Pistons' recent coaches have faced a rough road
The Pistons have had a hard time building sustained success with their head coach since Larry Brown led Detroit to its most recent NBA championship in 2004. Here are all the coaches they’ve had since:
Flip Saunders, 2005-08
Record: 176-70 regular season, 30-21 playoffs
By far the most successful Pistons coach on this list, Saunders was the longest-tenured head man since Chuck Daly and coached the team to its best regular season record ever — 64-18 — in 2005-06 after replacing Larry Brown, who left for the New York Knicks after losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2005 NBA Finals with Detroit. Saunders’ teams were good but not great, reaching the Eastern Conference finals all three years with no NBA Finals appearance. Saunders was let go in 2008 with then-president of basketball operations Joe Dumars citing the need for a “new voice.”
Michael Curry, 2008-09
Record: 39-43 regular season, 0-4 playoffs
As a player, Curry had two stints in Detroit. He was an assistant under Saunders for the 2007-08 season and accepted the head coaching job after Saunders was axed in June 2008. The 2008-09 campaign was a tumultuous season for the Pistons that featured longtime point guard Chauncey Billups getting traded to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Detroit fell in the standings and were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, marking the first time in seven seasons that the Pistons didn’t make the Eastern Conference finals. Curry was fired in June 2009 and hasn’t been an NBA head coach since.
John Kuester, 2009-11
Record: 57-107 regular season, 0-0 playoffs
A former Detroit assistant under Larry Brown, Kuester came over from the Cavaliers, where he was an assistant under Mike Brown. Cleveland was coming off a run to the Eastern Conference finals with LeBron James being named NBA MVP. The Cavaliers’ success didn’t follow Kuester, who had two unsuccessful seasons with the Pistons, missing the playoffs each time. Dumars tried to rebuild the team on the fly, saddling Detroit with bad contracts in the form of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Beloved “Goin’ to Work” Piston Ben Wallace returned to the team in 2009 and played his final three years in Detroit but made little impact. Kuester was fired in June 2011.
Lawrence Frank, 2011-13
Record: 54-94 regular season, 0-0 playoffs
The first hire of the Tom Gores-era Pistons, Frank came over from Boston, where he had served as a successful assistant, spearheading a good Celtics defense. Detroit had shown signs of improvement and potential during Frank’s tenure, but it wasn’t reflected in the record. The Pistons drafted Andre Drummond during Frank’s time in Detroit. Frank was fired after two seasons in April 2013. He would go on to have a very public feud with Jason Kidd as a New Jersey Nets assistant, and is now the vice president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Maurice Cheeks, 2013-14
Record: 21-29 regular season, 0-0 playoffs
An experienced head coach, Cheeks had spent seven seasons, total, as the man in charge with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers. He was hired before the 2013-14 season but didn’t make it to the end of that campaign, despite a multi-year contract. He was relieved of his duties in February. Cheeks was Dumars’ last head coaching hire. Cheeks’ 30-plus years of NBA experience as a player and coach wasn’t enough to turn the Pistons into a winner. He was considered a player-development guru, but Detroit players weren’t making much progress. Cheeks is an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
John Loyer, 2014
Record: 8-24 regular season, 0-0 playoffs
The Pistons hired from within after letting Cheeks go. Loyer had been an assistant in Detroit since Frank’s time. Loyer coached only 31 games on an interim basis, at the end of the 2013-14 season. In April, Dumars stepped down, and new leadership decided to go in a different direction at head coach. ESPN ranked him as the worst coach in the NBA while he was in charge of the Pistons, but one could hardly blame Loyer for a roster that relied heavily on Josh Smith at the end of his career. Loyer’s son, Foster, won multiple state titles as Clarkston’s point guard and is committed to play basketball at Michigan State.
Stan Van Gundy, 2014-18
Record: 155-176 regular season, 0-4 playoffs
After enjoying a relatively successful stint with the Orlando Magic that ended in 2012, Van Gundy took the Detroit job in 2014. The Pistons also named Van Gundy team president. In Van Gundy’s second of four seasons, the Pistons surprised many by making the playoffs with an emerging Drummond at center and Reggie Jackson at point guard, but that team was swept by Cleveland in the first round. The Van Gundy teams of 2016-17 and 2017-18 were never able to reach the bar set by the 2015-16 team and missed the playoffs with 37- and 39-win seasons, respectively. He was fired on May 7.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.