Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Not many can say they saw it coming and many of us keep asking why, but sometimes you just have to believe in Joe D!
By: Keith Langlois
A few dozen of Joe Dumars’ peers around the NBA furrowed their brows over the weekend with the news that Chris Wilcox was about to become a Piston, a signing that multiple media reports say is due this week. Are they sure Wilcox is about to realize the tantalizing potential they first saw in him as a sophomore at Maryland, when he helped carry the Terps to the 2002 NCAA title and became the eighth pick in that year’s draft as a teenager?
Nope. If they were sure, Wilcox would have been snatched up as quickly as the other recent lottery pick big man the Pistons signed this month, Charlie Villanueva, who struck a deal on the first day of free agency.
But the fact Joe D identified Wilcox as part of his summer makeover of the Pistons is enough to make them ask themselves: Should we have signed this guy?
Only a few teams in the league cause such a reaction, San Antonio foremost among them. When you pluck Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace off the scrap heap and they become All-Stars, when you trade a volume scorer like Jerry Stackhouse for a Rip Hamilton about whom there were many doubts and he too becomes an All-Star, when you draft Tayshaun Prince down in the 20s of a weak draft and watch him outperform all but a handful of those taken ahead of him, that’s the rep you earn.
Wilcox carries something of an underachiever label with him to Detroit, which explains why he was still available more than two weeks into free agency and why the Pistons got him for $6 million over two years, if the commonly reported details of their agreement are accurate, which is slightly better than 50 percent of the average salary and represents minimal risk for the Pistons.
But like so many of the players Joe D has picked up in the past and watched thrive in the environment he’s painstakingly created with the Pistons, Wilcox has been mired in situations that would have had to improve by half to be considered mediocre. Consider this: In seven seasons in the NBA, he’s yet to finish one of them with a winning team. The Clippers won 27, 28 and 37 games in his first three seasons, then traded him midway through the next year to Seattle, which won 35, 31 and 20 in his three seasons there. Last season was split between the relocated Thunder and the woebegone Knicks, both of them speeding toward the lottery.
Not only has Wilcox never appeared in a playoff game, he’s never been on a team that threw it up on opening night dreaming the playoffs were a possibility.
Now, it’s fair to say Wilcox, as a part of all those bad teams, bears some responsibility for those records. Some. But Ray Allen was a part of those miserable Seattle teams, too, and he seemed to turn out OK when dropped into a winning environment. The Clippers carry a legacy of losing that has overwhelmed everyone who’s donned the uniform.
When he was with Seattle, Wilcox played well against the Pistons, able to score inside against the veterans who anchored one of the NBA’s toughest defenses of their era. He gives them another frontcourt scorer to go with Villanueva, and a guy who’ll do most of his scoring around the basket. That ability to score – Wilcox averaged better than 13 points for the three years he spent in Seattle – means John Kuester will be able to use Wilcox with any of the other big men on his roster.
Wilcox, curiously, saw his role reduced last season in Oklahoma City. The Thunder first tried to trade him to New Orleans in the deal for Tyson Chandler that OKC’s medical staff aborted, then dumped him to the Knicks for a washed-up Malik Rose at the trade deadline. He played little in New York, averaging 13 minutes a game, apparently not a fit with Mike D’Antoni’s offense.
Whatever soured his career with the Sonics/Thunder, the Pistons should have insider knowledge. Joe D’s No. 2, vice president Scott Perry, spent a year as Seattle’s assistant GM before returning to Detroit to fill the vacancy created by John Hammond’s departure for Milwaukee’s top job. For the Pistons to have used their last significant chunk of cap space on him, you can bet Perry gave the thumbs up on whatever the back story was on the career turn Wilcox took as a 26-year-old.
And you can bet Joe D’s peers around the NBA have had that same thought in the 48 hours since news began leaking that Chris Wilcox was headed to the Pistons, the 13th spot committed to a roster whose average age has now plunged to 25. And they’re wondering if passing on a young big man about to enter the prime of his career will haunt them in the same way many of them were left to wonder how they passed on the chance to add Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Ties that Bind Larry Brown to John Kuester and Everything
July 7, 2009 5:48 PM
Courtesy of ESPN
A few years ago, a friend suggested I make a big chart like the cops use in mob movies. All those photos, with all those lines showing the structure of relationships among networks of people.
Only instead of researching a crime family, I should chart Larry Brown and the long string of coaches who surround him.
It is, my friend suggested, a helpful way to understand many things that happen in the NBA, and would be especially helpful today.
Basketball's inventor, James Naismith, would be up there, with a line to Phog Allen who learned from the originator. Allen has a direct line to Dean Smith, who coached ... Larry Brown.
Then the chart would start to get really wide, because the list of people who coaches who have played for or worked under Brown is immense. This is only the beginning:
* San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was once Brown's assistant, and best man. (And Cleveland head coach Mike Brown used to work under Popovich in the job Popovich used to have under Brown.)
* Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry coached under Brown in San Antonio, on a staff with Popovich and San Antonio executive R.C. Buford.
* Boston coach Doc Rivers played for Brown when he coached the Clippers.
* New York's Donnie Walsh was once Brown's assistant coach, in Denver, where Paul Silas (LeBron James' first NBA coach) played for Larry Brown.
* New Orleans coach Byron Scott played under Brown in Indiana.
* Atlanta coach Mike Woodson was an assistant to Brown in Detroit.
* Former Detroit coach Michael Curry played for Brown in Detroit.
All of that is background for the news about the Pistons' newest head coach. ESPN's Marc Stein has sources saying the new coach of the Detroit Pistons will be John Kuester.
If you made your big board of the Brown basketball coaching family, many lines would connect Kuester and Brown:
* Kuester assisted Brown in Detroit and for his entire six-year run in Philadelphia.
* Just like Larry Brown, Kuester played college basketball for Dean Smith at North Carolina. Kuester played from 1973-1977.
* In October 1978, when Larry Brown was the head coach of the Nuggets, the team signed Kuester -- who played the better part of three seasons in the NBA -- to his second NBA contract, which expired at the end of season (when Brown was replaced by Walsh).
Here's where that gets especially interesting. I know it seems like ancient history now, but Brown left the Pistons in a hail of bitterness. Brown and the Pistons reportedly severed ties after Brown betrayed the Pistons by reportedly courting a job as team president of the team Kuester is leaving, the Cleveland Cavaliers, even as the Pistons were in the 2005 Finals. (Brown then didn't get the job with the Cavaliers, and landed in New York and now Charlotte.)
Of course, that was four years ago, and the Pistons' owner Bill Davidson has since passed on. Is the reported hiring of Kuester a sign that the Pistons have mended ties with Larry Brown and his family tree of coaches? Perhaps.
Or it's a sign that it's hard to find a good coach who doesn't have ties to Brown.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Keeping with the Holiday spirit the Detroit Pistons make some Fireworks of there own. 2 big free agents signings and an Interview with Avery Johnson. Is he the right man for the job? Will Gordan Start? What to do with Rip? Tell me what you think!
By Marc Stein
Pistons president Joe Dumars is scheduled to have his first face-to-face meeting with Avery Johnson later this weekend regarding Detroit's coaching vacancy, according to NBA coaching sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that Dumars and Johnson, after discussing the job by phone, have planned to meet Sunday at Johnson's home in the Houston area, with Dumars intent on trying to hire his next coach before the Pistons begin summer-league play next week in Las Vegas.
After former-Pistons coach Doug Collins pulled out of consideration earlier this week, ESPN analyst Johnson was widely regarded as the leading candidate for the position, which was vacated by Tuesday's firing of Michael Curry.
Dumars, though, told the Detroit News that it is "not a given" that Johnson will be hired as Curry's replacement, with sources telling ESPN.com that Dumars has added Boston Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau to an original list of candidates that featured Collins, Johnson and Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach John Kuester.
Kuester and Thibodeau have no head-coaching experience in the NBA, which appeared to clash with Dumars' recent declaration that he thinks it is "best to move forward with a more experienced coach." It wasn't immediately clear Friday night if the Pistons have requested permission from either Kuester's or Thibodeau's current teams to speak with them.
Johnson has declined interview requests about the Pistons' search but said during the season that he would be more proactive in seeking jobs after completing a second season as a television analyst for ESPN. The 2008-09 season was Johnson's first in TV after the Dallas Mavericks fired him in May 2008 in the wake of a second successive first-round playoff oust.
When he turned down a mid-season offer to coach the Memphis Grizzlies, Johnson said that he was "enjoying my time at ESPN and with my family" but that he was also intent on returning to coaching "at the right time and in the right situation."
Colleagues said Johnson is intrigued by the opportunity to work for one of the league's signature franchises, even though the Pistons are in the midst of what Dumars openly describes as a "transition" period.
Collins' decision to withdraw his name from consideration Wednesday night and stay in TV -- amid a growing belief in league coaching circles that he was being offered the job -- appeared to have opened a clear path for Johnson. If Dumars and Johnson can hash out a deal, Detroit's monetary obligation to Johnson in those two years would be shared, since the Mavericks still owe Johnson $4 million over each of the next two seasons.
If Dumars or Johnson ultimately decides that the fit isn't right, it's unclear how Detroit will proceed. Sources said Dumars is a long-time admirer of Kuester's work -- and Kuester won raves last season in Cleveland for his impact on Mike Brown's offense -- but Dumars also appeared to make experience a prerequisite when he let Curry go, saying it was "a little bit unfair of me" to ask Curry to guide the Pistons through their transition as a first-time head coach.
Proven veterans known to be interested in a return to head coaching include Del Harris, Paul Silas and Collins' fellow TNT analyst Mike Fratello. Sources with knowledge of Detroit's thinking maintain that former Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, who recently quit as coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock to pursue NBA opportunities, is unlikely to be considered for the position.
Johnson, 43, posted a 194-70 record in four seasons with the Mavericks. He took Dallas to the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history in 2006, earned NBA Coach of the Year honors that season and followed up with a 67-15 record in the 2006-07 season.
Johnson's tenure in Dallas began to unravel with a first-round loss to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors and former Dallas coach Don Nelson in the 2007 playoffs and was followed by a tension-filled final season in 2007-08 that could not be saved by the midseason acquisition of Jason Kidd.
On Wednesday, free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva made verbal commitments to sign with the Pistons on July 8, when the league-wide moratorium on signings and trades is lifted.
The Pistons' next coach will be Dumars' sixth in 10 seasons as the head of Detroit's basketball operations, which is said to be one of the factors that gave Collins pause.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.