Lots of chatter about Isiah Thomas and the Pistons-Bulls rivalry from back in his day in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Karthik Kumar (@chi11imac): Love this quote: “Wilt said to Jordan, ‘The difference between you and me is that they had to change the rules so I couldn’t dominate. They changed the rules for you so that you could dominate.”
Langlois: Touche! One of the great “what ifs” of the NBA is what if Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell had changed places and Chamberlain had the benefit of Red Auerbach and the Boston environment while Russell had to be the lone wolf in Philadelphia? I mean, do people realize Wilt’s stats? He averaged 30 points and 23 rebounds over his career and that includes his days with the Lakers when he decided to defer to Jerry West and Elgin Baylor and become more of a facilitator. As a 25-year-old he averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds a game. I know it’s apples and oranges to compare stats across eras, but there were a lot of great big men in that day and Chamberlain played Russell almost 10 times a year. Nate Thurmond, Willis Reed, Zelmo Beatty, Jerry Lucas – there weren’t a ton of tomato cans lining up in a 9- or 10-team league as it was in those days. In 1964, the NBA widened the lane from 12 to 16 feet to push Chamberlain farther from the basket to avoid a three-second call. I’m not sure it worked. He averaged 38.9 points a game in the first season with the new rule. Wilt was a phenomenal athlete – he was a three-time conference high jump champion – who would absolutely translate (and dominate) in any era.
Bill Blasky (@bill_blasky): I was in college during the Dream Team Olympics and as a diehard Pistons fan it broke my heart that No. 11 wasn’t on the team. How odd was it that Daddy Rich was the coach but Lord Isiah was not on that squad? Did Chuck lobby for him?
Langlois: He did. Jack McCloskey resigned from the USA Basketball committee to protest his exclusion. But they were up against forces more powerful than them. As I wrote this week, the belief among many was it was made clear that Michael Jordan – whether he said it explicitly or had it conveyed for him – used the threat of his non-participation to keep Isiah Thomas from inclusion on the Dream Team. It was, plain and simple, a grave injustice for all he’d accomplished individually. Joe Dumars had a case to be on the team, as well, and I doubt there would have been pushback from Jordan or others on his inclusion. But it would have added another awkward layer of intrigue, forcing the committee whose ostensible responsibility it was to choose the team to explain why Dumars over Thomas. Easier to exclude both and not have to explain that messy decision. It was obviously a great honor for Daly to be chosen to coach that team and – not to be discounted – equally obviously a touchstone to great financial reward for him in an era when coaches weren’t paid anywhere near the princely sums they would start to be paid shortly thereafter. It was a monumental push for coaches’ salaries when Larry Brown left Kansas for San Antonio after winning the 1988 NCAA title for a reported $3.5 million over five years, or $700,000 a season. That was about three times what Daly was making with the Pistons only a few years earlier when he had a difficult negotiation with McCloskey. “God bless him,” Daly was quoted as saying at the time of the Brown deal. Daly’s first big payday came when he left the Pistons and took a three-year deal for a reported $4 million from the Nets in May 1992. I’m sure part of the appeal to the Nets – beyond the two titles Daly had won with the Pistons – was the cachet that came with hiring the guy about to coach the Dream Team. There are some who felt that if Daly – who did not have a vote on roster makeup – would have pushed for Thomas, he would have gotten him. And McCloskey’s resignation came after he was purportedly quoted as saying that Thomas would understand his exclusion because there were many great players who weren’t named to the team. It might not have been as black and white as Jordan’s stated objection, but it’s also clear that it was widely known in the NBA that Jordan’s antipathy for Thomas ran deep and no one wanted to run the risk of alienating Jordan, who by the summer of ’92 – as a two-time defending NBA champion and the most marketable and recognizable player in the world – was the one player USA Basketball could not afford to be without in Barcelona.
Rudy (@rudyjuly2): Isiah seems to deflect and spin criticism rather than own his mistakes. His response to not shaking hands was weak in episodes three and four (of “The Last Dance.”) Same with his Bird comments years ago. Just apologize and move on or own it. He tries to weasel out of it without really apologizing.
Langlois: He’d have made it easier on himself, I suppose, all those years ago. On the other hand, I’m sure it galls him that the hypocrisy of the Bulls, on full display, isn’t being called or held to that standard. The Bulls spit in the collective face of the Pistons the day before the walk-off, when they held a 3-0 series lead and smelled blood. Jordan called the Pistons “undeserving champions” who were “bad for basketball.” I don’t recall Jordan ever apologizing for those comments or truly held to account for them. Also notable is that they weren’t mentioned in “The Last Dance” to paint a balanced picture of the rivalry and the motivation for the Pistons to walk off. So, yeah, I agree. Isiah would be wise to say “we should have been the bigger men and stayed on the bench until the buzzer sounded.” But shaking hands? Nah. Shaking hands after a playoff series was never an NBA custom. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen randomly, but teams never lined up to shake hands as they do in the NHL. To make a big deal of it all these years later – to use it as cover for bitterness – is naked hypocrisy.
Marky B. (@mbmiotto): With the Lions just wrapping up the virtual NFL draft, have any members of the Pistons front office reached out to the Lions to discuss any insights on evaluating players without being able to hold workouts? I know they’re two different sports, but there have to be similarities.
Langlois: Good question. I asked Ed Stefanski a few weeks ago if he’d talked to his son, Kevin, head coach of the Cleveland Browns, about any ideas they’d come up with to overcome the obstacles confronting the draft process by the conditions imposed on NFL teams in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He jokingly said he was more curious about who Browns general manager Andrew Berry was going to take. Because the NBA draft is probably a long way off – until a decision is made on how to handle the season with the common perception that the draft will be pushed back from its scheduled June 25 date to coincide with the conclusion of a delayed season – Stefanski and his front office are focused on video study of draft prospects. When the NBA has a protocol in place – a schedule for the draft and parameters for what’s acceptable – then they’ll go from there. If they need to make accommodations, it stands to reason Stefanski will tap all available resources, including finding out more from his son and, quite possibly, checking in with the Bob Quinn and the Lions about their process.
James Vos (@JamesVos): Will Derrick Rose be let loose next season or will there be a minutes restriction? Follow-up question: Who is the Game 1 starting point guard?
Langlois: Last year’s minutes restriction wasn’t because of any recent injury, it was the compilation of lower-body injuries Rose has endured over the course of his career. So I wouldn’t anticipate much, if anything, changing with regard to how he’s handled going forward. How he’s used – starting or coming off the bench – probably has more to do with the identity of the other point guards the Pistons acquire over the off-season, whenever it arrives. I’m guessing Dwane Casey’s preference would be to keep Rose in his bench role where it’s easier to manage his minutes. Casey wants Rose on the floor at the end of games, but when he’s limited to roughly 26 to 28 minutes a game, it’s tough to start and finish while playing long enough in any one stretch to get into a rhythm. So my guess is that if the Pistons had their way, the starting point guard next season is a veteran not currently on their roster.