Despite leading the New York Knicks to their worse record in team history, Larry Brown still looks like a genius right now. How is that possible you might ask? Simple, look at Brown’s former team the Detroit Pistons. Possibly the most talented and well rounded team in the league, once again on the brink of elimination from the 2006 Playoffs.
Coming into the 2005-06 season the Pistons were bitter because from a game 7 lost in last years NBA finals and they were ready to reclaim what was theirs. Many of the players on the Pistons went as far as to claim the Spurs were just holding the trophy for the year till Detroit could take back what was theirs.
The Pistons team from last season to this season is the exact same, except one piece of personnel. Larry Brown.
Larry Brown left Detroit in anything but a quiet manor. Coincidentally his replacement had left his job in an unceremonious manor just a few months before. Flip Saunders was the coach who never could during his stint in Minnesota. Despite all the talent he was given in several different arrangements he only guided the Twolves to one Western Conference Finals and never saw the NBA Finals.
The result of all this coaching movement was a cast of bitter Piston players who wanted to prove their merit without Brown, and an underachieving coach ready to prove that he knew how take a team to the next level. Throughout the regular season Flip Saunders and the Pistons were doing exactly that. The Pistons rolled through the regular season. Four of their starters made the All-Star team, and they finished the year with the leagues best record.
On the sidelines people applauded Saunders for giving the Pistons what appeared to be a new breath of life. Scoring was up the tempo of the game was up. The Pistons suddenly were capable of scoring 100 points in a game without overtime. Chauncey Billups was being mentioned as a MVP candidate due to his scoring production.
However amid all this success there was a monster lurking in the darkness. The once heralded Pistons defense was slipping. The past two seasons Detroit had been ranked first or second in team defense. It was their defense that lifted them over the Lakers in the finals a few years ago, and pushed San Antonio to a game 7. It was the trademark lockdown defense and slowdown offense that gave the Pistons their success. This season they slipped back to the middle of pack under Saunders watch. But no one noticed or simply did not care because during the regular season the Pistons were able to win.
Then the Playoffs arrived. After blowing out a Milwaukie team that should not have been in the post season the Pistons struggled against a young Cleveland team. I know LeBron James is good, but he should not have been able to lift his team to a game 7 against the mighty Pistons. At times during the series, the Pistons looked disorganized, confused, and flat out uninterested.
The Pistons and Saunders survived the LeBron scare and moved on to the Big Daddy and Flash down in South Beach. Despite having home court advantage the Pistons are in a 3-1 deficit. Rasheed is going off, standing by himself during timeouts, being outspoken, brash and a complete disrespect for the higher ups. (Not that this is new) Ben Wallace is telling the media that the Pistons need to get back to defense, and after watching the beginning of this series he is right.
So with the Pistons on the brink of the greatest collapse this side of the Roman Empire one has to ask themselves what is the difference between this year and last year? Sheed is complaining and running off at the mouth, but that’s nothing new. Rasheed has made his living being outspoken and brash. But, there is a difference between last years outspoken Sheed and this years Sheed.
For the past two seasons when Sheed began to act out he was always reigned back in by Larry Brown. That’s what a great coach does. They understand their personnel, and how to manage it properly based on their personalities. Brown let Rasheed have his occasional rant and temper tantrums, but Brown had Wallace focused enough that he could quickly bring him back to the task at hand and make him into a focused player. Phil Jackson would do this with Denis Rodman, giving him enough rope so he can feel free, but not enough to hang himself.
That’s the job of a NBA coach to manage talent, not to coach it up and make it into something great. Just manage the talent, know what they do best and then exploit that to make them the best team possible.
The Pistons are built to be a defensive team. Their most recognizable player doesn’t average 10 pts a game, but has been defensive player of the year three times. The entire organizations tradition is built off of stout defense. Remember the Bad Boys? That being said the Pistons should focus on their defense, and not trying to become an offensive force.
This is where Flip Saunders has failed as a head coach. He is trying to make the Pistons into an upbeat team that will run and gun. He has let the players run amuck and lost their respect. A true coach understands his team’s strengths, and Flip has seemed to ignore the Pistons strength completely. Once again Flip is failing to do his job.
So the question left to answer is how did Larry Brown make the Pistons look so good and Flip Saunders makes them look so disorganized. The answer is coaching matters in the NBA. I don’t care what people might tell you, it does matter. NBA coaches may not need to build up a player, or create a great scheme, but they do need to analyze and manage their talent to get maximum performance. Brown can do that (why do you think he is willing to walk away from NYC?).
Flip Saunders had routinely shown he is incapable of doing that. He had some great team at Minnesota and never got them anywhere. That was sad, but it is a shame that this Detroit Pistons team will fall short of every expectation they had for themselves and everyone else had for them. Flip Saunders reminds me of the kid in high school whose parents gave him a new sports car for their 16 birthday, and the kid promptly went out and wrecked the car, because he could not handle it.
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