Following his confrontation with Rasheed Wallace after practice on Thursday, Chris Sheridan discussed the situation on his ESPN Insider blog -- it's a pay-site, but here's the gist of it:
Rasheed Wallace was thrusting a bottle of orange soda straight at my chin after he came over to me this morning at the Pistons' practice facility for some civilized discourse regarding this morning's Daily Dime lead.
Of course, what constitutes civilized discourse is not the same to everyone.
So as I explained to Sheed that pointing a soda and screaming obscenities at me was not my preferred way to conduct an adult discussion, he kept yelling, "Did you ever hear the word 'hate' come out of my mouth?"
That was actually the second discussion I'd had on the subject in the course of a half-hour, the first coming when coach Flip Saunders patted me on the back and said he wished I had chosen a different word than "hate" to describe his less-than-ideal relationship with Wallace.
Fair enough. Hate is a strong word, and the words that preceded it in the column -- "discord and disharmony" -- were sufficient.
The dynamic between Saunders and Wallace is something the Pistons are still trying to work through as Saunders goes through his second season as head coach. Saunders and I discussed how it has been tricky for him to figure out which buttons to push with the league's most temperamental player.
And it was later made known to me one big factor not to be ignored was how Saunders had replaced Larry Brown, a Wallace favorite who always used to say he had rarely met a player who wanted to be coached as badly as Rasheed. Saunders' biggest miscalculation, I'm told, has been in being too minimalist in his coaching approach to Wallace, giving him too much freedom on offense when he should be reigning him in.
For a slightly more detailed account of what actually happened than I've seen elsewhere, check out the Macomb Daily. Chris McCosky witnessed the incident and has a rather opinionated response to it in his blog on the Detroit News:
ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan is a friend of mine. We've been covering this league together for a long, long time. He is well-connected. He works hard. He's one of the best, truth be told. But he got this one wrong. Dead wrong. ...
Wallace does not hate Flip Saunders. There are no "issues" between Wallace and Saunders. Does Wallace love everything Saunders says or does? No. Does Wallace treat Saunders with the same reverence he had for Larry Brown? No. Saunders didn't attend or coach at North Carolina. Saunders is not a disciple of Dean Smith. Wallace won't treat any coach, anywhere, like he treated Brown. Does Wallace sometimes roll his eyes at things Saunders says? Yes. Does he leave timeout huddles early -- yes. He always has. He left Brown's huddles early, too. Does Wallace sometimes take his frustrations out on Saunders? Yes, with Saunders' blessing. But does Wallace think Saunders is a bad coach, does he think his offensive and defensive systems are faulty, has he completely lost all respect for Saunders as a basketball coach? Hell no.
Believe this: Regardless of how he feels about Saunders, Rasheed Wallace is never going to bail out on Joe Dumars. He's not going to bail on Chauncey Billups or the rest of his teammates. He's not going to bail out on the city of Detroit and the Pistons' fan base. He's not going to sabotage the organization that afforded him a chance to resurrect himself (for all his warts, he is no longer perceived as the thug he was back in Portland) and win a championship. He's not going to sabotage a community that has embraced him from Day One. If Dumars thought there was even the slightest chance of that happening, he would be looking to move Wallace out of town.
Sheed is a handful, there's no question about that. I don't pretend to know everything that's bothering him. He doesn't want to talk about it. Some of it is basketball-related. Some of it his health-related. Some of it might be personal and family-related. But I think I know the competitive side of him well enough to know that he isn't going blow this team up. He knows this team has a great chance of making a run at another championship. It frustrates him not to be able to play up to his own standards. It frustrates him not to be able to help his teammates more than he has thus far this season. But I think that cloud will pass as soon as he can get that balky right ankle to settle down and the Pistons can start winning some games.
In case you're looking for even more local reaction, A. Sherrod Blakely posted his take on the confrontation on his blog at MLive.com.
Part of me wonders if Sheridan came to Detroit planning on writing that article -- the national media guy piggy-backing off what the local guy (Michael Rosenberg) wrote last week. I doubt we'll ever find out.
I've vented some of my frustrations about Rasheed's play, but I've tried to avoid making assumptions about what goes on in the huddle or the locker room (and please, call me out if you disagree). I don't think Wallace has tried to sabotage the Pistons, but it looks pretty obvious that he doesn't always take the regular season seriously anymore -- hell, he's admitted to much in the past -- and his regular outbursts against the refs are nothing but detrimental. His down season is as much as result of that as it is his ankle injury, which is why I don't completely buy into the whole "he's frustrated that he can't play up to his standards" argument. If this were a contract year, is there any doubt he'd be showing a bit more hustle, picking up a bit more slack when Chauncey was injured, averaging more than just 11.9 points per game?
Eh, whatever. It is what it is -- I've already lowered my expectations. The only thing I really care about are the techs and the barrage of three-pointers, which fortunately have both slowed down recently. All the player-coach relationship stuff is fluff until other members of the locker room start speaking out.