As most of the NBA was expecting the Detroit Pistons to gear up for pursuit of several free agents, they fired their coach instead. Michael Curry will not return to coach the team next season, the Pistons announced in an email to the media.
"This was a difficult decision to make," Pistons president Joe Dumars said. "I want to thank Michael for his hard work and dedication to the organization. However, at this time, I have decided to make a change."
UPDATE: Speculation immediately centered on whether Dumars would reach out to former Bad Boys teammate Bill Laimbeer, who resigned as coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock earlier this month in the hopes of landing an NBA job. The timing is more than curious, but Laimbeer refused to comment when reached on his cell phone Tuesday.
"I've got nothing to say," Laimbeer said. "Thanks for the call."
Such unexpurgated charm (note sarcasm) is why Laimbeer has yet to land so much as an assistant's job in the NBA since retiring 16 years ago. He coached the Shock to three WNBA championships, then quit three games into the season because he wanted NBA executives to know he was ready for his chance.
They've known he's been ready, yet nobody has come calling. The Minnesota job figures to go to former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, the 2006-07 coach of the year. Mitchell fits the low-budget description in that he has money coming to him from Toronto and thus would be a cheap hire. Anyway, the Timberwolves job won't be going to Laimbeer, even though Laimbeer has let it be known that he's interested.
But what about the Pistons? If there is an organization in the NBA with at least a few people who don't loathe Laimbeer, it would be the Pistons. The same Pistons who were about to hire another, even more despised member of the Bad Boys, Isiah Thomas, until Thomas spoiled late owner Bill Davidson's plans by announcing them before Davidson did. So Isiah was ex-communicated, all those years ago.
Laimbeer is the lone member of the Bad Boys still standing outside of Dumars -- and by standing, Dennis Rodman, we don't mean in front of a craps table. Only hours before diving into free agency with the cap space cleared from his ill-fated acquisition of Allen Iverson, Dumars is in a fix. His once dominant organization is in shambles. If he wanted to recruit his former bouncer to take some lumps for him and make the Pistons the hated, feared, and (in a twisted way) respected again, Laimbeer would be the choice.
That would be some press conference, you have to admit.
But it appears that Laimbeer will be on the outside looking in once again, as other more accomplished candidates begin to emerge. One of them isn't hard to figure out, since his name comes up with every NBA coaching vacancy: Doug Collins, who coached the Pistons for three seasons in the late 1990s and removed his name from consideration for the 76ers' coaching vacancy earlier this offseason.
Another, according to a high-level coaching source, is former Mavs coach Avery Johnson, who unlike Collins is much better suited to an NBA sideline than an NBA broadcast.
Curry was hired last June to replace Flip Saunders, who was fired after alienating the veteran core of a team that had advanced to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals and won the NBA title in 2004. Under Curry, the Pistons went 39-43 in a season that began with Dumars trading Chauncey Billups to Denver for Iverson's $22 million expiring contract, a move that sent the veteran Pistons reeling from their perch atop the conference. Curry had to endure a juggling act with Iverson, Rodney Stuckey, and Richard Hamilton, and alienated Hamilton by sending him to the bench in favor of Iverson.
UPDATE: There was no evidence that the Curry-Hamilton relationship was anywhere close to healing. One person connected to the situation said an article this week in the Detroit Free Press, in which Curry took more swipes at Hamilton, may have been the tipping point in Curry's firing.
But while Curry had to deal with the headaches from the Iverson trade, he will not reap the rewards. Dumars is set to go shopping for one or two major free agents at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, armed with the cap relief from Iverson's and Rasheed Wallace's contracts coming off Detroit's books.
The stunning announcement of Curry's firing sends a clear message that Curry and Dumars didn't agree on the direction the team will take in its efforts to rebuild. Bulls free agent Ben Gordon is believed to be at the top of Detroit's list of free-agent targets, which begs the question of what will become of Hamilton, the franchise's lone remaining star. The Pistons also are widely expected to make a run at Orlando free agent Hedo Turkoglu.