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Bill Laimbeer is head coach material, but is he the right man for the Pistons job?

Mike Payne of Detroit Bad Boys laid out his impassioned plea (even if he does owe me a royalty check for using ‘In Defense of…,’ an old It’s Just Sports staple) for the Pistons to hire Bill Laimbeer as coach. Like everything Mike writes, it’s funny, well-argued and backed up with sound reasoning.

Mike makes some points I’d like to respond to, but before I do that, I want to get the disclosure out of the way: I think Bill Laimbeer is one of the smartest, toughest, most underrated players of all time. What he contributed to the Bad Boys teams intangibly is immeasurable. And his fantastic statistical contributions to those teams are vastly overlooked by history. He’s also proven to be a fantastic WNBA head coach whose greatest strength based on his tenure with the Detroit Shock is coaxing effort and toughness out of his players. Effort and toughness just so happen to be two of the Pistons’ greatest needs right now.

But I’m also undoubtedly one of the writers Mike mentioned in his post who have raised questions about Laimbeer. To be clear, I’ve never doubted his ability to be a head coach. I do, however, have reservations about whether or not his first head coaching gig should be in Detroit. Without re-hashing things I’ve laid out before, below are some points Mike raised that I wanted to respond to.

About Swin Cash, a star player with the Shock who left on not so great terms with Laimbeer, Mike wrote:

While the reports put Laimbeer’s taste squarely into question, the performance of Cash was on the decline while the Shock’s record held steady without her.  After her departure, the Shock secured their third title under Laimbeer.  Cash’s stardom put a lot of light on Laimbeer during that rough patch, but the reports clearly suggest that no personality was more in charge of that team than Laimbeer himself.  The reports of this clash are unfortunate, but the ultimate metric of wins vs. losses remained steady under Laimbeer no matter what the press reported.

I don’t disagree that, ultimately, Laimbeer was proven right on this one. Cash was still a good player, but the Shock had better players developing who were ready for more prominent roles and Cash was no longer capable of being the best player on a title-contending team. Even if Cash may have earned or wanted this to be handled in a way she felt was less demeaning, Laimbeer clearly made the right decision for the team, which continued to play at a high level post-Cash.

The issue, though, that I think is appropriate to raise: would Laimbeer have the same ability to do this with a star player in the NBA? Clearly, Laimbeer would not be afraid to stand up to any player. That’s an admirable trait. But let’s say Laimbeer was coaching last year’s Pistons team. Let’s say oh, I don’t know (completely hypothetically of course), … Rip Hamilton, a declining former All-Star, became dissatisfied because his role decreased. If Hamilton rebelled, caused tension in the locker room, etc., how would Laimbeer handle a situation where he had a well known player who was highly paid and the front office couldn’t or wouldn’t get rid of?

The fact is, it would be hard to pull off the NBA equivalent of how Laimbeer handled the Cash situation. Hell, Hamilton isn’t even close to the equivalent of Cash, who is among the WNBA’s biggest stars of all time. That relationship deteriorated and Laimbeer simply got rid of Cash. As I said, he made the right decision and it worked fine for both parties. But NBA coaches don’t have that same luxury or freedom. Laimbeer, clearly, was the biggest star of the Shock. He won’t have that same ability to simply jettison players who don’t do things the way he wants them done. In some cases, the front office will surely back him up, but big NBA contracts are more difficult to move. He also had more control over personnel with the Shock. Maybe Laimbeer hates a player that his GM loves. Chances are, the GM is going to win out, and if the coach can’t patch things up (see: Hamilton and Michael Curry), the coach is usually the one to go in the NBA. I think it’s fair to say that NBA coaches have to be much better at massaging egos and adjusting to players they can’t necessarily get rid of quickly than WNBA coaches have to be.

Perhaps Laimbeer is totally prepared and ready for this. After all, the guy was part of one of the craziest, ego-filled teams in NBA history and played for a coach in Chuck Daly known for being a master of getting guys with wildly different agendas on the same page. If I were a GM hiring Laimbeer, that experience playing for a coach like Daly, one of the first truly modern-style NBA coaches, would be his biggest selling point. But I do think it would be fair to ask him, based on the Cash situation, if he could handle a similar NBA situation where getting rid of the player might be out of the question.

As I said, this is not me saying he can’t do it. But the question is a fair one.

Another fair question is to ask about his tenure in Minnesota. As we’ve seen, the T-Wolves have not been good for … well, have they ever been good? Dan Feldman mentioned in another post that the Pistons should consider all candidates, whether they were on staffs of winning teams or losing teams. I totally agree with that. The T-Wolves losing shouldn’t disqualify Laimbeer as a candidate just like Lawrence Frank’s experience on a winning staff in Boston shouldn’t alone make him a better candidate. But I would like to know more about Laimbeer’s role there, particularly with Kevin Love.

I think the assumption is that Love, a big but limited athletically big man who just so happens to be a fantastic rebounder, has learned a thing or two from Laimbeer, who was a big but limited athletically big man who just so happened to be a fantastic rebounder.

I’m not saying Laimbeer didn’t have an impact. But I don’t want to just assume he did. Why? Because Love hasn’t exactly been a fan of how he’s been used in Minnesota. We all know that Love had a fantastic season last year. In fact, he made the All-Star team, which is incredibly hard to do playing for a team as lousy as Minnesota. But did you remember that, early in the season, Love was not getting the minutes commensurate with his All-Star-level production? The stats community, which has long been Love’s greatest ally, called attention to it. But it wasn’t just them. Fans started a website called Free Kevin Love. Check out this quote a NBA scout gave Chris Broussard about Love:

Love’s not the only one who’s confused. Some members of the Timberwolves organization are baffled that Rambis has limited Love to just 26.4 minutes a game, according to sources, and many executives and scouts throughout the NBA are stunned by Love’s lack of playing time.

“You have to be on crystal meth not to give Love more minutes on that team,” one scout told me. “It makes no sense.”

Now, that quote indicates people in the organization weren’t on board with the decisions Rambis was making. Maybe Laimbeer was one of those people. But again, if I were a GM asking questions, I would certainly ask Laimbeer what he thought of the Rambis-Love situation and how he would’ve handled Love’s minutes if he were the head coach in Minnesota.

Once again, I don’t look at this as something that means Laimbeer shouldn’t be a head coach. But I think, based on Love’s rocky relationship with the head coach who many believed was actually hindering Love’s development by not playing him as much as he should’ve, it’s fair to ask Laimbeer if he supported that use of Love or not. My hope is that he didn’t, that behind the scenes it was Laimbeer gently nudging Rambis to do the right thing and give Love big minutes. If it was, that certainly is a point in favor of Laimbeer being ready to be a head coach. But the point is, we don’t know for sure what was going on in Minnesota with that staff.

Anyway, those two things are my biggest remaining questions regarding Laimbeer’s readiness for a head coaching job. There very well could be sufficient answers to both, and even if there aren’t, the positives to hiring him still might outweigh the negatives. After all, if Mark Jackson is a NBA coach, Laimbeer certainly should be one. Here’s part of Mike’s conclusion:

The risks with Laimbeer are virtually the same as the risks with Sampson, Frank and Woodson. The roster will still be a mess for whichever coach inherits it. The thing is, we know the ceiling with Woodson, we know the basement with Frank, and we know red flags on Sampson. The next year or two are going to suck, and it’s about time Joe gives a chance to somebody he won’t be so quick to fire.

There’s not much wrong with that reasoning, though I do think Laimbeer coaching in Detroit with a poor roster full of players who, frankly, don’t play that physically and don’t play defense, isn’t a great fit. The fact that he’s a Detroit legend does complicate things. From Laimbeer’s perspective, fans are hoping and maybe even expecting him to put his imprint on the team immediately. The roster could take some time to be made over in a mold more befitting Laimbeer’s preferred style of play. That’s not setting him up to succeed, and the fact is, if you look at the turnover in NBA coaching, a lot of coaches, particularly those on their first head job, don’t make it through multiple losing seasons to start their careers. The Pistons have a roster full of question marks, and that’s not going to do any of the coaches who get the job any favors. They could improve, but that’s not a given, especially considering they could lose two of their better players, Tayshaun Prince and Tracy McGrady, to free agency.

Secondly, from Dumars’ perspective, there are probably concerns. He and Laimbeer are former teammates. I would assume they like and respect each other. Dumars has a history of firing coaches, even successful ones. Does he really want to put himself in the position of having to fire a respected friend and former teammate someday down the road? And honestly, it’s no secret that the last few years have caused Dumars’ popularity to wane. Does he really want to hire a coach who will walk in the door and be more popular than him?

Again, I’m not making a case Laimbeer shouldn’t be hired. I don’t like that, because I’ve raised questions in the past, I’ve kind of been cast as the disloyal Pistons writer/fan out there who tries to dismantle one of the best, most popular players in franchise history. I have questions about every single candidate for this job. Each guy brings different strengths and weaknesses, and to be honest, Laimbeer might have more strengths than the others who, as Mike pointed out, all have track records that show at best mixed results. But I do scrutinize Laimbeer more because I feel like there are definite hometown factors at work in his favor. I do feel like many of his loyal supporters, based on readers I’ve heard from over the years, gloss over some things about him that could be weaknesses.

Laimbeer is reportedly interviewing for the job tomorrow, and as I’ve said in other posts, if he comes away as the superior candidate, that’s great for the Pistons. As I wrote above, the toughness and the effort he coaxed out of the Shock are traits the Pistons need in spades right now. I think Laimbeer is a good candidate for the job, but I also think it’s foolish to suggest he’s “unequivocally” the right man for the job.

18 Comments

  • Jun 21, 20111:48 pm
    by Mr.Peabody

    Reply

    Patrick, listen to Mike and you’ll learn something. Laimbeer all the way!!

    • Jun 21, 20111:58 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      When did I say that they shouldn’t hire Laimbeer? Please point that out to me. Raising legit questions doesn’t mean he might not end up being the right candidate. Why shouldn’t he have to go through the same plusses/minuses vetting process that other coaching candidates here do?

  • Jun 21, 20112:30 pm
    by Faraz

    Reply

    I’m glad you’re actually looking into the pros/cons, benefits/drawbacks of hiring Bill Laimbeer. A vast majority of the readers here want Bill as the coach simply cuz they loved him as a player. I’m glad you actually analyze it further. 

    Nice work.

  • Jun 21, 20113:12 pm
    by RandomGuy313

    Reply

    I do not know about you all, but I get a creepy ’2003 Detroit Tigers’ feel at the proposition of Bill Laimbeer taking the helm of this team.
     
    The Tigers were an abominable cast of professionals that had no business playing major league baseball.  This is not necessarily the case with the Pistons; however the team right now is decidedly in the bottom third of NBA teams.
     
    It was unfortunate that Trammell was put in that position, but I am of the opinion that Laimbeer may reach the same fate given the talent level of this team.
     
    Normally, I would scoff at the idea of bringing on retreads as coach, but I think that to get us through these rebuilding years we need a coach like Woodson to navigate us through.

  • Jun 21, 20113:25 pm
    by TealBlackGold

    Reply

    Patrick,
     
    Big fan of the site and the articles you guys write up.  With that being said you have to realize that writing is an art though, and not all pairs of eyes see the same picture that gets painted.  With that being said, I know you’re just trying to raise concerns and questions that you/Joey D/any GM should and would have about hiring a new head coach.  I have the same concerns also.  Since some readers seem to still question your questioning, try putting a different spin on it and (even though it breakers journalistic integrity) saying who you DON’T want to coach or maybe even one or two candidates you do hope are considered in each article to further hammer home your stance.
     
    I think one reason we will NOT see Bill Laimbeer as the coach is that Dumars doesn’t want to put his own name at risk for the ensuing accusations he will receive.  Those questions starting around a form of nepotism.  If he hires Bill Laimbeer I think the media will draw it up as a form of “he can’t let the past go so he’s bringing in his old buddy” and kind of snowball from there.
     
    In the long run, I think he’s probably the best guy for the job.  Assuming the worst: Horrible record, player/coach unruliness, not entertaining to watch – I believe he still CAN help our bigs and still CAN get effort and defense out of most of these guys.  And that worst case scenario is a lot better than ones I can find with other coaches.  I just really hope it’s ANYBODY but Mike Woodson, I think that due to his experience he will look like the “safe” pick but I disagree entirely.

    • Jun 21, 20114:13 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      OK, in the spirit of full disclosure, here are my thoughts on the coaching search:

      Pipe-dreamy candidate who I wanted them to hire but thought there was no way they’d pay him and no way he’d take the job: Adelman

      Realistic candidate who I hoped they’d hire: Casey. He didn’t get much of a shot in Minnesota, but he preaches defense, he’s statistically inclined and, rumor has it, he stood up to KG which is a reason he was fired in Minnesota, so he’d obviously be unafraid of the Pistons locker room.

      Obviously, those didn’t pan out. So, of the guys currently in play, how would I rank them?

      1. Frank: He has flaws — his final two years in Jersey were ugly. But he’s young, he was a key assistant on NJ’s Finals teams and he was an assistant in Boston. I think he’s an intelligent coach who could grow with a young team in Detroit and I think he’s strong enough on the X’s and O’s to perhaps take advantage of offensively skilled players like Daye. Also, Devin Harris, a shoot-first, athletic PG had his best season playing for Frank. Perhaps he could have a similar impact on Stuckey.

      2. Laimbeer: I think his weakness will be x’s and o’s, but you can hire assistants to make up for that. His strengths: teaching defense and toughness, two key needs for Detroit, and working with an athletically challenged big man like Monroe. He’s obviously unafraid to let players know where he stands and I think he’d command respect. I do worry about non-basketball factors, like whether his celebrity would put undue pressure on him to succeed quickly that other candidates wouldn’t face. That’s a relatively minor concern though.

      Toss-up between Sampson and Woodson. Sampson’s ties to Popovich are intriguing, but the dude seems a bit dumb for breaking obvious NCAA rules multiple times. Woodson lasted a long time in Atlanta, but just never seemed to be all that respected by the team. Also, that team was talented but didn’t always play hard. What would he do with a less talented Detroit team that doesn’t always play hard?

      So there you have it. I’m not anti-Laimbeer. I do think you can realistically and critically look at every coach, Laimbeer included, and I do think that people who are obvious Laimbeer fans refuse to take any kind of serious look at his possible weaknesses.

      • Jun 21, 20119:44 pm
        by I can't take it anymore

        Reply

        Frank has no leadership skills.
         
        Laimbeer all the way.  Nobody wants to win like Laimbeer does and it will be infectious.

        • Jun 21, 201110:02 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          “Nobody wants to win like Laimbeer does”

          Yeah, you’re right. Most coaches only kind of like to win if they have nothing else to do. Frank and Woodson totally just want to go .500 and get the eight seed every year. Laimbeer is the only one who wants championships baby!

          “Frank has no leadership skills.”

          What’s your data to show that he has no leadership skills? I can respect a sound case for or against him. But provide data. Is there evidence from NJ that his players didn’t like playing for him? He got along with Kidd (Kidd feuded with the Nets management, not Frank) and Carter, two superstar personalities. Also, Devin Harris had his best season as a pro playing for Frank.

          If you have a legit link to a story saying that the players in NJ didn’t respect Frank, I’ll certainly consider that. But if your argument is Frank is little and looks like a nerd and didn’t PLAY THE GAME!, well I don’t find much compelling about that argument.

          As I said in the post, there’s a legit case to be made for Laimbeer as coach. But honestly, I could make legit cases that Frank or Woodson would be solid fits as well.

  • Jun 21, 20113:26 pm
    by RandomGuy313

    Reply

    I enjoy Mike’s enthusiasm with regard to BL and a part of me wants to see what he would do; however time and place are important and this is neither the right time for BL to be the Pistons coach or the right place for his first job.
     
    I would think an ideal situation for BL is if Kurt Rambis remained coach and was fired mid-season for BL to take over.
     
    Have Woodson guide us through the tough times, Mike agrees with Woodson’s resume in this light (see Atlanta).
     
     

    • Jun 21, 201110:05 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Mike’s case for Laimbeer is sound. I don’t have much argument with him on his main points. My only issue is I think there are a few little things that are at least fair to talk about when it comes to Laimbeer. And as I’ve said about a million times in these threads, saying he won in the WNBA is fine. But at least understand that he didn’t win with a bad roster. He won with an insanely talented roster. That’s a much different situation than he’d be walking into with the Pistons.

  • Jun 21, 20114:45 pm
    by Loren Jones

    Reply

    Look we can’t afford to not get Bill Laimbeer, I dont blog and do anything of that nature until today.  We need to get Kemba Walker if he is there if not trade back and get Darius Morris, trade Stuckey and get rid of Rip Hamilton.  We need to kepp Tracy Mcgraady somehow and get rid of Tayshaun Prince.  Things like this would put the Pistons in a better situation going into next year. 

    • Jun 21, 20116:24 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      Why do the Pistons need to keep TMac? I was all for signing him last year and would be all for resigning him this year for the same reason: at the deadline, he should have value. But I think Dumars blew it by not trading either McGrady or Prince for future assets last year. And if the Pistons resign Tracy just to have him play for them for another year or two, I don’t see how that helps. They are loaded with guards who need more minutes, they aren’t contending now anyway, and TMac is decent but hardly worth getting excited about.

  • Jun 21, 20114:48 pm
    by K.Laimbeer

    Reply

    Always a pleasure Patrick!
    How far we’ve come over the months! lol

    • Jun 21, 20119:46 pm
      by I can't take it anymore

      Reply

      Laimbeer is the man for the job.  Zero doubt about it here.
       
       

  • Jun 23, 20111:14 pm
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    Laimbeer brings the right culture.  It’s easier to root for a crappy team if they play hard and have a commitment to do their best.  That’s a given under Laimbeer.  You disqualify him, Patrick, as if you’re protecting him.  So what if he comes under undue pressure because it’s Detroit.  Then he gets bounced after a year or two.  But if he gives us what we need, then he should be the choice.
    He would have communicated with Hamilton.  Hamilton partly acted the way he did because he was the captain and still got insufficient feedback from Kuester.  Laimbeer would tell Hamilton the expectations and then it’s up to him to respond.  And remember, Laimbeer was part of a Bad Boys team that had a swift fall from grace, so it’s not as if he wouldn’t be sympathetic.
    I don’t mind you liking someone else more than Laimbeer as a candidate, just stop with the psuedo-protecting him for his own good nonsense.  Interestingly, I really like Adelman as a coach, but I’ve always felt he would never be a good fit for Detroit.

    • Jun 23, 20111:26 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      See, the ‘culture’ argument is weak. What coach is going to walk in and say to Joe Dumars, “I’d like to play a really soft style of basketball and not hold players accountable.”

      Every coach is a disciplinarian. Every coach wants structure, accountability, defense, toughness, etc. Not every coach is a good enough leader to pull it off, but to be honest, I think it’s really weak for Laimbeer proponents to say “he brings the right culture.” I want to know what he brings beyond that. I want to know why he, and not the other candidates, will be successful in implementing it.

      For example, I like Kemba Walker. I know Kemba Walker is incredibly flawed as a prospect. Mike, yourself and others who like Laimbeer because of the “culture” argument, you’re smart people. If I wrote a post saying I just want Kemba because he’s so tough and leadery and count tha RINGZ!, you guys would rightfully blast me for that. But that’s essentially the same argument people are using for Laimbeer. He’s tough, and he won as a player and in the WNBA. Great. Doesn’t mean other candidates aren’t tough and don’t want the same culture he does.

      • Jul 8, 20114:33 pm
        by Rodman4Life

        Reply

        That’s not fair to blast me for making the “culture” comment.  I can’t give you specific example by example arguments.  But his Shock teams were tough, competitive, and defensive-oriented teams.  I even feel that he had solid out-of-timeout plays that normally led to good scoring opportunities.  His offensive and defensive schemes were simple at best, but aren’t the really good teams always rather “known” in what they do, they simply do it so well.  
        As an assistant, he doesn’t get much credit because he isn’t calling the shots.  And I’m actually NOT going to give him full credit for Kevin Love’s improvement.  The culture argument usually is a cop-out, but I feel that you, of all people, would agree that certain strong personalities like Laimbeer’s don’t need explaining.  That personality could be a monumental failure as a Piston head coach, but if he is successful, I think he could also be our coach for as long as he wanted to stay.  My attraction to him as a coach says more about how I feel about the Pistons and what THEY need than about which candidate stacks up well against another candidate.  I simply do not feel that defensive effort or energy, or even maintaining a defensive learning curve would be in question with him as our coach.  
        I think back to the ’01 Pistons with Stackhouse and Wallace and Chucky Atkins.  They were not a good team, but they busted their butts, and I enjoyed watching all 82 games.  That effort and competitiveness is what I want out of this year’s squad, and I think Laimbeer is the candidate that would bring us closest to that goal.  Opinion over . . .

  • Oct 31, 20139:39 am
    by goodybag

    Reply

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