When I first heard that Michael Curry was the front-runner to replace Flip Saunders, I was less than enthused. The guy has one year of coaching experience as an assistant, surely he's not ready to take the keys, right? But the more I thought about it, the more I talked myself into liking it, which is why I'm excited about today's news that he's officially been hired.
As a player, Curry was frequently the least talented player on the court. There's no way to gloss that over, he just wasn't very good. But not only did he enjoy a solid career, he also made himself indispensable with defense, hustle and leadership. He served as captain for both the Pistons and the Raptors and even served as President of the NBA Players Association, commanding the respect and trust of his more talented peers.
Since hanging them up, Curry served as Vice President of Player Development of the NBDL, as well as Vice President of Basketball Operations of the NBA. This isn't just some jock who thinks he's entitled for a shot just because he played the game. If anything, it seems like he was being groomed to be the next Joe Dumars, not the next Avery Johnson, and it's his executive-level experience that I'm most excited about.
He learned his X's and O's during his 11-year career, and he'll be surrounded by experienced assistants to help fill any blanks. But the fact that he's also been groomed to maintain a big-picture view of an organization is most encouraging. He's not coming into this with an ego of "well, this is what worked for me before." Instead, he's here to facilitate Joe Dumars' vision.
Dumars refused to get into specifics about Flip Saunders' failings during last week's press conference, but he did indicate that everybody wasn't always on the same page. I'm sure he was referencing more than just one thing, but in his subsequent radio interview with Stoney and Wojo, he admitted that Saunders' refusal to trust the team's younger players was an issue:
Q: Were you disappointed [Amir Johnson] didn’t get more of an opportunity in the playoffs?
A: I’m disappointed he didn’t get more of an opportunity this season and the playoffs. You know how Rodney Stuckey as a young guy can do certain things that nobody else on our team can do from the perimeter position? I feel the same way about Amir in the front court position, that there are certain things that nobody else can do, just from an athletic standpoint, from a speed, from a quickness, from an ability to play above the rim the way he does. I think he can bring that us and so I would love to see him as we go forward become more integrated into what we’re doing here.
It's hard to hear Dumars say that and not think the next coach will have strict guidelines for developing the future, especially since (barring any offseason trades) Amir seems to be the heir apparent to the starting power forward job once Rasheed Wallace's contract expires after next season.
Given Curry's strengths as a player, I'm guessing his hiring also means good things for the defense, which the players sound ready to embrace. After losing to the Celtics in Game 6, Rip Hamilton pointed out how the team needed to get back to its roots:
I thought we lost focus on what won us the title. I always say, when we won, we got grimy, we got hard, we might not shoot the ball well but we defended and you know that this was Pistons basketball. We didn’t score, they didn’t score. And now it’s like, we give up dunks, we give up layups, you know what I’m saying? Stuff like that. It’s tough, man, you got to get back to that.
Only time will tell if this gamble pays off, but from my view, this is a good day for the Pistons.