Detroit Pistons Coach Dreams: Bill Laimbeer

Essentials

Age: 54

Current Job: Assistant Coach, Minnesota Timberwolves (2009-present)

Previous experience:

  • Head Coach, Detroit Shock (2002-09)

Pros

Laimbeer had a very successful run with the Shock, guiding them to three titles, including a worst-to-first turnaround.

As a player, he was tough and smart. He was never the most athletic, but he still had a long career.

He has a bit of NBA experience after working with the Timberwolves this year. His specialty is their big men, and Kevin Love and Darko Milicic had fine seasons.

Laimbeer is the fan favorite, and he’d generate buzz in a community that has become disillusioned with the Pistons. But would that boon last with the notoriously media-unfriendly Laimbeer?

Hiring Laimbeer would be pretty unconventional considering the Timberwolves’ 17-65 record last year. Of the 28 first-time head coaches hired in the previous 10 years who served as NBA assistants the year before, only Erik Spoelstra helped his team to a worse record the year before becoming a head coach. The Heat went 15-67 before promoting Spoelstra to head coach, and obviously that worked well.

Mindlessly hiring assistants on good teams and ignoring assistants on bad teams hinders general managers from finding the best head coaches. Of course, helping a team succeed indicates good coaching, but hiring GMs should be willing to look beyond that.

Cons

If Laimbeer had spent his career with the Celtics rather than the Pistons, should Detroit hire him? If the answer is no, the Pistons have no business hiring him. Once someone becomes a head coach, the team he played for won’t matter. He’ll have to sink or swim on his own coaching ability, not some sentimentality. In the previous 10 years, six teams have hired first-time head coaches who played for that team. All but one of them struggled:

  • Michael Curry, Pistons – failed
  • Reggie Theus, Kings – failed
  • Larry Krystkowiak, Bucks – failed
  • Avery Johnson, Mavericks – succeeded
  • Frank Johnson, Suns – failed
  • Bill Cartwright, Bulls – failed

I don’t think this is a coincidence. Teams who hired these coaches were distracted with a meaningless criterion, and they largely ignored relevant shortcomings.

Laimbeer has just two years of NBA coaching experience. Although that shouldn’t disqualify him, what evidence exists about his NBA-coaching acumen?

Just because he was a fiery player doesn’t mean he would command the respect of his players. Plenty of guys played hard in the NBA, but getting guys to play hard is a different skill. To a degree, a team takes the personality of its coach. But does Laimbeer know how to exude toughness from the coach’s seat without alienating his players? Coaches must walk that line. Players can just be tough.

Almost all of his coaching experience came in the WNBA, and as Patrick explained, maybe that doesn’t translate seamlessly to the NBA.

Verdict

Bill Laimbeer has expressed a desire to become an NBA head coach. He realized coaching the Shock could take him only so far, and he took the proactive step of leaving the team to become an NBA assistant. His résumé is improving, and as a carrot, the Pistons should take him more seriously as a candidate than they did for their last two openings.

But Detroit shouldn’t hire him. He’s not ready.

Previously

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