Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pistons fire Saunders

The Detroit Pistons firing of coach Flip Saunders essentially boiled down to one reason: Saunders was the reason Detroit failed get back to the NBA Finals and/or win a title during his three seasons.

In other words, GM Joe Dumars, who wasn't going to fire himself, felt that the roster he put together was right, that is was good enough to win, and that it was Saunders fault it didn't.

Dumars was wrong on all three accounts.

Essentially with the core of guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, and forwards Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons have reached the Eastern Conference finals six consecutive seasons. In four of those seasons, they lost in that round. Two other times, both under Larry Brown, the Pistons reached the NBA Finals. In 2004 they won the championship. Brown left after the 2005 season.

Enter Saunders, a good coach (certainly in the league's top third) with a mind for offense. It seemed like a good fit. In Saunders' three seasons, the Pistons won 64, 53 and 59 games. At times, Detroit's offense opened up. Other times, it bogged down just as it had under Brown. More troubling, however, was the fact that the Pistons' collective attitude was still amiss. Not all the time, but at inopportune times. Whether it was Wallace's lack of effort, Prince's aloofness, or Billups' arrogance, this team never seemed to have the right harmony, the right chemistry. Despite the championship, this wasn't a problem that Brown was able to fix. Saunders wasn't able to either.

Dumars and Saunders together deserve credit for drafting well and developing youngsters Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell, both of whom are ready for greater roles, thus making it easier to break up the core group.

But until Dumars actually pulls the trigger on a deal, the Pistons will head down the same path for their new coach: alternating between impressive and maddening. Ultimately, however, they'll continue to fall short.

Dumars announced the decision by saying, "it's time for a new voice to lead our team." Dumars would have been better served with a new team to hear Saunders' voice.

Time for a roster change is now. The coach was fine.