July 1, 2009 at 8:02 am

Bob Wojnowski

Pistons' next coach must be a proven talent

Michael Curry, right, fired as Pistons coach Tuesday, had a broken relationship with players that never healed. (Clarence Tabb Jr./The Detroit News)

It was ruthless and shocking and weirdly timed, but hey, we know the routine. The big door at The Palace spins open and a coach comes tumbling out.

Joe Dumars fired another one Tuesday, and now I don't know which mangled list is longer -- deposed Pistons coaches or deposed Lions quarterbacks.

Michael Curry just joined the list, and the truth is, he might be the first guy that actually deserved to be on it. After a miserable season of rancor -- much of it sparked by Dumars' ill-fated trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson -- no one should weep over Curry's ouster. He didn't get much of a chance but he also didn't show enough promise, fracturing relationships with players, especially Richard Hamilton.

It's absolutely ridiculous we're back at this spot again, but in the cold, stark Pistons world, this is the cold, stark reality: They needed a better coach and they'll probably get one.

It could be Doug Collins, who coached the Pistons from 1995-98. That would be strange, but Collins, who hasn't coached since the Wizards fired him in 2003, is smart and might be refreshed enough for the task.

It could be Avery Johnson, who led the Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006 and is a hard-nosed leader who's young (44) but has won elsewhere.

Either candidate would be a major upgrade.

It should not be a first-time NBA head coach, which should rule out Bill Laimbeer. No more flyers right now. The Pistons need a veteran who's comfortable with his own ability, as opposed to a rookie like Curry, who tried too hard to show he was the tough new boss. If the tough new boss doesn't have credentials, he's usually doomed.

That's where Dumars screwed up, and that's why the Curry hiring a year ago was so questionable. The Pistons are a strong-willed team that lost its way, but you can't just announce a new direction and hope it works. There has to be a reason to trust it, and Curry, with his bizarre lineups and substitution patterns, instilled little faith.

This can't keep happening, even if it does. It's plain silly the Pistons value so highly the input of players -- they chafed under Rick Carlisle, they tired of Larry Brown, they never respected Flip Saunders, blah, blah blah -- without ever having a superstar who deserves such power.

Where the buck stops

Ultimately, this is on Dumars, and he realizes it. I give the guy credit for making tough decisions, never afraid to cut his losses. It's just troubling that the losses repeat themselves. And here's the real sticky issue: The Pistons enter a crucial free-agency period today without a coach, although money and opportunity usually are the strongest lures for players.

The next coach will be the sixth in Dumars' nine seasons, and while we know the NBA is a players' league, not all players get to pick their style of coach. LeBron James gets to pick. Kobe Bryant gets to pick. Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard get huge input.

Too many people, including Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, are living off the capital of that 2004 championship. If Dumars wants someone to lead, give the new coach a workable roster and a fair chance to lead.

Listen. Dumars didn't suddenly lose his savvy. The blame-the-coach game has gotten tiresome, but he does have a plan, socking away the most salary-cap space in the league. It could work -- no guarantees, of course -- and help the Pistons make a painful transition between eras.

I feel bad saying it, but Curry turned out to be another discard in a throwaway season. Cutting one's losses is admirable, but with free-agency opening now, Dumars has to get this right. This is a dangerous period for the Pistons, who slid to 39-43 and were swept in the first round by Cleveland

For all the good he's done, constructing a team that reached six straight Eastern Conference finals, Dumars needs to reverse a trend of mishaps, none bigger than the Curry hiring and the Iverson deal. He has to land an impact player either through free agency or trade. The problem is, with the big free-agent class a year away, I fear he'll overpay for good (definitely not great) players such as Chicago guard Ben Gordon or Milwaukee forward Charlie Villanueva.

If Dumars strongly suspected he had the wrong coach, he had to make the move. Viewed through that narrow window, Curry's firing is fine. The larger picture of the coaching carousel is the concern. Instability is the concern. Appeasing players is the concern.

Ignore the players' pleas

The Pistons need players and a coach at the exact same time, and how hard will it be to land one without the other? If Dumars has learned one very important thing, it's that he can't keep listening to players. They wanted Curry, and they got a guy who wasn't ready and was a poor communicator.

I think Dumars handled Curry like the players did, as a rookie in a transition year, not requiring a full commitment.

That changes now. A veteran coach like Johnson or Collins makes even more sense than a year ago, now that the players have seen the difference.

The Pistons are rudderless, which is amazing considering all the fine coaches that have come and gone. I bet Dumars hires another fine coach, who might even last two or three years. That's important, not quite as important as finding the right players to help him.


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