The Pistons could use a spark. OK, they could use a forest fire. But in the heart of a lockout, short of literally burn The Palace to the ground to signify a fresh start, that won’t happen.
Today, the Pistons lit a match.
Lawrence Frank warmed Pistons fans to the idea the team is headed in the right direction, but that’s all he could do. Unfortunately, there was nothing to ignite, no games to be played, no players to talk about.
I’m as excited as could be about Frank today. But by tomorrow, his flamed will have dimmed. The match will have burned out.
That’s no knock on Frank, whose introductory news conference made me even more confident in him. But poor timing has sucked the oxygen from the fire that burns within fans when their team hires a new coach.
It’s the age-old quandary: if a team hires a good coach during a lockout, does it make a sound?
Bad timing for a coaching hire
Coming off a run of six straight conference finals appearances earlier this decade, the Pistons, weighed by aging players and a lack of talent that accompanies several years without a high draft pick, were set to fade.
Then, Bill Davidson died, and ownership transferred to Karen Davidson, who wanted to sell the team and move on. Try as she might to sell, a lack of buyers kept Dumars’ hands tied for two years.
Then, the NBA locked out its players, forcing Dumars to wait even longer to sort out roster.
By this point, few engaged Pistons fan remain.
Today’s news conference would typically change that. New coaches excite fans. New coaches have grand plans and undefeated records.
That positive momentum sells tickets* and carries a team into the season.** I doubt the Pistons will benefit in either way.
*Example: Michigan football.
**Look at all the wonder words written about Michael Curry, and even he kept some fan support through the middle the season.
The lockout – or as Frank called it, “the current status” – meant neither he nor Dumars could name any current players. That takes the wind out of the sails quite a bit.
As Frank said, “It’s the players, not the plays.” How excited can we get about Frank without hearing how he’ll teach Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, how he’ll salvage Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, how he’ll handle Richard Hamilton and a possibly re-signed Tayshaun Prince, how he’ll mold Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye?
If Frank wins, fans will come around. But the Pistons could’ve really used a bigger jolt of energy. This community has lost touch with the franchise, and today didn’t change that. What today signifies might, though.
Today could’ve gone better, but the future matters more
More than anything, Frank looked and sounded self-assured . That’s probably because he can say something the Pistons’ last two coaches couldn’t:
I’ve done this before.
As I’ve said many times, a candidate lacking previous head-coaching experience should never exclude him from consideration. But Frank’s tenure with the Nets is an absolute positive.
That showed when Frank described the characteristics a coach must show in order to connect with his players.* It showed when he listed the qualities he desired in his assistant coaches.** And it certainly showed when he had the confidence to say, “I look forward to working with you guys over the next several years.”
*Competency, trustworthiness, reliability, sincerity
**High character, great work ethic, passion and energy, excellent teacher, lifelong learner
Frank is Dumars’ seventh coach in 12 years, but despite the apparent obstacles, maybe Frank can stick in Detroit. After all, Dumars said, “We are desperately trying to settle into a long-term coach.” Then again, he also said John Kuester “might have the most job security in the whole NBA right now” when hired him just two years ago.
For Frank to last in Detroit for “several years,” he must impress his players the same way he impressed Dumars. As Dumars put it, Frank “brings a big personality to the job” and a strong work ethic that begins at the Pistons facilities day at 5:30 a.m. Frank won’t coast simply by looking the part of a coach – because he doesn’t (and maybe that’s the least of his appearance-related worries).
“Anyone who has to look at me for a sustained period of time, I feel sorry for,” Frank said. “My poor wife.”*
*That was Frank’s best joke. His second-best: “They forgot my booster seat. That comes next.”
Hopefully, his players, who will have to look at him often, won’t feel sorry for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy playing for their new coach.
Frank revealed a few bits of his philosophy, and they should encourage his players:
“Confrontation is healthy.”
“You have to demand, but you also have to be fair.”
“It has to be a clean slate.”
That last one should come as welcome news for the malcontents who fill the roster. Whether accurate or not, they could show the world that Kuester, not them, deserved blame for last season. (Although, they also had the chance to show it was Michael Curry, not them, and they didn’t do that.)
At one point, Frank was asked how he’d back up his strong talk. Frank answered the question best he could (“With your values, it’s one thing to have them. It’s a totally different thing to enforce them”), but it’s not the type of question you can answer in a meaningful way at a press conference. It’s the type of question you answer through your actions every day.
Starting at 5:30 a.m.