,” Gores continued in explaining away Cheek’s cashiering.
The Pistons, at the time, were 4-14 after Cheeks was canned and replaced by interim coach John Loyer.
“I think John’s doing a great job,” Gores said about the dead man walking coach Loyer.
Cheeks’ winning percentage was .420. Loyer’s, albeit in a smaller sample size, was .222 at halftime of the Clippers game, which LA won, 112-103.
Gores’ comments at the Staple Center smacked of an owner who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
The words were a mixture of rah-rah and phony, canned exuberance.
“We’re going to get it done,” Gores said. “I believe in this team. I believe in Detroit.”
Then this, perhaps the most damning quote of them all.
“The team is better than its record,” Gores actually said. “It just is.”
The Pistons will play out these remaining 12 games, after which will follow perhaps one of the most important and anticipated off-seasons in franchise history.
How Tom Gores steers the ship this summer will go a long way toward determining the future of the Detroit Pistons for the next 10 years.
That declaration ought to give you the willies.
When pressed about the future of GM Joe Dumars on Saturday in LA, Gores, as expected, didn’t tip his hand. It may have been the smartest thing he did and said that night.
But what Gores chooses to do about Dumars will speak volumes about the owner’s lucidity.
If Gores brooms Dumars, as expected—and as should happen—that’s only half the deal. The other, and far more important half, is what the owner does in terms of picking a replacement.
Gores’ assertion that the Pistons, a mish-mash of parts that simply don’t mesh—how’s that for alliteration—are better than their 26-44 record, is disturbing.
It plainly proves that the owner doesn’t know a basketball from his rear end.
What Gores needs to do is dispatch Dumars, who probably is ready and even eager to be let go, and go in search of a sound basketball mind to run the show while the owner hob-nobs on Rodeo Drive.
The answer is not Isiah Thomas, who has been rumored to be next in line for the keys to the executive washroom. Isiah was in LA on Saturday, and he chatted with Gores, in plain sight.
“I’m a fan,” Isiah said when cornered. “I’m in no position to critique the team. I hope they play well and win every night.”
The Pistons will be honoring Isiah and the other members of the 1989 Bad Boys championship team on Friday night, when they gather for a 25th anniversary celebration at the Palace. Gores will have to fly to Michigan and face the media. He’d probably rather have a root canal.
Presuming that Gores doesn’t take leave of his senses and hires Thomas, it is up to the owner to settle on a basketball man and let him do his thing. Because it is apparent that Gores’ grasp of professional basketball is shaky at best.
The Pistons could do worse than Troy Weaver.
Weaver is a vice president and assistant GM with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is regarded as a supreme talent evaluator, and has already been considered for the GM position with the Utah Jazz in 2012. Weaver turned Utah down and chose to remain with the Thunder.
Weaver held the position of Director of Player Personnel for the Jazz in 2007-08. He spent three seasons (2004-07) as head scout for the Jazz before his promotion.
Prior to joining the Jazz, Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse University for four seasons (2000-04), working under the great Jim Boeheim.
The man is steeped in basketball knowledge.
In a way, Weaver is the Thunder’s Jim Nill, albeit in a shorter time span.
Nill is the GM of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, but prior to that, he spent almost 20 years in the Detroit Red Wings organization, most of those years in the front office as GM Ken Holland’s lieutenant.
It was accepted that Nill would eventually leave the Red Wings to run a team of his own.
Troy Weaver is ready for such a challenge in the NBA. Tom Gores would be derelict in his position as owner of the Pistons if he didn’t make a run at Weaver.
Weaver wouldn’t be the big name that Isiah Thomas would be, but Weaver would be at least twice as smart of a choice over Isiah—and cheaper.
Gores has displayed his utter lack of basketball prowess. But he can erase all that if he makes a smart hire after Dumars is released.
Whether the Pistons owner is capable of such a hire is ambiguous in its likelihood. But he’s the one making the calls, so all Pistons fans can do is hope.
Scotty Robertson was the coach of the Pistons the same way that Kevyn Orr is an emergency manager—a man who inherited a mess of immense levels.
Scotty was a heart attack survivor, which usually isn’t a desired background to be a professional basketball coach—especially that of the Pistons at the time.
It was the spring of 1980, and Scotty was tabbed by GM Jack McCloskey to take over a Pistons team that had won a grand total of 16 games the season before—a team decimated by the gutting it was given by predecessor Dick Vitale.
The Pistons were bereft of talent and draft choices. Vitale had left the franchise stripped bare.
Robertson must have wanted to be an NBA coach again in the worst way; for that’s exactly what being the coach of the Pistons was when Scotty took the reins.
Scotty put his team through the paces in training camp—his collection of marginal NBA talent and wannabes, and gave a brutally honest assessment to Jerry Green of the Detroit News on the eve of Opening Night in October, 1980.
“We’re gonna try. We’re gonna work hard,” Scotty told Green. “But we’re not very bleeping good.”
The coach was right. The Pistons soldiered through the 1980-81 season, winning at a pace of about once every four tries. Their record was 21-61.
Scotty nailed it. The Pistons weren’t very bleeping good.
There is an ugly word floating around the NBA today—one that wasn’t part of the lexicon back in 1980.
The word is “tanking.”
The NBA’s playoffs aren’t like their winter brother’s in the NHL.
In the NHL, every team from first seed to eighth fancies itself as capable of winning the Stanley Cup. That feeling has been fed by recent history, as lower seeds have managed to skate their way to the Cup Finals.
But in the NBA, a low seed has to be blessed by the basketball gods to win a single playoff game, let alone an entire series. Thoughts of ascending to the Finals are mere fantasy.
The gap between the haves and have-nots in the NBA is Grand Canyon-like in scope.
You can’t fluke your way to the Finals in pro basketball. You can’t ride a hot goalie. There aren’t crazy bounces. There’s no sudden death overtime.
In the NBA, you can pretty much name the conference finals participants when the basketballs are tipped off on Opening Night. There aren’t too many surprises come June.
Hence that ugly word, tanking.
The tanking theory says that since you’re unlikely to score an upset in the playoffs as a low seed, then why try to make the playoffs at all?
Why qualify, when by your exclusion, you get thrown into the draft lottery?
And the lower you finish in the standings, the more ping pong balls you get with your team’s name on it come lottery time.
It’s a twisted reality, but a reality nonetheless.
Scotty Robertson’s 1980-81 Pistons weren’t good enough to “tank.” They were just bad naturally, the old-fashioned way.
Today’s Pistons talk publicly of playoffs and some sense of urgency to qualify. They have been hovering at between two-to-four games out of the no. 8 seed for weeks.
It may all be talk, it may be sincere. We’ll likely never know.
It’s painfully obvious that even if the Pistons wiggle into the post-season, all they’d be doing is extending their season by four games—five if they get incredibly lucky.
The first round of the NBA playoffs is filled with David and Goliath match-ups, with Goliath winning every time.
There really is no incentive for the Pistons to make the playoffs. The comical thing is, there really isn’t any incentive for those “battling” for the final seed to make the playoffs, either.
The withering Pistons fan base in Detroit appears to lean heavily on the side of their team “tanking,” that ugly word that means, basically, lose on purpose. Or, at the very least, don’t try all that hard to win.
It goes against every fiber of what competition is supposed to mean, but there you have it.
The Pistons, if they are indeed “tanking,” really can’t be blamed for simply playing the system—which makes the system all wrong, of course.
On Saturday night at the Palace, the Pistons hosted one of the Goliaths, the Indiana Pacers. And for 24 minutes, the Pistons must have forgotten that they were supposed to be mailing it in.
At halftime, the Pistons led the beasts from Indiana, 60-41.
By the end of regulation, the game was tied, 100-100.
By the end of overtime, the Pacers had won, 112-104.
The Pistons must have remembered to tank just in the nick of time.
Scotty Robertson survived the Pistons, just as he survived his heart attack. After the 21-61 season, the Pistons grabbed Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka in the 1981 Draft.
Scotty’s second and third seasons saw the Pistons win 39 and 37 games, respectively. Then he got fired. Someone named Chuck Daly replaced him.
Pistons interim coach John Loyer is today’s Scotty Robertson, though it looks highly unlikely that Loyer will survive the Pistons.
Elevated to the head coaching position following the cashiering of Maurice Cheeks, Loyer is 4-12 after Saturday’s loss.
Maybe the problem wasn’t Cheeks, after all.
Want another laugh? Pistons owner Tom Gores, after declaring a “playoffs or else” mandate last summer, still expected the team to make the post-season even after firing Cheeks and replacing him with a no-name assistant.
Loyer is history after the final 16 games are mercifully crossed off the schedule.
A new coach, yet again, will take over the Pistons.
He will be someone who fancies himself capable of turning the franchise around and installing that elusive “winning culture.”
He will be someone for whom “tanking” is not an option.
But the NBA is a player’s league, so how much control does a coach truly have anymore?
The Pistons continue to play fourth fiddle in a four-fiddle town. Their irrelevance is sardonic.
Whether they’re tanking or not, one thing is certain.
They’re not very bleeping good.
Tom Gores is, in a not-so-nice way, the Pistons’ other piece of bread.
He is the absentee owner to complete the sandwich.
Right now, the only real difference between Gores, the Pistons’ owner, and Fred Zollner, is that Gores lives in California while The Z lived in Florida.
Zollner was the rumpled man who brought his Fort Wayne Pistons to Detroit in 1957. By the mid-1960s, the Z attended a handful of games a year. Maybe. He spent most of his time in the Sunshine State.
The Z’s ownership, splotched with curious hires, slapstick on the court and uncertainty, was on its last legs when his neighbor down south, Bill Davidson, led a consortium of basketball lovers based in Detroit and bought the Pistons from Zollner, who was in ill health. The year was 1973.
Davidson was the opposite of Zollner. He lived in Detroit more often than not, number one. And Davidson actually dragged himself down to Cobo Arena to see the team play, number two.
By the time the Pistons moved into the Silverdome in Pontiac in 1978, Davidson was very present, taking his seat on court level underneath one of the baskets. He rarely missed a game.
Davidson would build his own basketball arena in 1988, tired of being booted out of the Silverdome for tractor pulls and wrestling events. At the Palace, Davidson again took his place underneath the hoop, arms folded, usually with a pleasant grin on his face.
The Pistons, under Gores, who took over in 2011, are again a team with an absentee owner.
Gores flies into town rarely, attends a game or two, and blows back out of town. He is the Tornado Owner.
In Gores’ last touch down, he fired coach Mo Cheeks. That was a month ago. Gores hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
The dribbles of comments from ownership since Cheeks’ ziggy have come from Gores’ Platinum Equity minions like Phil Norment, in prepared statements.
Gores is more Los Angeles than he is Detroit, which is something considering that Gores is a Flint kid, having grown up there.
Gores is starry eyed and likes the glitz and glamour that Hollywood provides. Just last summer, Gores brought erstwhile Lakers coach Phil Jackson in as an unpaid consultant to aid in the Pistons’ coaching search.
Gores’ fascination with high profile people is fine, as long as it doesn’t unduly influence the basketball decision-making back in Detroit.
Chatter broke out a week or so ago, alleging that Gores was considering hiring Isiah Thomas to run the Pistons, as the team’s chief basketball executive.
Fans who think with their minds rather than their hearts should have screamed “NO!” running down the streets, hearing the notion of Gores tabbing Thomas to take over the Pistons.
Isiah as coach? Maybe that would fly. He did have some success developing and coaching young talent as coach of the Indiana Pacers.
But Thomas as executive has been a train wreck.
Platinum Equity issued a statement a couple days after the Thomas rumors started, saying that yes, Gores and Thomas did have a meeting (perhaps a dinner), but that the topic was the upcoming 25th anniversary celebration of the Pistons’ 1989 championship with the Bad Boys.
There was never any talk of Thomas joining the Pistons as an employee, the statement said.
The cashiering of current president and GM Joe Dumars is expected, so much so that just about all postulating about the Pistons’ future doesn’t include Dumars whatsoever.
Again, that’s fine. Dumars has hardly earned a new contract beyond the one that expires after this season mercifully comes to an end.
Let’s hope that the Isiah-to-Detroit chatter, in any role beyond coach, is nothing more than rumor.
The Pistons don’t need to be the third NBA franchise Thomas runs into the ground, following Toronto and New York.
Gores likes the big names, it appears. But sometimes it’s the little names that have the most success.
Davidson found that out the hard way, which is how lessons are usually learned.
Davidson fell for the dog and pony show that Dickie Vitale gave him—and everyone else—and hired the former U-D basketball coach in 1978. Vitale, in his own way, briefly owned Detroit—at least when it came to basketball. His Titans had great success at a time when the Pistons were, as usual, stumbling.
Vitale flamed out in just over a year. Davidson gave Dickie the ziggy, something for which Vitale was very grateful, from a health standpoint.
Once burned, Davidson went the opposite of high profile and dog and pony with his next hire.
Only the most intense basketball fan knew who the heck Jack McCloskey was when Davidson hired him off the Pacers bench—McCloskey was an assistant to Slick Leonard—and made Jack the Pistons GM in December 1979.
The recommendation to hire McCloskey came from none other than the deposed Vitale.
“Whenever I see Dick, to this day, I make sure to thank him,” McCloskey told me several years ago.
McCloskey had a couple disastrous years as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, following years of college coaching in the Ivy League. Still, few Pistons fans knew who McCloskey was.
A little more than three years after being hired as GM, with the Pistons still a work in progress, McCloskey and Davidson went the unknown route yet again.
Chuck Daly was perhaps even more anonymous than McCloskey was, when the Pistons hired Daly from radio row, where he’d been working as a commentator on Philadelphia 76ers broadcasts.
Daly spent a couple years as an assistant to Philly’s Billy Cunningham, and worked briefly as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, during tempestuous owner Ted Stepien’s rule.
Again, only the gym rats knew who Chuck Daly was.
Together, the two unknowns—GM McCloskey and coach Daly—built an NBA empire in Detroit. The same empire that Thomas, Gores et al will celebrate later this month in the Silver Anniversary party.
The well-known Thomas and the high profile Vitale have each crashed and burned when given opportunities that exceeded their grasp.
The unknown McCloskey and little regarded Daly built two championship teams with the Pistons.
These are the facts, but will Gores’ Hollywood shades filter them out?
David DeBusschere was all of 24 years old when he sat down for a drink in an East Side Detroit bar in November, 1964 with Detroit Pistons brass.
The location was appropriate. DeBusschere had been a high school star athlete at Austin Catholic High School, on the city’s East side. He specialized in throwing—baseballs to the plate and basketballs toward the hoop.
Inside the bar that evening, Pistons owner Fred Zollner and general manager Don Wattrick floated an idea past DeBusschere, who by then had been entrenched as the Pistons’ star player after a ballyhooed college career at the University of Detroit.
The idea was pretty simple, yet bold. Others would use different adjectives for it, hardly complimentary.
Hey, would you coach the team? DeBusschere was asked.
Over beers, the plan was hatched and DeBusschere accepted. At 24, he would become the player-coach of the Detroit Pistons, a franchise that had moved to the Motor City in 1957 and which had already suffered some ignominious moments, such as playing playoff games against the Lakers in a Grosse Pointe High gymnasium, because Olympia Stadium was busy and Cobo Arena had yet to be built. There was also the time the team was sent a school bus instead of a chartered bus to transport NBA players to a game. Wilt Chamberlain, no less, somehow managed to curl his long legs enough so he could sit in the tiny yellow bus.
DeBusschere’s promotion had the expected results, i.e. it didn’t work. Dave was 79-143 as the Pistons coach before it became painfully evident that Zollner’s bright idea had not been so bright, after all. DeBusschere was relieved and Donnis Butcher took over as coach.
The Pistons, from their move to Fort Wayne to spring, 1983, had a reputation for burning through coaches every two years or so—if not sooner. Sometimes the coaches quit, saving the team from firing them. Many of the coaches were hated by the players. Some proved to be incompetent. But what do you expect from a franchise that, in the ’60s, moved their radio announcer (Wattrick) into the GM chair? Zollner, the owner, was an out-of-towner, based in Florida. He would occasionally jet in to take in a game or two.
Who does that sound like?
But in May 1983, the Pistons, forever cursed with bad luck, it seemed, finally had the basketball gods smiling down on them.
That was when Chuck Daly was introduced as coach by GM Jack McCloskey, who literally flipped Daly a basketball and told Chuck to “go get ‘em” at the intro presser.
Daly, on the surface, didn’t have much on his resume for the fans to get excited about.
Daly was a college coach at Penn, which is where McCloskey coached for years as well. The pair met on the college coaching circuit in the late-1960s. When the Pistons hired him, Daly’s NBA “pedigree” consisted of 41 games as head coach of the Ted Stepien-owned Cleveland Cavaliers (9-32 record) and some time on the Philadelphia 76ers bench as an assistant to Billy Cunningham. That was it.
The Pistons got lucky, because Daly was at least the third choice of McCloskey’s, after Jack McKinney and Jack Ramsay turned him down. Phil Johnson was rumored to have turned the Pistons down, too.
From those less-than-stellar NBA creds, Daly ended up becoming a Hall of Fame Coach—a two-time NBA champion and an Olympic Gold Medalist.
But aside from Daly’s nine years in Detroit, the Pistons have always been a franchise that shoots coaches on schedule.
The roster of Pistons coaches from 1957-83, then again from 1992 to current, shows that longevity means staying on for three years.
So this deal of Pistons GM Joe Dumars changing coaches almost as frequently as we change the oil in our cars, is really nothing new to this franchise. The Pistons have been doing this for 57 years, with a nine-year break in between.
Maurice Cheeks is out, in the latest forced abdication from the coaching throne. Someone named John Loyer, Cheeks’ lead assistant, is in—for now.
The Pistons have done that a few times, too—promote an assistant into first chair.
One of those promoted coaches was Ray Scott, who took over for the fired Earl Lloyd in 1972.
“It’s not easy,” Scott told Al Beaton and me on “The Knee Jerks” podcast on Sunday night, mere hours after Pistons owner Tom Gores, the out-of-towner based in L.A., gave Cheeks the ziggy.
“The thing is, as an assistant, you know what the team should be doing,” Scott said.
Scott himself would get the ziggy, in January, 1976. Assistant coach Herb Brown, a disloyal opportunist, was promoted.
With Cheeks out after 50 games, Loyer has a 32-game audition. Gores wants playoffs or else. The Pistons are on the fringes of qualifying for a spot. And Loyer has 32 games to show what he’s got. And even then, it may not be enough to be offered the job beyond this season—especially when someone like Lionel Hollins is looming, unemployed as a coach.
It’s slapstick right now with the Pistons, but aside from Daly’s run and the success from 2003-2008 (three championships in those two eras), the Pistons have been bouncing basketballs off their sneakers and out of bounds since moving to Detroit in 1957.
Gores, like Zollner was, is proving himself to be an impatient, impetuous owner. That is actually a breath of fresh air in these parts, where the football team’s owner is patient and loyal to a fault.
With Cheeks dismissed, the spotlight turns to GM Dumars, whose contract expires after the season. The natives have been restless for a few years, but now even the national media is calling for Joe’s ouster. Lists of Dumars’ ill-advised moves have been compiled by those outside of Detroit and splashed onto the Internet for national consumption.
It is unclear whether Gores has a plan beyond his “playoffs or else” mandate. The owner flew into town a week ago Saturday, gave a less-than-thrilled assessment of the team to the media, and then flew back to California. Some say that Gores made up his mind to fire Cheeks on the plane out west, if not sooner.
John Loyer becomes yet another little-known assistant to become Pistons coach in mid-season, after guys like Herb Brown and Alvin Gentry before him. And Ray Scott, who wasn’t little-known in Detroit (a stellar playing career as a Piston ensured that), but who was also an assistant-turned head coach. So was George Irvine, who had head coaching experience before taking over for the deposed Gentry in 2000.
The Pistons even moved Bob Kauffman from GM to coach in 1977, to replace Herb Brown.
And don’t forget the ill-advised promotion of young player DeBusschere to coach.
Chuck Daly came in and restored order for nine years, winning two championships along the way.
But mostly it’s been calliope music, tents and three rings.