Who is ultimately going to take the blame if the Pistons uninspired play continues?


I’m not a ‘fire the coach’ kind of guy. In most cases, firing a coach in-season doesn’t work out. It serves as an admission that the season is basically over, the team is in trouble, etc. In rare cases, interim coaches bring a spark and a team shows slight improvement. In most cases, it serves as a stopgap, encourages the players to mail it in for someone who probably isn’t going to be around longterm and just gets a team through a dismal season until more wholesale changes can be made in the offseason.

John Kuester hasn’t done much to instill much confidence in fans or the players, apparently. In Joe Dumars’ vast history of firing coaches, he’s typically come down on the side of players in these types of disputes, which I think are fairly common in the NBA. When people in the organization weren’t enthused with Rick Carlisle’s abrasiveness, Carlisle was gone. When the players had clearly stopped respecting Flip Saunders, Saunders was gone. When Michael Curry mismanged the Allen Iverson/Rip Hamilton ego situation, and then refused to patch things up with Hamilton, Curry was gone. Even if the blame for the way the current roster is constructed lays squarely on the shoulders of Dumars, I have a feeling he’s not going to take at least the initial responsibility for it.

Kuester now has two veteran players, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, who pretty openly disagreed with his assessment of things to the media last night. Here was Prince’s take:

"Prince said he understands Kuester wants more from the players, but the players need more from their coach as well.“He’s right but, at the same time, it goes both ways,” Prince said. “We can sit in here and get on each other and be vocal, but like I said, the right thing’s got to come from him as well as us.“It goes both ways. If he wants to say we’ve got to be more vocal, then he’s got to do some things better, too. Everybody has to do something better.”"

And here is what Wallace had to say on Kuester’s call for more leadership:

"“Come on now,” Wallace said. “I’m not going to touch that. I’m going to let that one marinate for a little while. You can write what you want to write about that.“Next question.”"

I don’t disagree with Kuester’s assessment of the team. After two games when the team played relatively cohesively to start the season, the chemistry on the court has rapidly eroded, which is usually a sign that players aren’t communicating on the court, aren’t talking on defense and are not being patient on offense.

But I don’t disagree with Prince and Wallace bristling at Kuester saying the team lacks leadership. Those guys are prideful, professional players. Granted, not everyone on the team can be called that right now, but I would say that if everyone went about their business the way Prince and Wallace do, effort would not be a question for the team, regardless of whether they were winning or losing games.

I wrote before the season started that I think Kuester will survive this season and get one more year. That was based on the fact that the Pistons were (and still are, though it appears they’re less interested than they should be) a team that something as simple as improved health could help them win a few more games than they did a year ago. As Dan Feldman mentioned, it’s also conceivable that the Pistons wouldn’t be inclined to pay Kuester plus a replacement a salary.

But there’s another factor that doesn’t bode so well for Kuester. Depending on what wild (but popular) conspiracy theory you subscribe to, Dumars has either been unable to tinker with the roster significantly because of an ownership-mandated freeze on taking on more long-term salary or because he’s so enamored with the current roster that he thinks this is a playoff team. In reality, there’s probably some middle ground between both of those theories, but neither extreme is a particularly good thing for a coach.

If there’s more truth to the freeze on adding salary thing, the Pistons will need to try something drastic that won’t come in the form of a major trade. Whether it is effective or not (again, I don’t really think it is), firing a coach is a popular choice to send a message that a team is actually doing something to fix things. And if the truth is more Dumars’ belief that the roster should be more competitive, then coming up short obviously falls on the coach first as well.

Panicking after a bad loss happens all the time. But last night’s game was essentially a replay of all the terribleness of last season. Ultimately, I don’t think Kuester is solely to blame for this (he didn’t assemble the roster and he’s not the one who played with little effort), but it’s hard to see him surviving too many more performances like that.