True Blue Pistons - September 2011
Over the last five years, I’ve discovered how long the tentacles of the NBA really are. Especially as the Pistons were driving deep into the playoff chase, going to the Eastern Conference finals six straight years, their worldwide appeal was stunning. Not a week would pass where I wouldn’t hear from Pistons fans on at least five continents and often six.
Many of them are basketball fans only, I suppose, and care little for other quintessentially American sports. So, yeah, there are Pistons fans either unaware of or apathetic about the fact one of the Pistons’ pro sports neighbors, the Detroit Tigers, are preparing to open the American League playoffs on one of the grandest stages in all of sports: Yankee Stadium.
But there remains a huge overlap of Pistons fans and Tigers fans (and Red Wings, and Lions, and Michigan and Michigan State) and … well, it’s fair to guess that a significant portion of Pistons Nation is planning its day, and its weekend, and optimistically hoping to plan much of its October, around watching the Tigers start what they believe could be a stirring World Series push by a team that heads to the postseason with a palpable confidence and momentum propelling them.
It isn’t necessarily like that in all other American cities. Detroit isn’t unique, but there aren’t many in its class, either, for the passion it expends so forcefully in the interests of its favorite sports teams.
Posted Thursday, September 29, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, continuing with his February 1982 trade-deadline deal for Bill Laimbeer. Up next: Hiring Chuck Daly.)
Long before “Moneyball” and its basketball equivalent flooded the sport with statistical analysis, Jack McCloskey devised his own numbers-based system for player evaluation. He rated them on a 10-point basis across 10 different categories. After a while, he discovered that players who merited a composite score of 80 or above, almost invariably, turned into good NBA players.
And his numbers told him that Bill Laimbeer was going to be a very good NBA player.
The rest of the world thought that Kenny Carr was the object of McCloskey’s desire when he engineered a multiplayer deal with Cleveland at the trade deadline in February 1982. Carr, 26 and in his prime, was averaging 15.2 points and 10.3 rebounds when McCloskey sent his first- and second-round picks that year, plus journeyman center Paul Mokeski and 1979 first-rounder Phil Hubbard to the Cavs for Carr and a throw-in, Bill Laimbeer.
Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2011
If you visit Pistons.com with any regularity, you’ve probably noticed that last week we started a 10-part series – the Best of Trader Jack. In chronological order, we’re rolling out the 10 most critical moves Jack McCloskey made to build the Bad Boys from the 16-win team he inherited to the two-time NBA champions they became in one dizzying decade.
The first two moves were drafting Isiah Thomas and trading for Vinnie Johnson. Up next, we’ll recall how McCloskey coerced Cleveland into trading Bill Laimbeer to the Pistons just minutes before the February 1982 trade deadline. You can probably guess at least five of the remaining seven moves without the benefit of Google or any other outside reminders.
One move that won’t be on the list, yet deserves a special mention regardless, came six weeks into McCloskey’s tenure as Pistons general manager. McCloskey famously offered the Lakers his entire Pistons roster for Magic Johnson, then just a few months into his NBA career, in an attempt at a grand makeover. When that was predictably rebuffed, McCloskey switched to the more methodical approach.
Posted Tuesday, September 27, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, continuing with his addition via trade of Vinnie Johnson. Up next in Part III: Trading for Bill Laimbeer.)
Dick Vitale ran two drafts for the Pistons and, all things considered, his draft record was the highlight of Vitale’s 94-game tenure. His coaching record was 34-60 and his trade record is blotted by the botched acquisition of Bob McAdoo that crippled the Pistons while simultaneously restoring the luster to one of the NBA’s flagship franchises, Boston.
Vitale didn’t have a No. 1 pick in 1978, yet managed to pluck two players out of the second round who would go on to long and productive careers – both Vitale recruits from the University of Detroit, Terry Tyler and John Long.
One year later, armed with three of the top 15 picks … well, did we tell you how well Vitale did with his two second-rounders in 1978?
Posted Monday, September 26, 2011
“You would think that the workload has lessened,” said Joe Dumars, who didn’t get away for so much as a long weekend with his family over the summer, “but actually it’s gotten heavier because it’s allowed us to do a lot of things we normally wouldn’t get to do.”
Without a Summer League team to put together and observe, a free-agent signing period or a trade market to mine, Pistons executives and coaches have turned to introspection. A perfect storm of factors – the NBA labor impasse, a new ownership group and a new coaching staff assembled – amplified the exercises that Dumars planned to embark upon all along.
Posted Friday, September 23, 2011
Joe Dumars’ office sits one floor above Lawrence Frank’s alongside the basketball court at the Pistons’ practice facility, and many of their workdays this summer have concluded with them sharing perspectives over the desk of one or the other. But Joe D knows Frank has been going at it long before they congregate to, as he puts it, “debrief each other,” and not just because Frank’s car is always in the parking lot before sunrise.
“Most of the time,” he laughed, “I hear Lawrence here in the office before I see him. He’s got this booming voice. I hear him up and down the hallways all day long before he ever gets to my office. For me, it’s been absolutely great to have that type of energy and excitement and passion and enthusiasm in the building. It’s been great.”
When the Pistons hired Frank in July, Dumars said the unusual circumstances of the NBA’s summer allowed him the unique opportunity to get to know his new head coach in depth as the interview process strung out longer than any he’d previously conducted. So he hasn’t learned anything that’s necessarily surprised him in their many shared hours since hiring Frank to succeed John Kuester. What he has picked up has merely reinforced his beliefs that Frank is amazingly thorough and organized in his approach to his profession.
Posted Thursday, September 22, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, starting with the drafting of Isiah Thomas. Up next in Part II: Trading for Vinnie Johnson.)
The enduring legacy of the Bad Boys, the hard-edged bunch assembled by Jack McCloskey and coached by Chuck Daly to the first two NBA championships in Pistons history, will be their indomitable collective will, a bunch of hard hats swinging picks and wielding shovels to elbow their way past glamorous rivals in the NBA’s golden age.
But first among equals was Isiah Thomas, so good out of the gate that he was that rare NBA rookie who played in the All-Star game, the first of a remarkable 12 straight All-Star berths en route to a Hall of Fame career.
Posted Wednesday, September 21, 2011
In the NBA of the 1980s, free agency was in its infancy and barely an accessory in the toolbox of a general manager. The draft and trades were the dominant means of fixing a broken team or transforming a contender into a champion. Jack McCloskey’s nickname was Trader Jack, so it can be safely assumed he mined the trade route pretty effectively in building the Pistons from the ragtag 16-win bunch he inherited in 1979 to the team that won two NBA titles – and nearly two more – a decade later.
Trades delivered Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson, James Edwards, Rick Mahorn and Adrian Dantley – who was subsequently traded for Mark Aguirre – to the Pistons in their formative years, all deals McCloskey engineered.
But what about the draft?
Well, consider this: In the 10 NBA drafts of the ’80s, there were a total of 18 future Hall of Famers drafted. McCloskey picked three of them.
Posted Monday, September 19, 2011
Remember the classic Bill Laimbeer clip from the 1990 Finals in Portland? The one where he cups his ear as they boo him off the floor with six fouls, he bows and eggs them on to give him even more of their leather-lunged bleating before taking a seat?
That’s the image of Bill Laimbeer I’ll take to my grave. The list of NBA players who have waded into raucous enemy arenas and not been flustered isn’t an especially long one, but the names on it are ones you would certainly recognize. Most of them are probably lodged in basketball’s Hall of Fame.
But Laimbeer is the only player I’ve ever come across who not only wasn’t flustered by such vitriol, he honestly, genuinely seemed to enjoy it. I don’t know that it made him play any better, but on some level it gave him a sense of almost perverse fulfillment, knowing he’d angered an entire set of people to the point of apoplexy, their faces red, their eyes bulging.
Posted Thursday, September 15, 2011
Dennis Mannion, newly installed president of The Palace and the Pistons, sat down with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois this week to talk about what he sees in the future for the Pistons and the NBA and how his varied background will benefit him and the Pistons in their new partnership.
Posted Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Dennis Mannion has worked on both coasts and for organizations across all four American professional team sports. He’s won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, gone to the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies and been in the middle of the NHL’s fierce Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry at its peak.
He had no shortage of suitors among pro sports owners looking for visionary direction for their teams when he resigned as president of the Los Angeles Dodgers amid the chaos that ensued from the very public divorce case involving owners Frank and Jamie McCourt.
But he chose the opening with the Pistons for an ideal mix of reasons that started with his faith in the energy and vision of new owner Tom Gores.
Posted Monday, September 12, 2011
Perhaps there have been deeper NBA backcourts than the one the Pistons fielded in the 1985-86 season, but Jack McCloskey probably would feel comfortable submitting his four-man unit and taking his chances with the judges.
The incumbent starters to open the season were Isiah Thomas, who at 25 already had been a four-time All-Star and a two-time All-NBA first-team selection who was well on his way to the Hall of Fame status he would eventually claim; and John Long, who had averaged 16.7 points a game in the first six years of his NBA career and was one of the league’s top stand-still shooters.
Behind them was Vinnie Johnson, the face of sixth men for his generation and newly dubbed “The Microwave” for the 22-point fourth quarter he’d laid on the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics in a Pistons playoff win the previous spring that forced a Game 6 in Boston Garden.
And added to the mix was the draft choice McCloskey knew he’d stolen with the No. 18 pick, Joe Dumars, good enough as a rookie to force his way into the starting lineup before the season’s midway point and wind up averaging 9.4 points and 4.8 assists while shooting nearly 50 percent and exhibiting the type of defense that would eventually lead him to become Michael Jordan’s greatest nemesis just a few years down the road.
Posted Thursday, September 8, 2011
It took the Pistons almost a full quarter-century after landing in Detroit to really belly up to the bar. It would have been a tough slog for them even if they’d done everything right in those early years. Mostly, they did much wrong.
Maybe their biggest gaffe? Trading away Dave DeBusschere after abusing him for the six-plus years – making him a player-coach at age 24, for starters – they were lucky enough to have him.
When the Pistons arrived in Detroit from Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1957, look at the landscape that greeted them. The Lions were weeks away from winning their third NFL title in five years, led by swashbuckling Bobby Layne. The Red Wings were on a streak of seven straight first-place finishes in the NHL with the peerless Gordie Howe having led them to four Stanley Cups over that span.
Posted Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Lawrence Frank was 13 when he decided he wanted to be a basketball coach. He wasn’t much older when he chose the mentor he felt gave him the best chance to make it happen: Bobby Knight.
Dean Smith had been a giant of college basketball for at least a few decades when Frank was coming of age in Teaneck, N.J., in the mid-1980s. John Thompson was in the midst of his dynastic run at Georgetown. Jerry Tarkanian was building a power in the desert at UNLV, Eddie Sutton lorded over the thoroughbred recruits annually attracted to Kentucky and Jim Valvano’s larger-than-life personality elevated North Carolina State to the national stage.
“I respected a lot of coaches – North Carolina, Duke – but Indiana, that was what just worked for me,” Frank said of his fixation. “I had tremendous respect for coach Knight and obviously still do.”
Posted Friday, September 2, 2011
During the process that led to Lawrence Frank being hired as Pistons coach, Tom Gores and Joe Dumars told him he would have the latitude to hire his own staff but they had one stipulation: that Frank be as diligent in the search as they had been in identifying him as successor to John Kuester.
It probably wasn’t a stipulation the new Pistons owner and team president needed to make. Lawrence Frank is nothing if not thorough.
He’s talked to 31 coaches and says the process is close to completion, though he still won’t put a timetable on the unveiling of the new staff. He wants to get it right and he’s mindful of the chemistry that will result, so one commitment might affect the ensuing offer to the next candidate. What he didn’t want, he decided, was a staff filled with coaches cut from the same cloth.
“I want our staff to embrace our core values, but I want different backgrounds,” he told me Thursday. “I don’t want five of one guy. So you’re going to see a staff of different backgrounds, different experiences and then we bring it all together. If you have five of the same type of guy, to me that’s not effective.”
Some of the 31 interviews Frank conducted consisted of phone calls only. If a candidate passed that test, he wanted more to go on. So they were flown in to Detroit and did on-court work so Frank could get deeper insight. With no NBA players allowed to participate or enter team facilities, that meant Frank had to improvise and recruit front-office staffers as subject matter.