In an interview with Keith Langlois earlier this season, Joe Dumars explained his philosophy for managing his coach:
I’m very careful to allow the coach to make his decisions. It’s not my job. I can’t make that decision. I trust that the coaching staff is going to make the right decision. He’ll fill me in on when he’s going to make some changes, but like I always tell Q, at the end of the day you have final say on rotations, minutes – I have to defer to the coaches on that. That’s what I do.
By all accounts, he’s consistently communicated and executed that philosophy since becoming the Pistons’ general manager.
In theory, the plan shines. Hire someone you trust, and give him room to operate.
In reality, the plan stinks.
Dumars has left his coaches on an island to fend for themselves and done so under the guise of providing freedom for the coaches to run their teams. This wasn’t a sinister decision by Dumars. He thinks it’s best course for the franchise.
But the side effects of the philosophy – four fired coaches in six years and near-consistent player bickering between – negate the positives of Dumars’ hands-off policy.
Dumars gives his coaches enough rope to hang themselves, and when the noose is tightening, Dumars still won’t step in to help the man he hired. He’ll just provide the final yank.
Most of the time, Dumars’ philosophy works. Coaches thrive when they’re not micromanaged. In most situations, the coach will find the best course of action for the team without Dumars’ help. But that other small percentage of situations where the Pistons would benefit from Dumars getting involved, in time, sabotage everything else.
Dumars must realize there’s a difference between micromanaging and managing. He needs to get involved.
Today’s practice boycott by up to five players – Richard Hamilton, Chris Wilcox, Tayshaun Prince,*Tracy McGrady* and Ben Wallace* – partial boycott by Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye, who both missed the bus and arrived late, should tell him that.
*A team spokesman said Prince had the flu and McGrady was out with a headache, according to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News. Wallace has missed previous practices and games due to a family matter, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Even if the boycott is less widespread than all seven players, Dumars should act. With or without today serving as a giant warning sign, the underlying problem still exists.
Dumars has often reiterated his desire to keep these disputes in-house. The simplest way to do that is eliminate them from happening. Who knows how many practice walkouts or other signs of friction between Kuester and the players never saw the light of day? Even if just a small percentage of incidents get leaked, the more that occur, the more that become public.
Joe Dumars should intervene
What happens if Dumars fires Kuester? The old guard’s evident belief that they can undermine a coach at anytime gets reinforced, and a new generation of Pistons’ gets a lesson in how to get their way in this organization.
What happens if Dumars keeps Kuester? A team full of malcontents hurting the Pistons’ on-court performance (even more) and more public whining from players leads to more negative exposure.
Neither option is preferable, but if a compromise isn’t possible, I’d take the latter. With a 48-93 record, on the most basic level, the Kuester era has been a failure. Get at least some value from the Pistons’ fourth-losingest multi-year coach of all-time. End the inmates-run-the-asylum environment once and for all.
Of course, a compromise is still on the table. But that can happen only if Dumars gets involved. Kuester and the players aren’t going to work through this on their own.
Dumars could step in and demand improvement from both. Kuester hasn’t communicated well enough. The players haven’t respected their coach enough. If anyone can get both sides to fix their flaws, it’s Dumars, who I still believe commands respect in the locker room and the coach’s office.
It’s far from guaranteed that plan would work, and the odds are probably stacked against success. But what’s the downside? If one side or both sides don’t meet Dumars’ demands, the Pistons would be right back where they started.
Years of practicing a flawed philosophy has backed Dumars into a corner. Now, he must walk between two overlapping lines, an impossible task. Ideally, he never would have put himself in this position, but he’s here now.
It’s too late for an ideal resolution, but Dumars should find some type of resolution.