Bill Laimbeer, understandably, is one of the most beloved Detroit athletes in the history of this state. It’s no secret why — he was part of the most successful run in Pistons history in the 1980s, won two championships and was a central figure in the Bad Boys style of play that so perfectly fit the blue collar image of the state of Michigan. Fans loved him, connected with him and won’t ever forget his contributions, because he was truly one of the most unique athletes and characters in NBA history.
And now that he’s coaching, every time the Pistons have an opening or an embattled coach, there’s only one man Pistons fans want the team to consider: Laimbeer.
The most recent issues with the team have made the demand for Laimbeer even more pronounced. The team lacks discipline, has been overrun by in-fighting, doesn’t play good defense and has caused a large portion of the fanbase to tune out as evidenced by the empty Palace and low television ratings. Laimbeer, because of his name, would immediately get the attention of the fanbase and cause many fans who have long since lost interest to care about the Pistons again. Ultimately, that would be good for the team in the short-term, but fans of Laimbeer should care more about him getting a head coaching job that allows him to thrive in the long-term.
Reasons to want Laimbeer as Pistons coach
- He’s one of the most intelligent players to play the game. As a guy who was never the biggest, fastest or most athletic player on the court, and he wasn’t even close in some matchups, he got more out of his talent than perhaps any player of his era. He did this by seeing the entire floor, understanding angles when it came to rebounding and using his body exceedingly well to gain advantages in positioning, keep defenders off balance and provide effective rebounding and efficient scoring. Basketball intelligence and rebounding are certainly areas where he could improve the Pistons’ young players immediately.
- Judging by the record of the Timberwolves, the lack of on-court success of that team isn’t going to do him any favors. But if you look at the T-Wolves big men, who have no doubt worked with Laimbeer extensively, that could be where his real value is. If he could help Greg Monroe make a leap at some point like Kevin Love has made from his rookie season to now, it might be worth talking to Laimbeer about a coaching position should one open up.
- Fair or not, often in NBA locker rooms, veteran players who have won titles don’t have a lot of patience for coaches who were not great players themselves or who were not a part of title winning teams either as a key player or head coach. Laimbeer’s two rings as a player with the Pistons would give him a credibility Flip Saunders, Michael Curry and John Kuester have not had. For those coaches, having to coax veteran players who won a title by being headstrong and doing things a certain way is no easy task considering none of the three post-Larry Brown coaches had titles themselves as head coaches or players. Perhaps Laimbeer would have more success dealing with players who are set in their ways.
- He’s vocal. Communication issues plagued both Curry and Kuester. I have little doubt that players would know where they stand with Laimbeer. They might still hate him every bit as much for his honesty as they hated Curry and Kuester for trying to avoid conflict, but if the players are demanding a better communicator, Laimbeer would clearly explain what he wants from them.
Reasons not to want Laimbeer as Pistons coach
- Because Laimbeer was a tough, no-nonsense player with the Pistons, then a tough, no-nonsense coach in the WNBA with the Shock, fans assume he’d automatically come into the Pistons’ dysfunctional locker room and kick some heads in. To be honest, it’s nonsense. Even if he was an imposing player in his day, the man is 53-years-old. If people think his style is going to be to waltz into a locker room and start throwing elbows at guys who mess with him because that’s what they liked about him as a player, I think they have a wholly unrealistic view of what NBA coaches do. Laimbeer might command more respect because of his success as a player. But in the NBA, that’s not everything. Plenty of former great players have not been successful as coaches. Even Bill Russell, the most respected player in the game’s history, had coaching stints that could be called failures. Playing the game at a high level prior to coaching is sometimes an in to get respect as a coach, but it’s not necessarily an indicator of coaching success.
- The Pistons are a bad team. If Laimbeer were hired, he’d likely be stuck with a roster of players signed long-term who don’t fit the blue collar, tough, defensive-minded approach to the game that Laimbeer loved as a player and used to great success as a coach in the WNBA. Even if the young players improve some, the Pistons could realistically be two or three years, at a minimum, from contending again. NBA coaches don’t get a long leash. If Laimbeer takes over a bad team that, through no fault of his own, isn’t in a position to be good again for a few seasons, it doesn’t put him in a good spot to have success off the bat as a coach.
- Coaches will always get fired, particularly in the NBA. Laimbeer could come to Detroit and have success. But at some point, even if he proves to be a great coach, the goodwill will run out. It ran out on Alan Trammell when he managed the Tigers. It’s run out on Joe Dumars, once as beloved as Laimbeer in Michigan because of his exemplary playing career. If Laimbeer coached the Pistons, it would run out. Now, I’m not saying that should be a consideration for Laimbeer to take or not take a job if it ever became available. But from a fan’s perspective, who wants to see that happen to a legendary sports icon? It was terrible watching Trammell take a job managing the Tigers, be put in a position where he couldn’t win with the lack of talent that he had to work with, and then see him lose his job after a few terrible seasons. There are plenty of fans screaming for Dumars to be fired. But really, for those who watched and admired Dumars as a player and person for so many years, isn’t it going to be somewhat sad to see his Detroit career end like that, even if he’s done a poor job the last few seasons?
Root for Laimbeer, but be realistic
I have no issues with fans who want Laimbeer to coach the Pistons someday. If it’s the right situation for him and the team somewhere down the road, why not?
But I hope people are just realistic about the situation the team is currently in. Much of the salary cap is tied up in players who have under-performed based on what they have paid, are hard to trade because they’re signed long-term, are young players who may have tantalizing potential but haven’t put it all together yet or are players who clearly don’t want to be in Detroit much longer. On top of that, with labor unrest looming, there’s a chance the salary cap could be lowered, further hampering the Pistons’ maneuverability.
The team is deficient in rebounding and defense, the team doesn’t have a true point guard and the team is incredibly thin up front. None of these issues are going to be easy to solve. And whether Kuester is given another chance next year or he’s let go and the team searches for a new coach, whoever is coaching the team is not going have an easy task.
Those issues are not going anywhere, no matter who the coach is next season. Laimbeer could very well turn into a great head coach, but to act as if he’s a potential miracle worker wouldn’t be fair to him should he prove to be a viable candidate for the job if or when it opens.
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