We’re going to find out very soon whether Michael Curry can hack it as an NBA coach. NBA coaches have two responsibilities: 1) make sure there is discipline and 2) get out of the way. I’m pretty sure that’s why the majority of NBA coaches get fired for either having an undisciplined team or getting in the way. Right now, Curry is in the way and he needs to do something about it like yesterday.
Rip Hamilton went down with a groin injury on December 26th. In his absence the Pistons went 6-2. Since his return on January 13th, the Pistons are 2-6. So, everything is Rip’s fault, right? I’m not buying it. I’m not the biggest Hamilton-fan but he hasn’t even started the last three games. That’s not to say that the problems didn’t start when Rip returned. They most definitely did. Curry allowed Rip’s return to disrupt the way the Pistons play basketball. Most damaging is that Curry has managed to temporarily kill Rodney Stuckey’s aggressiveness which had ignited the team since his insertion into the starting lineup on December 9th. Curry handled Rip’s return so poorly that his decision to send Rip to the bench—the right decision, in my opinion—hasn’t changed a thing. Stuckey has only been to the free throw line four times in Detroit’s last six games. Even worse, all four came in the same game. Conversely, in the eight games that Hamilton missed, Stuckey took 43 free throw attempts. Again, I won’t blame Hamilton. Teams don’t struggle because of the sixth-man.
Pistons fans are pissed right now. Ten different fans will have ten different diagnoses ranging from Hamilton’s return to Allen Iverson’s selfishness. Here’s the thing: Rip doesn’t even start and Iverson has been anything but selfish. Iverson has only taken 28 shots in the last three games. That’s the fewest number of attempts he has taken over a three-game stretch in his career by a wide margin. In fact, seven of his nine lowest single-game shot totals have come this season. Iverson has been anything but selfish. Ineffective? Yes, but certainly not selfish.
The Pistons are lost right now. They have no idea what they’re supposed to do offensively. It’s not Iverson’s fault. It’s not Stuckey’s fault. It’s not Joe D’s fault. Right now, it’s Curry’s fault. I would be willing to bet quite a bit of pizza that this team would be among the NBA’s elite with the right guidance. I’m not asking for miracles. This team can’t and won’t beat Boston. Still, the Pistons should be the second best team in the East with the talent they boast. Iverson takes a lot of heat but he has been at his best in All-Star games when he has been able to act as a facilitator. His insanely low shot total over the past three games—and for the season as a whole—suggests that he is more than willing to play that role in Detroit. Stuckey has already proven his prowess in getting to the rim and drawing fouls. This team has all the makings of an elite team but the players have started to defer to the point of paralysis.
I understand the frustrations that fans have with this team. I can relate. Nobody has been as frustrated with the Pistons as me over the last five years. However, it’s only fair to make sure your criticisms are directed at the right person. It’s true that the team has been terrible since Hamilton’s return. Rasheed acts like the paint has VD. Stuckey and Iverson treat the rim like it has a naked picture of Tony Siragusa taped to it. I wouldn’t blame them if those things were actually true. The problem is that the paint doesn’t have VD and I’m pretty sure the cameras themselves would refuse to take such a picture of “The Goose.” So, the players certainly deserve a portion of the blame. However, coaches get paid to make sure the players are doing what they do best. Under Curry’s watch, Iverson has stopped shooting and Stuckey has stopped driving. Not surprisingly, the Pistons have stopped winning.
Curry needs to understand that this team needs to take the ball to the basket. Iverson is still lightning-quick and has shown the ability to set up his teammates for easy buckets so long as they remove the cement from their feet. Stuckey’s ability to get to the rim is on par with D-Wade, Kobe, and LeBron. Iverson is one of the greatest penetrators in NBA history. The Pistons should have two plays: Stuckey off-dribble and Iverson off-dribble. Defenses break down when guards repeatedly get into the lane. Rasheed, Tayshaun, Rip, and McDyess are more than capable jump shooters. These are basic basketball concepts. If Curry can’t figure this out, then he shouldn’t be around next season.