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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Pistons Flip the Script, Fire Saunders

In the wake of three straight losses in the Eastern Conference Finals, Detroit Pistons President Joe Dumars is determined to do whatever is necessary so that his team can return to the NBA Finals. Dumars began that process by firing Coach Flip Saunders and boldly declaring, "Make no mistake, everybody is in play right now. There are no sacred cows here. You lose that sacred cow status when you lose three straight years...I think this team became way too content and did not show up with a sense of urgency to get it done. I can't sugarcoat it. It is what it is."

Saunders is not a bad coach--but he is not a great coach, either, and most teams that win NBA titles not only have talented rosters but they also have great coaches. As I have mentioned on many occasions and summarized in an article titled Requiem for the Pistons, there have been two main problems with the Pistons during the Saunders' regime:

1) Under Saunders' predecessor Larry Brown, the Pistons built an identity as a strong defensive team. Saunders' Pistons were not nearly as good defensively, especially when it mattered most: in the Eastern Conference Finals against elite teams. As I noted in the "Requiem" article, Saunders' Pistons were most known for "lacking focus, not playing up to their potential and taking off quarters, halves and sometimes complete games." Is that entirely Saunders' fault? Perhaps not, but ultimately the responsibility for a lack of focus and productivity falls on the shoulders of the CEO, the general, the man in charge. Here is another way to look at this. Greg Anthony has repeatedly made a very perceptive observation about Phil Jackson's teams: they never underachieve. Think about it: when Jackson has championship level talent he wins championships, year after year. However, when Michael Jordan suddenly retired, Jackson guided the Bulls to 55 wins--just two fewer than in the previous year--and had them within a horrible Hue Hollins call of making it to at least the Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan's last minute departure left the Bulls no time to try to draft a replacement or sign a top free agent, so they ended up with Pete Myers as their starting shooting guard that year. Contrast that with Saunders' situation: he inherited a team that had won a championship and made it to the Finals in back to back years. Do you honestly think that if Jackson had taken over such a team that it would never get back to the Finals?

2) Ben Wallace did not fit in with the "liberation offense" that Saunders wanted to run and that certainly played a factor in the Pistons electing to let him sign with the Bulls. Saunders believed that he could increase the team's offensive efficiency by so much that it would compensate for any slippage in defense in the wake of Wallace's departure (perhaps Saunders also thought that the Pistons would still be great defensively even without Wallace). Saunders may run the best baseline out of bounds plays in the league and his offense--run by three All-Stars--may look great in the regular season against weak teams but it annually falls apart for extended stretches in the playoffs against elite teams. Defense wins championships, not "liberation offense." It may seem like this year's Lakers are turning that adage on its head a bit with their high powered offense but their formidable scoring differential and field goal percentage differential are indicators that they are not only scoring a lot of points but also slowing down their opponents' offenses.

It remains to be seen what other changes Dumars will make before the 2008-09 season. However, the formula for the Pistons to return to the NBA Finals must address the concerns mentioned above: the new coach must reassert Detroit's identity as a strong defensive team, the Pistons must find a way--either through a change in personnel or an adjustment in their defensive scheme--to make up for the shotblocking that Ben Wallace once provided and the Pistons must develop an offensive attack that can withstand the rigors of high level playoff basketball. As with the defensive problems, the latter issue may be addressed by making personnel moves--acquiring or developing a low post scoring threat and/or a slashing wing player who can create shots for himself and others--or by strategic changes that better emphasize the strengths of the team's players.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:56 PM

21 comments

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21 Comments:

At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 5:08:00 PM, Blogger Sony said...

Greg Anthony has repeatedly made a very perceptive observation about Phil Jackson's teams: they never underachieve.

The exception may prove the rule, but the Pistons walloped Jackson's last Kobe-Shaq team. Even with the aged Karl Malone missing the series, that was an enormous upset and underachievement.

Plus, his reputation as a coach of men had to take a hit when he sat out the Shaq - Kobe fued and couldn't resolve it. That cost him a championship, I imagine.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 5:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sony:

I think that Jackson would actually agree with you that he failed to completely connect with that '04 team. It is interesting, though, that the best example of a Jackson "failure" involves leading a team to the Finals, something that Saunders has never done. I am not convinced that there are too many coaches who could have added Malone and Payton to a roster with Shaq and Kobe and be able to manage all of those egos well enough to get the team to the Finals.

Malone's injury was a crippling blow to the Lakers because they had no one who could deal with Rasheed Wallace, who was the difference maker for the Pistons and who played some of the best ball of his life down the stretch of that season and in that playoff run. The Lakers were 33-9 in the regular season when Malone started and 23-17 in the remaining games. If Malone had been full strength during the Finals the Lakers would most likely have beaten the Pistons.

Although the Pistons' win over the Lakers looked like an upset at the time, the fact that the Pistons made it back to the Finals the next year and came within perhaps one Sheed miscue--leaving Horry open in game five--of winning another title suggests that rather than the '04 win really being an upset the Pistons were in fact a team on the rise.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 6:04:00 PM, Anonymous Pradamaster said...

I don't get the second point. Detroit was fourth in defensive efficiency this year and second in point differential (http://www.knickerblogger.net/stats/2008/). They just happened to run into the one team better than them in both respects this season.

Flip wasn't so good in 06-07, but did an incredible job this year. The Celtics were just a better team.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 6:06:00 PM, Anonymous Pradamaster said...

Oh, and to the Anthony point, what about 94-95, when the Bulls were a .500 team until Jordan came back?

I realize the losses of Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright really hurt, but shouldn't that have been a better-than-.500-team even without those guys? They did win 55 the previous season.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 7:36:00 PM, Blogger Allen said...

Grant was a HUGE part of both the MJ and MJ-less teams.

The team was 34-31 in 1994-95 before MJ came back. Not a bad coaching job with the roster of Pippen, Kukoc, Armstrong, Kerr, and Purdue playing the most minutes.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 7:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Pradamaster:

As I indicated in the "Requiem" article and in this post, I am not focusing on Detroit's regular season defensive stats under Saunders but rather on how the Pistons perform in the playoffs against elite competition. What this boils down to is whether or not one believes that a different coach could have gotten more production out of this particular group of players. My contention--from the moment when the Pistons replaced Brown with Saunders until today when Dumars fired Saunders--has consistently been that Saunders is a good coach but not a great one and that he is not capable of getting the most out of Detroit's very talented team.

Saunders' Pistons did not defend the paint as well as the Celtics and Spurs do nor was their offense able to get scores down the stretch in playoff games against elite competition. Is this a high standard? Sure it is--but Saunders was brought in to replace a championship-winning coach with the idea that he would win at least one more championship and that did not happen.

While some "experts" touted Detroit's edge in experience as a reason that the Pistons would beat the Celtics, I correctly said that the Celtics would outrebound the Pistons, outscore them in the paint and outexecute them offensively in key stretches and that despite the Celtics' road difficulties in the first two rounds they would close out the Pistons in game six in Detroit. The numbers at Knickerblogger are interesting and are useful in certain contexts but I did not need them in order to understand and accurately predict what would happen in the ECF.

I don't think that Saunders ever did an "incredible" job. He is a good coach who did a decent job but he was hired to be a great coach for a great team.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 8:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Pradamaster:

As for the '95 Bulls, Allen beat me to it: the loss of Grant was huge and his contributions for Orlando played a decisive role in that season's Bulls-Magic playoff series even after MJ returned. It is also worth noting that after dealing with some early season injuries the Bulls began hitting their stride before MJ returned, winning six of the seven games prior to when MJ suited up. They actually lost two of the first three games that MJ played as he and the rest of the team got used to the new rotation and then they ripped off six straight wins and finished the year on a 12-2 tear.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 8:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lakers would not have beaten Detroit even if they had a healthy Malone. He was completely healthy in game 1 and Detroit still won at LA. Detroit won by a total of 45 points over 5 games or 9 ppg. Malone's injury didn't help LA obviously, but he couldn't make up that much difference.

You are right on about the Pistons offensively though, they need to get more people like Stuckey who can slash and break down the defense...I'm not sure if it was Flip's offense that's the problem, the issue in my opinion was the Pistons personel. No team was hurt more by the rule changes which outlawed hand checking on the perimeter then the Pistons (It was definitely good for the NBA though). This rule change increased the importance on players who can dribble penetrate and create shots for themselves or others. None of Detroits starters are great off the dribble, so their ability to get easy points in the playoffs was hampered...especially since a team learns all your sets/tendencies over a 7 game series.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 10:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Malone was definitely not "completely healthy" in game one of the 2004 Finals. As Phil Jackson detailed in his book "The Last Season" (pp. 227-251), Malone injured his right knee in game six versus Minnesota; that was the same knee that caused him to miss almost half of the regular season. Karl did not trust the Lakers' medical staff and went to his own doctor, who drained 35 cc of fluid from the joint. Jackson noted that in game one Malone "couldn't slide laterally to defend the screen roll, which was such a big part of our comeback versus San Antonio, and he was also ineffective going to the basket."

Jackson concluded that portion of the book by saying, "By the end of the Minnesota series, Karl was clearly our most valuable player. He guarded one younger, more heralded performer after another--Yao, Duncan, Garnett--holding his own each time. Even on one leg he was able to frustrate Rasheed Wallace. If Karl could have given us one more game, one more half, say, the second half in Game 4, things might have been different."

Obviously, we could have an interesting and lengthy discussion about exactly what happened in the 2004 Finals. Gary Payton's horrible defense was certainly a factor. However, I don't think that Jackson's Lakers underachieved, even though Jackson himself did wonder if he could have done a better job with this team.

Getting back to the main point of the post, I certainly think that if Jackson, Gregg Popovich or Larry Brown had been coaching the Pistons the past three years then the Pistons would have made multiple trips to the Finals and most likely have won at least one more title.

I still maintain that the Pistons never adequately replaced Ben Wallace and that Saunders is not the strategist that Brown is in terms of putting together a game plan nor is he as good a tactician as Brown in terms of making in game adjustments.

The Pistons have an All-Star center/power forward (Sheed), two All-Star guards, a former All-Star power forward (McDyess) and a versatile small forward who can post up and shoot three pointers. Give those players to Jackson, Brown or Popovich and I'm confident that any of them could come up with an offensive game plan that did not consistently sputter in crucial moments in the biggest games.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 10:48:00 PM, Anonymous Pradamaster said...

Again, that still doesn't really hold water. Detroit was the third-best defensive team in the playoffs this year, behind only Boston and Cleveland. Defense wasn't the problem, and again, they just ran into a team with far better defense throughout the playoffs. In point of fact, Detroit's defense was better than the Lakers in the playoffs this year.

A far better argument would be that his perimeter-oriented offense goes into the tank every year against some of the best teams, and that's supported by their middling offensive rating. That's certainly one you made as well, but I wished you hadn't combined it with the Ben Wallace departure (seriously, you think they are better off with him?) and the so-called defensive lapse, which as mentioned earlier never really happened on a major level.

I think the offense argument has merit, but at the same time, if you look at their personnel, who exactly is the type of player who can draw fouls at a high rate? Rasheed Wallace, who would rather hoist 30-footers than 3-footers? Chauncey Billups? Richard Hamilton? I think Flip was coaching the personnel, and he did get a lot out of them.

When I say he did a great job this year, it's because he was able to get key contributions from Stuckey and Maxiell throughout the playoffs because he prepared them in the regular season. The biggest knock on Flip in his first two seasons is that he rode the starters too much and they got tired in the playoffs. He fixed that weakness emphatically this season, and the result was six more wins in an improved East. They were unlucky that Boston was such a juggernaut.

Flip's not the problem; the personnel is. Rasheed Wallace hasn't been a major force since 2004, Tayshaun Prince disappears in key moments (like he did in the Boston series), and Chauncey and Rip don't consistently get to the line like they used to. This is a club who slipped through a weak East (remember, they nearly lost to a weakened Nets club in the semis) and took advantage of the injured Lakers team to win in 04. In 05, they should have lost to Miami had Wade not been hurt. The first two seasons of Flip were disappointments, sure, but this year, they just lost to a better team in the Celtics.

As far as the 95 Bulls, point taken, I suppose. I was trying to raise food for thought, because you made the drastic claim that Phil Jackson-led teams never underachieved. One could certainly at least argue 1995, and there's also the 02/03 Lakers, who had the Shaq injury, but still weren't as bad as the sub-.500 team they were for a good part of the season. Phil is a good coach, and I get what you're trying to say, but I don't agree completely with Anthony's claim.

I don't come on here to antagonize, because certainly this team has disappointed before, but I do think that the right time to fire Flip was last year. He fixed a lot of his errors this season ... the Pistons just happened to run into a better team.

 
At Wednesday, June 04, 2008 7:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Pradamaster:

I don't find your comments antagonistic--but I don't completely agree with you, either.

My critique of Detroit's defense during the Saunders era is not based strictly on stats but on my perception that his teams do not defend the paint as well as Brown's teams did, particularly against elite teams (i.e., in those three ECFs that the Pistons lost under Saunders).

Whether or not Detroit's defense is better than the Lakers' defense really does not have much to do with anything in my post--the Lakers are winning because they have the best player in the league, their offense is very, very good and their defense is good enough to get by. The Lakers have been outrebounded throughout the playoffs and yet they beat both Western Conference Finalists from last year and swept a 50 win Denver team.

Back to Detroit: we agree that the Saunders-run offense was not championship caliber. As for Big Ben, I have very carefully worded my opinion on his departure: I have repeatedly said that the Pistons let him go too soon and that they have not adequately replaced him. I am not asserting that the 2008 version of Ben Wallace is as good as the 2006 or 2007 version or that if they had him this year they would have beaten Boston. What I am saying is that they let the cornerstone of their defense go at least in part because they thought that Saunders' offense would be so efficient. That did not pan out--at least in the playoffs--and meanwhile they struggle to defend the paint against top level teams.

I agree that Flip got a lot out of this team. He is a good coach and he took the Pistons to three ECFs--but my contention is that a better coach could have gotten more out of this team. I think that Dumars should have said whatever he needed to say to Brown to keep him in the fold and that they should not have let Ben Wallace go until they had a better plan for replacing his defensive impact.

I would tend to give Dumars more credit for acquiring Stuckey and Maxiell than I would give Saunders credit for playing them: Dumars gave Saunders a very talented roster with which to work. On the other hand, Dumars obviously blundered by drafting Darko and I question letting Brown and Ben Wallace go. The Pistons seemed like they got away with drafting Milicic but they are calling Stuckey a poor man's Wade when they could have had the real thing--or they could have had Bosh or Melo. Even if they had drafted one of those guys and he turned out not to fit for whatever reason they could have brought in a boatload of talent by trading a guy like Bosh or Melo. So Dumars deserves some blame for the team's failure to return to the Finals because of the Darko blunder, losing Brown and Wallace and hiring Saunders. Obviously, the overall verdict on Dumars has to be a positive one because he built a team that won a title, made it to another Finals and has been to six straight ECFs.

Anthony said that Jackson's teams never underachieve and I simply repeated what he said. Perhaps I should have modified it slightly because I try to avoid saying "always" or "never." I think we can agree that Jackson's teams rarely underachieve and that they usually play to what could reasonably be considered their maximum potential or pretty close to it--and I truly believe that if Jackson had coached the Pistons for the past three years they would have made it to the Finals more than once and won at least one championship.

 
At Wednesday, June 04, 2008 8:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Jackson and Popovich are better coaches than Saunders, but I don't think that the Pistons have any shot of getting them. I think that Saunders did a pretty good job for a non-HoF coach. I doubt that Larry Brown would play Stuckey and Maxiell as much so I don't think that he'd necessarily do a better job than Flip did. Who would you replace Flip with?

Their problems on defense stems mainly from the fact that they were never able to replace their multi-DPoY all-star center. The Pistons lost because they couldn't score. They couldn't score because Rasheed Wallace is not nearly as good as everyone thinks he is.

The Jackson championship teams always featured the best player in the league (Jordan/Shaq) and a top 5 player (Pippen/Kobe). Even if those teams underachieved a little, the talent disparity was big enough to offset that. How many teams in recent memory have won it all without the best player in the league? 2004 Pistons, 89-90 Pistons. That's it. Jackson's teams won when they were EXPECTED to win. He failed a couple of times sure, but when did Flip underachieve? The Celtics had the 2 best players on the floor. Last year's Cavs, as you said in many articles, were a very very good team.

Z

 
At Thursday, June 05, 2008 6:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

If I had been running the Pistons I would have done my very best to not lose the services of a HoF coach who had just taken the team to two Finals and one title--and then I would not be in a situation three years later in which I had to find a replacement for a good coach who was in a bit over his head trying to lead a team to a title. I realize that does not directly answer your question. I don't know who is available and/or who wants the Pistons job but I think that the right person would be a veteran coach who instantly commands respect in the locker room and who will implement a championship level offense and a championship level defense. I am a bit skeptical of hiring Curry simply because he has never been an NBA head coach but there are some examples of coaches who had never had head coaching experience but inherited good teams and won titles (Phil Jackson and Pat Riley immediately come to mind). Of course, there is no way to know whether or not Curry is the next Jackson or Riley until/unless he gets the job. At least Curry has been in that locker room and apparently has the respect of the players; that is half the battle but there is no way to know right now whether or not he can put together a good enough game plan for this team to reach its maximum potential. As Dumars said, the fourth quarter of game six versus Boston epitomized what this team has done under Saunders: they were right there with a chance to win and they did not execute down the stretch. That is why I don't buy the argument that the Pistons did not have enough talent to go farther than the ECF the past three years, though I have said that in addition to Saunders' coaching the other problem has been that the team never replaced Ben Wallace's defensive impact. However, Kenny Smith often says that when a team gets blown out it is the players' fault (i.e., not enough talent on the roster) but when a team loses a close game it is the coach's fault (because he should have made an adjustment to make up for that one or two possession difference). Saunders had a lot of close playoff losses on his resume.

 
At Thursday, June 05, 2008 8:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still think that Rasheed Wallace is more to blame than Flip. Unless a coach fails STRATEGICALLY, the coach should get the benefit of the doubt. People talk about managing egos and team chemistry like it's the coach's job but that should fall on the team, that should fall on the player.

Neither Jackson nor Riley could sufficiently motivate Shaq. I have yet to hear of a coach than can control Ron Artest. Phil couldn't stop Kobe from publicly berating his teammates either. D'Antoni couldn't even convince Johnson, Richardson, or Marion that winning is everything. Some players would rather be showered in millions than win. Some would like to achieve individual glory. No coach can change that. Jason Kidd played for a pretty good coach in New Jersey, but he got him fired.

On the other hand, Dirk has had 2 very opposite coaches, went from part of a big three to the main man, but you could never question his dedication to his team or to winning. Elton Brand is wonderfully talented, and has had really bad teammates, but his work ethic, his dedication to the team can always be seen. Duncan is seen as a player who is a joy to coach. I think LeBron handled the Varejao/Pavlovic situation very well. Other "stars" would have demanded his teammates be shipped out, but he defended them. David Lee played for Isiah Thomas, but I never heard a peep out of him! Bottom line is, even if you gave these players bad coaches, their dedication to the team and to winning will not change.

"but when a team loses a close game it is the coach's fault"
Shaq never tried to improve his freethrows. Rasheed Wallace has only himself to blame when he jacks up three
after techs after threes. Can a coach stop Melo from repeatedly doing extremely stupid things on and off the court?

If a coach says "hey do this" then the player says "ok coach" but doesn't do what the coach asked, IT'S THE PLAYER WHO'S THE PROBLEM. We're not talking about dog training here.

A coach is not responsible for motivating his players. How could you not be motivated if you're earning millions and playing a freaking game for a living???

Z

 
At Friday, June 06, 2008 6:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

To paraphrase a line that I believe was uttered by an NHL coach, Jackson and Riley could not hear your criticism of their coaching because they covered their ears with all the championship rings they won. I think that they have done a pretty good job massaging some pretty large egos over the years. No player is perfect but Jackson and Riley showed that you can win with Shaq after other coaches failed to do so and Larry Brown won a ring with Sheed playing a major role. If Detroit's players were not capable of winning then these games would not have been close; they have not been properly prepared and drilled regarding what to do offensively and defensively down the stretch against elite teams and that is a big reason that the Pistons consistently come up short. This is a very predictable outcome if you follow this team with understanding and that is why I was able to describe beforehand in detail exactly how Detroit would lose to Cleveland last year and to Boston this year.

In the Jordan Rules, Sam Smith talks about how Jackson--then an assistant to Doug Collins--mentioned that the Bulls would never win unless Jordan passed the ball more. Collins basically challenged Jackson and said, "Why don't you tell him that?" So Jackson did. His willingness to challenge Jordan even when he was a no-name assistant earned Jordan's respect. My point is that players don't merely listen to Jackson because he has nine rings; he had the ability to communicate with superstars right from the beginning. A coach is a leader and the leader's role is not only to strategize but to motivate. You can believe that the players should be self-motivated but the reality is that in any field there are very few self-motivated people; most people have to be prodded and guided in some way.

Dumars is right: he handed Saunders a very good team and Saunders did not get the job done. That does not mean that Dumars is blameless for his mistakes or that some of the players should not also be held accountable.

 
At Friday, June 06, 2008 11:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaq started winning when Kobe started becoming a top 5 NBA player. Jordan started winning when Pippen started becoming a top 5 NBA player.
Phil Jackson may have something to do with it but I think we can agree that Kobe and Pippen are pretty self-motivated.
I just don't buy that what makes Jackson a great coach is his ability to massage egos.
I think his greatest strength is the ability to help players realize their potentials, by recognizing and putting them in situations where they can succeed.
Sheed played like he's supposed to play after Malone got hurt. Before that, he was totally intimidated. It wasn't because Brown got through to Rasheed.
He just saw someone he could bully, and he went for it. Rasheed was still the same player. He also just got traded twice in a short span so he had a helping of humble pie that season.
As for Riley, his spectacular failure this season just shows that no matter how good you were as a coach, if your role players who just got rings stop caring, hello lottery.

Let me put it this way. Can Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Pat Riley, and 10 other HoF coaches combined motivate the likes of Jerome James, Vince Carter, Stephon Marbury, Kenyon Martin, Latrell Sprewell, etc. better than CONTRACT YEAR?
You'd blame Flip for Rasheed's 2-12 performance? For his 0-6 attempts from 3? You'd blame him for Billups getting outplayed by Rondo early in the series?
If you suddenly lost the passion for writing, is it your the job of your boss to motivate you? He has to try if his job is also on the line, but the desire would still be 100% coming from you.

The leader is responsible for creating an environment conducive to success. The desire, the will has to come from within.
Now add in the millions that these guys are getting.

Z

 
At Friday, June 06, 2008 4:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Shaq started winning and Kobe became a top five player after Jackson became their coach. Part of "putting players in positions where they can succeed" is knowing how to communicate with them so that they will accept instruction. Jackson got Shaq to play defense--at least sometimes--which is something that Shaq did not do consistently for other coaches.

Sheed had an impact throughout the Pistons' title run in 2004, not just in the few games after Malone got hurt.

I never said that Jackson or Riley could win with bad players and that is certainly not what Saunders was being asked to do. I said that Jackson, Popovich, Brown and Riley can get the most out of talented teams and that Saunders failed to do so in Detroit.

I "blame" Saunders for not coming up with offensive and defensive schemes that maximized the potential of a very talented team. I "blame" Dumars for losing Ben Wallace without adequately replacing him and for letting Coach Brown leave without adequately replacing him.

The "millions" that the players are getting is irrelevant to this discussion. All of the players on both teams make a lot of money but one team was better prepared and executed better--as I predicted before the series.

 
At Friday, June 06, 2008 9:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I "blame" Saunders for not coming up with offensive and defensive schemes that maximized the potential of a very talented team.
So Saunders failed in STRATEGIC adjustments and thus was fired. Why are we even arguing?

The only point I'm disagreeing with you about is on the motivational part. If Flip couldn't "motivate" Rasheed, I put the blame squarely on Rasheed Wallace.
The Pistons already know how to prepare themselves, they already won before. Did they suddenly forget? Why would anyone who wants a title say "I'll work less hard for this guy because he can't motivate me."
This is a team that already knows what it takes to win a championship. After a slow start, Billups executed. Even injured, Rip brought his game. They were still hungry.

The coach's job is to channel, to use that hunger into a cohesive unit in order to win games. When Brown was their coach, the Pistons were journeymen, "fringe stars", but they were hungry.
Now that Sheed got fed already, not so hungry. It's not Flip's job to make Rasheed care. It's not even his teammates' job. Sheed has to really really want it.

Nothing Phil Jackson can say would make Kobe happy with passing to Kwame Brown. On the other hand even without saying anything, Kobe is happy to pass to Gasol.
Like the Pistons, Bryant knows what it takes to win. Bryant wants to win and he wants to win really badly. Bryant is still hungry, Sheed is not.

I repeat my point. We are not talking about training dogs here. If the entire Pistons turned on their coach, then yeah, a coaching change would be needed.
If one or two players did that? While the rest of their teammates were following the script? Trade those players!

Ben Wallace wanted a big contract knowing that it would cripple the Pistons' future salary situation. Dumars couldn't afford to keep a player who's primary motivation at this point in his career is money.
Larry Brown was already alienating his team. Larry didn't want to coach the Pistons anymore. It would be pretty dumb for Dumars to keep him.
He couldn't find an adequate replacement? Phil, Pop, and Riles weren't available.
The Pistons were worse off after this, yes. But the alternative, keeping them, was much worse.

"I said that Jackson, Popovich, Brown and Riley can get the most out of talented teams and that Saunders failed to do so in Detroit."
Jackson, Popovich, and Riley were NOT available. Brown already pissed on this team. Saunders put Maxiell, Stuckey, and the rest of the Detroit bench in positions that they could succeed.
Those guys cared, not because of what their coach said, but because they wanted to win really badly. The biggest issue facing the Pistons is Sheed's inability to mentally prepare himself.
If the other Pistons can motivate and prepare themselves, I don't see how it's Flip's fault that Sheed is a nutcase.

Z

 
At Saturday, June 07, 2008 8:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

If what you are saying about preparation is true, then why do teams have coaches at all? If the players know what to do then they should just be able to do it, right? The reality is that winning teams are well prepared by their coaches and that preparation leads to good execution, particularly in critical moments. I once spoke with Mike Brown, a defensive back for Lombardi's Super Bowl Packers. He told me that Lombardi knew what every player was supposed to do on every play, so if there was the slightest mistake in technique during practice Lombardi immediately corrected it. His successor did not have that kind of knowledge and thus the team's practices were not as effective and the team was no longer as sharp. Someone once said of Larry Brown that he can see all 10 players on the court at once and he knows where everyone is supposed to be. Saunders is a good coach but he's no Larry Brown. The Pistons did not need to get Jackson or Popovich; they needed to keep Brown. I brought up Jackson and Popovich not as possible replacements but to reinforce my point that an elite coach would have done more with the Pistons than Saunders did.

The Pistons pretty much followed your game plan the past three years: they got rid of Brown, they dumped Wallace and they operated on the assumption that those guys were replaceable. I predicted three years ago that this was a mistake. We have no way of knowing what would have happened if they had kept Brown and Wallace but the real life scenario turned out exactly as I expected and certainly seems to put the lie to your idea that coaching does not matter.

I don't know where else there is for us to go with this thread. I think that we have both explained our positions pretty clearly, so it seems like we will have to agree to disagree about this.

 
At Saturday, June 07, 2008 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We can agree to disagree on the coaching and motivational part, but I think you are misunderstanding/misquoting me. I said it wasn't a coach's job to MOTIVATE his players. I didn't say or for once imply that coaching doesn't matter.

"He told me that Lombardi knew what every player was supposed to do on every play, so if there was the slightest mistake in technique during practice Lombardi immediately corrected it." "Someone once said of Larry Brown that he can see all 10 players on the court at once and he knows where everyone is supposed to be."

Where's the motivation there? Where's the ego massaging? Here's what I have been keeping on saying: It is the player's job to motivate himself, not his coach's.

Have you seen Ben Wallace on the Bulls/Cavs? Do you honestly think that THAT Ben Wallace could have beaten the rising Cavs then and the Celtics this season? It's like saying the Nets should have kept Kenyon Martin because when he left, they never returned to the finals, they get another athletic PF. As for LB, he wanted to leave, and he was prepared to make a lot of chaos to get what he wanted. I'm not really sure what Dumars could have done.

It's easy to predict that they'd be worse after losing a HoF coach (who's a better STRATEGIST than Saunders), and a multi DPoY center. However, you cannot make the assumption that the correct decision was to keep both of those men who would sacrifice the team for personal gain.

Z

 
At Saturday, June 07, 2008 8:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I think that coaching involves both motivation and strategy. The Lombardi example touches on strategy; I previously cited Jackson's ability to communicate with star players as an example of motivation.

I also think that players do better when they have confidence that their coach is in command of the situation. You will often hear Jackson's players or Popovich's players say things like "We were prepared for whatever the other team was going to do." Chris Webber recently said that the Pistons didn't listen that much to Saunders at halftimes of games. Yes, I realize that C Webb may have had an ax to grind but he is not the only person who has said such things and if you watched the Pistons the past three years it is obvious that Saunders did not command a lot of respect in that locker room. Someone described it as the "substitute teacher effect" and I think that is a very apt way of putting how they treated him.

Prior to the Suns' loss to the Spurs in this year's playoffs, the last three times Shaq lost a postseason series Ben Wallace was the opposing team's starting center. The Pistons let him go at least two years too early and, more to the point, they have yet to adequately replace him. They brought in C Webb because they thought that his passing skills would fit in with Saunders' "liberation offense" but that did not work. As I've indicated, Dumars is at fault here, too, for losing Brown and Ben Wallace and for hiring Saunders.

Kenyon Martin has always been an overrated player and he should be tithing at least 10% of his salary to Jason Kidd.

Why Brown wanted to leave is a whole other story beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that losing Brown and Wallace destroyed Detroit's chances to win more titles, so Dumars should have done more to retain their services. He thought that he could bring in a different coach and win with a different approach and he was wrong--as I predicted.

If it is so easy to predict what happened in Detroit then how come most "experts" annually list Detroit as a leading championship contender, how come they predicted that Detroit would beat Cleveland last year and how come many of them said that the Pistons' experience would enable them to beat Boston this season? I never bought into any of those fairy tales, unlike many--if not most--so-called experts.

 

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