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History Repeats Itself

It seems strange that two people sitting three
feet away from each other every single day
haven't spoken in weeks.
By Andy Fung
January 26, 2011

When John Kuester was hired to take over as Pistons head coach expectations were modest, but at least optimistic.  Kuester was an assistant on the 2004 Championship team, he was a disciple of coaching legend Larry Brown, and he ran a very successful offense for Cleveland before landing his first head coaching gig.  He had the pedigree and he had the experience.  Perhaps he would follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Brown, and be more teacher than coach while Detroit tried to bridge the gap between one generation and the next.  Well, as the Rip Hamilton saga rolls on, it has become increasingly clear that he may have much more in common with three other former Pistons coaches.

And what do Rick Carlisle, Flip Saunders, and Michael Curry all have in common?

They were all fired for reasons that had little to do with what was happening on the basketball court: People skills and communication.

Much like Kuester, Carlisle was an unheralded, but highly regarded, assistant when Joe Dumars hired him to help resurrect his struggling franchise.  Carlisle was a great X's and O's coach, coached to the strengths of his team at the time, and emphasized a defense-first attitude.  That led to two straight 50-win seasons, an Eastern Conference Finals, and a return to basketball relevancy for the red, white, and blue.  What was his reward?  He was fired.  Why?  Because he didn't treat people right.  He coached his charges as if they were robots, and made no effort to get to know them on a personal level.  Carlisle wouldn't even say hello to Palace personnel during his time in Motown.  He lacked the people skills to make a good team great-- something that his replacement, Larry Brown, was a master at.

Saunders, who ironically is one of the club's most successful coaches, is probably one of the least liked in team history.  He possesses, at .715, the team's top regular season winning percentage, led Detroit to three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, and was the architect of the smoothest Pistons offense that I can remember.  So, how can a man so decorated be considered a failure by so many?  Well, the most obvious reason to the public is that despite his many successes in both the regular season and postseason, he was never able to get to the BIG dance, the NBA Finals.  In and around Detroit at that time, that was viewed as failure.  But, what may be lost on the average basketball observer was Flip's lack of a backbone and communication skills.  His first year in the Motor City was marked by his apparent disrespect towards Ben Wallace.  Wallace, who was the emotional leader of the team, has never been blessed with any semblance of offensive skills.  He was a defensive and rebounding wiz that did all of the dirty work.  However, Brown, the coach Saunders replaced, was smart enough to run one or two plays a half for Wallace, just to keep the big man happy and interested.  Saunders failed to see this, and never ran plays for his workhorse.  In fact, Saunders often seemed frustrated with his offensively inept center seemingly ruining his well-oiled offensive system.  Wallace was never shy about his own frustrations at not having a chance with the ball, eventually tuned out his coach, and promptly left for Chicago.  Rasheed Wallace, who was never easy to please, very rarely saw eye to eye with his coach, would not participate in huddles, ignored his coach's instructions, and flat-out called Saunders the "worst bleeping coward" he'd ever seen.

Curry was, without a doubt, the worst of this personality-flawed bunch.  When Curry was hired to replace Saunders, it was his rapport with the players that seemed to be his strength.  He had zero head coaching experience and he had served only one year as an assistant, but he had been the president of the Players Association and had acted as a union rep for several seasons, as well.  He was a smart and gritty player for the Pistons and other teams, and seemed to be well respected by players around the league.  At the time he seemed like the anti-Saunders-- just what that veteren laden group needed.  However, opinions changed quickly.  Curry initially relied heavily on the leadership of Chauncey Billups.  Billups was highly respected among his teammates, but unfortunately was also traded two games into the season.  And with that, the wheels came off.  Curry alienated both Pistons stalwart Rip Hamilton and newcomer Allen Iverson by seemingly pitting one against the other.  Curry benched Hamilton in favor of Iverson with nary a word.  He also allegedly promised Iverson he would never have to come off the bench, and reneged on that without explanation.  Both players agreed that the nightmare season could have been a success if Curry had been better prepared and more straightforward with his team.

It is obvious that communication has been an attribute prized by the organization, which makes Kuester's recent behavior even more puzzling.  He recently stated that he had "reached out" to Rip, but was rebuked.  Hamilton claims that Kuester's version of reaching out was sending the head of team security to tell him that Kuester wanted to see him, a request that Rip admits turning down.  This "overture" to use Kuester's word, was allegedly made on January 22, or exactly 10 days after Rip had been benched.  I have never been in an NBA locker room, and I don't pretend to know what goes on in the day-to-day life of an NBA team, but to not speak to a player in over a week seems a bit strange-- to send a third party to request a meeting seems even stranger.  It appears as if Kuester is destined-- and content-- with following in the footsteps of his predecessors, and doomed to repeat the mistakes that he should have learned from.

1 comment:

  1. Every NBA head coach should have great people skills, you have plenty of assistant coaches to coach players up without people skills.

    ReplyDelete