Coach Michael Curry is seeing, up close and personal, why it's so much better to make a blockbuster trade in the season's opening weeks than at the trading deadline.
Curry has something smoldering in his camp, and it isn't the remnants of a hot-shooting team.
These are touchy times for the Pistons, who are just 6-6 since trading for Allen Iverson. Though there have been some big wins among those six, there've also been some head scratchers.
But it's not just the record, which includes a pedestrian 5-3 overall at home, that is of concern this morning. As always in the NBA, it's about the happiness within the ranks. Or UNhappiness, really.
Curry has come highly recommended by the only person who really matters: Pistons president Joe Dumars. So it's important to know that the coach will have the support of the team boss should the rank and file get too ornery.
Yet I'm sure Dumars would rather that not be necessary because of drama his coach is instigating.
Curry blindsided forward Tayshaun Prince after another lackluster Sunday performance yesterday -- a 96-85 capitulation to the young, hungry Portland Trail Blazers.
The coach was asked why Prince had his rump on the bench in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons gamely tried to make a comeback.
"Tay didn't play that well," was Curry's response. Short, succinct, to the point.
Except that this was news to Prince, according to today's Detroit Free Press.
"Huh?" said Prince, who scored 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting in 22 minutes. "Wow, I thought I was playing pretty good if you ask me. ... I don't know. It's up to them to see what's going on, and I guess their decision was to sit me down. I was playing well."
Then this from the beanpole Prince.
"I was upset when I came out of the game in the first quarter because I thought I started the game off well trying to get the guys in the flow. It's always tough for me because I'm in the position where I'm put at the point-guard position; I'm trying to make plays for them, get them guys going. Sometimes I'm going to have a good night doing it. Sometimes it's going to take me out of my rhythm."
Then there's the newly-acquired Iverson, who's already tested the rookie coach's mettle by snubbing a mandatory Thanksgiving Day practice. Iverson is quick to point out that he's sitting on the bench in Detroit more than he ever has in his career. Funny, but one of the reasons A.I. was happy to come to the Pistons was the allure of not having to be "The Guy" -- the one who carries the load. But Iverson wants to not be "The Guy" and play a lot of minutes, too. I think they have a saying for that, involving cake?
It's a player's league, this NBA, and that sometimes collides, head on, with a new coach's desire to prove that he's no pushover. It's what they said about the deposed Flip Saunders: not enough accountability for the rank and file.
It's an admittedly very delicate balance, and just as his players are trying to get accustomed to a new, high profile teammate, so is Curry trying to get a hang of this "I'm in charge now" thing.
Sixty-six games to play before the curtain goes up on the playoff season. Sixty-six opportunities to find cohesiveness, chemistry, commitment. The three Cs. That's the good news. The bad news is that there are sixty-six games for another C to emerge: cancer.
Look around the league and you'll see many teams whose potential is snuffed out by various forms of cancer, from the treatable (Nuggets) to the terminal (Knicks). And everything in between. You're not just an NBA coach, Mike Curry, you're also an oncologist.
Curry got hit with a double whammy. He was just four games into his first season, fresh from training camp, and now he has to conduct a bunch of mini-camps while the season is going on, with a touchy, high-profile superstar in tow, to boot.
But can you imagine if this trade had occurred in February?
The normally cool Prince bristled at Curry's surprise negative assessment; that can't become a trend
Don't be sucked in and try to draw much of a comparison to the Rasheed Wallace trade of 2004. First, the coach was anything but a rookie (Larry Brown), and Wallace filled a chasm on the Pistons roster, rather than trading one like player for another. And Wallace wasn't a point guard handling the ball 80-90% of the time up the floor.
Trading for Iverson at the deadline would have been the highest of high risk moves for a GM. It would have eclipsed even the Adrian Dantley-for-Mark Aguirre trade that Jack McCloskey pulled off in February 1989. There simply wouldn't have been enough time to slay all the dragons and get all the ducks into a row, to mix metaphors (and species).
So Dumars gave Curry Iverson, and 90% of the season, basically, to work with him and find that delicate balance between pushing hard and pulling back.
Calling out your players to the press before talking to them, though -- as what happened yesterday with the normally laid back Prince -- isn't a recommended path toward harmony and success. But Curry will learn. He has no choice, really.