My initial experience with now fired coach Michael Curry came back in November of 2008, prior to the Wizards/Pistons matchup. He was nearly 10 minutes late for his pre-game press conference and when he finally emerged from the locker room he seemed a bit perturbed the waiting media had interrupted his pre-game routine.
Still, he answered questions about Rodney Stuckey starting, Chauncey Billups’ exit, Antonio McDyess’ return, and how the newly acquired Allen Iverson would fit into the lineup.
The Pistons went out that night and were soundly defeated by a then 3-15 Washington Wizards team, 107-94. In his post game press conference the mildly perturbed look that Curry displayed before the game had morphed into a much more defined annoyed look and tone. Curry found himself defending the performance of a team that had just played in the Eastern Conference finals the previous year and he bristled at suggestions that playing Stuckey disrupted the flow of the offense.
When Curry answered the last and final question, he quickly undid his tie, briefly spoke to the Pistons’ PR rep, and dipped into the office designated for the visiting team.
Everything from his body language to the tone of his answers indicated this was a coach who was in for a long season.
On March 28th, when Curry and the Detroit Pistons returned to the Verizon Center to face a Wizards team that had Gilbert Arenas for the first time all season, not much had changed. Iverson, who had been inserted in the starting lineup over Richard Hamilton, was out with a bad back. Rasheed Wallace was out with calf strain and Hamilton was to return to the starting lineup, but he too was battling a calf injury. On top of all this malaise, the Pistons came into the contest having lost seven out of their last ten games.
Things were so bad for Curry that the media (present company included) spent more time asking about his feelings surrounding the return of Arenas than they did about the Pistons. Curry was a good sport about it all but it had to be gnawing at him that his team’s performance really didn’t warrant any questions.
That night, Curry’s Pistons went out and played inspired basketball despite being shorthanded and defeated the Wizards 98-96. But after the game the questions focused on the rumors that Iverson, Wallace and Hamilton were not happy with the direction of the team. Curry brushed it off as something that all NBA players go through during the season, but again, it was clear that the strand of discomfort ran through this Pistons team.
In the following months after the Pistons last visit to the Verizon Center I watched along with all the other basketball fans as their season unraveled.
Iverson was shelved due to a back injury but the rumors were that he was disgruntled with his role.
Wallace, who in the Pistons’ heyday was the emotional center of the team, seemed to be uninspired on a nightly basis.
Hamilton, Stuckey, McDyess and Tayshaun Prince still gave yeoman efforts, but the continuity of the team seemed to be gone, and Curry was unable to galvanize it at all.
When their season ended with the Cleveland Cavaliers sweeping them out of the playoffs, I thought back to the lack of control Curry had on the team, and I just assumed that his firing was imminent; but after the season, General Manager Joe Dumars said Curry’s job status was “a non-issue” and insisted that personnel changes, not coaching ones, were the key to this team returning to championship form.
Even last week, when the Pistons introduced their new draft picks Austin Daye, Dajuan Summers and Jonas Jerebko, Curry was still in attendance and very much a part of the Pistons future plans–at least on the surface.
But on the eve of free agency, and with rumors swirling about the Pistons losing Wallace and McDyess and possibly gaining Ben Gordon, Dumars changed his mind and fired Curry.
I was surprised by only the timing of the firing, not the firing itself. If I were creating a checklist by which a coach should be fired, Curry would pass with flying colors.
Lose the confidence of the stars on your team? Check.
Bench arguably your best player? Check.
Produce a losing record (39-43) on a team that had been to six straight Eastern Conference finals? Check.
Oversee a total lack of team effort en route to a sweep at the hands of LeBron James? Check.
The Pistons’ woes won’t be solved with a naming of a new coach, the signing of their new draft picks, or even hot-shot free agents. But it certainly won’t hurt to have a coach who demands respect and produces results; I saw firsthand that Curry could not be that man.