In the ill-fateful offseason of 2009, the Pistons were reportedly near a deal with former Coach of the Year Avery Johnson. Johnson was favored to get the job until contract negotiations hit an impasse over the length of the deal and the two sides ultimately ended talks. The Pistons would hire John Kuester and Johnson would sit out a year before getting hired by the rebuilding New Jersey Nets, a team that was coincidentally coming off a season in which they had fired current Pistons coach Lawrence Frank.
Johnson's Nets won just 46 games in his first 102 games, but new ownership and the move to Brooklyn accelerated the rebuild. Adding Joe Johnson, and his expensive contract, to the mix with Deron Williams
and Jerry Stackhouse, winning and winning a lot became the immediate expectation. (Johnson didn't help create realistic expectations by likening these Brooklyn Nets to the Bad Boys before the season.)
After a promising 11-4 start to the season, a recent 3-10 slide cost Johnson his job a mere third of the way into his third season:
"I just got a sense, as I told Avery this morning, that he just wasn't reaching them anymore," general manager Billy King said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, adding that ownership had final say in the decision.
To put this into perspective, Johnson couldn't survive three seasons with an organization Frank coached for over five.
Fickle is the heart, though. The Pistons, who are on their seventh coach in a decade, know about that. But what I think is becoming increasingly clear is that teams are getting into a bad trend of allowing players to run coaches, arguably good coaches, out of town. GMs need to make the coaches bigger than the players. Heh, figuratively. To be clear, the coaches need to be valued more than the players.
If the players are tuning out their coach, because they think he should somehow make them better than what their talent ceiling will allow, I'm starting to believe more and more that it's the GM's job to find more receptive players (or talent), or find a way to get the current players to buy back in. I believe it might be at least part of the reason why Dumars has put a premium on character guys (over talent) in recent years. (It doesn't work so well when you keep old character problems around and you hire inexperienced coaches incapable of helping to defuse such situations.)
Johson's firing has opened my eyes a little bit. I'm not convinced that Frank is reaching every Pistons player right now and Andre Drummond's playing time has been a polarizing topic amongst Pistons fans, leading many to think Frank should receive a similar fate to Johnson. Admittedly, I've entertained the bandwagon, because a big thing for my fan relationship with my favorite teams' coaches is how the players seemingly buy into what the coach is selling. But lately, realizing the young-ish state of this Pistons team and the franchise's recent history playing musical coaches, I'm starting to firmly believe that Dumars can't fire Frank and continue to replace his coaches like coffee filters.
By doing so, Dumars would be continuing to create a player atmosphere of perpetual entitlement. Honestly, I can't imagine experiencing the 2010-2011 mutiny hasn't had its negative affects on certain players. Frank's not winning anymore games than Curry or Kuester, nor is he winning over fans by not starting Drummond, but Dumars could go a long way by backing up a coach for once, molding his younger players into thinking that they need to continue to earn their way with the coach currently in place, who by the way, is no stranger to winning.
In a lot of respects, Frank has done a fine job handling the roster and showing he's passionate and serious about players earning their keep. Shinons* has made a lot of good arguments in favor of Frank. But even if Frank is losing his players and the easy move seems like it would be to move on from Frank sooner rather than later, my fan compass is starting to direct me in the other direction, a direction away from hasty judgments and an eighth (8th!!) Pistons coach in the new millennium.