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Gregg Popovich’s handling of young players explains why the Spurs won’t hit bottom like the Pistons did

Henry Abbott at TrueHoop has a great piece on Gregg Popovich that everyone who loves basketball should read in its entirety. As anything Spurs-related tends to do though, it made me reminisce about the 2000s Pistons, and namely, why those Pistons have become these Pistons while Popovich’s Spurs, though probably not title contenders anymore, are still a good team despite a roster that has dealt with both age and injuries catching up with its stars and hasn’t had the benefit of lottery picks to restock its talent.

This passage, in particular, caught my attention:

In most systems, on most teams, the big minutes in the big games go to those who have already earned them. In San Antonio, Popovich knows those minutes can do a lot to inspire young players to develop. He has long been handing them out to players who would struggle to make a lot of NBA rosters. And he has way more than his fair share of those players evolve into meaningful contributors. Is it just that his front office knows how to find diamonds in the rough? Or maybe Popovich has mastered the art of polishing.

Is Danny Green the kind of guy who nails a buzzer-beater to win a huge game on the road over the defending champs? Most people, maybe even including Green, would have said “no” a day ago. But now he hit just exactly that shot — but for a tenth of a second and video review, the Spurs would have won at the end of regulation. This effect echoes across the lineup. James Anderson drove hard to the left of the lane, looking for all the world like an out-of-control guy not far removed from the D-League. But after drawing a defender, he made a beautiful dish to Splitter. And on and on. The five Spurs who played can all file away memories that prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they can hang.

In the Pistons book I wrote during the lockout (which * ahem * can be purchased in electronic or dead tree form here), I wrote about one of my favorite random memories of the era when the Pistons were yearly title contenders:

I used to sit and gaze in amazement at Amir Johnson’s 2005-2006 NBA D-League stats — 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, 1 steal per game on 62 percent shooting. He was long, fast and athletic. He was young, getting drafted straight out of high school in 2005. Surely, the Pistons would find a use for this kid. Obviously, they never did and Johnson went on to become a solid rotation player elsewhere. But the best moment for Pistons fans obsessed with the team’s youth came in a blowout loss to Milwaukee on April 17, 2006.

The Pistons were resting veterans, preparing for the playoffs late in the season. Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace sat out the game. Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess all played less than 20 minutes each. When the Bucks built a huge lead in the third quarter, it was time for the kids to play.

Bolstered by the young trio of Johnson, Jason Maxiell and Carlos Delfino, the Pistons scored 35 points in the fourth quarter. Johnson made all six shots he attempted, even hitting two 3-pointers, to score 18 points. Maxiell was a wrecking ball, crashing the boards and putting down some ferocious dunks to finish with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Delfino ran, he handled the ball, he defended and he slashed to the basket, filling the stat sheet with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.

I loved that game. Loved it. Watching those guys get on the court and get an opportunity at extended minutes after rotting on the bench most of the season was really rewarding. Looking back, it was also really depressing, as we all know, because with the exception of Maxiell, Johnson and Delfino didn’t become rotation contributors until Detroit gave them away in trades.

I’ve constantly harped on the player development issue with the Pistons. Detroit has done a great job finding talent in drafts. Teams simply don’t often find players late in the first round or in the second round of drafts that turn into rotation players or better. The Pistons have a long, consistent history of finding value late — Brian Cardinal, Prince, Mehmet Okur, Delfino, Maxiell, Johnson, Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Jonas Jerebko have all had solid or better NBA careers and none were lottery picks. Only a few teams can claim that kind of record at finding useful players late over the same time period. It’s impressive. What is unbelievably frustrating is, as we all know, five of those eight players have had their best years in other organizations. It’s maddening. It’s a question that, to my knowledge, Joe Dumars has never been competently asked about. The variations of the question I’ve heard asked — either some form of “How could you let Arron Afflalo go for nothing?!” or “OMG! How could you take Darko over Chris Bosh/’Melo/Wade?!” — don’t get at what the real question is. The question worth asking at this point has nothing to do with the individual players. The players are gone and they aren’t coming back. The question is how has Detroit been so savvy and consistently good at finding value in portions of the draft where most teams struggle to find it and so bad at turning that talent into contributors?

The answer, at least partially, is in that Spurs piece linked above: coaching. Particularly, Flip Saunders. Saunders isn’t a bad coach. In the right situation (read: a veteran, talented, self-motivated team; or, the opposite of Washington), in fact, he’s a pretty solid coach. He won in Detroit. The team’s offense became a fluid machine (at least during the regular season). The defense didn’t fall off much (at least during the regular season). But he failed the team’s young players.

Reading Abbott’s piece on Popovich, I was struck by not only the fact that Popovich, on the surface the last guy you’d expect to be patient with youth, plays his young players. It’s that he plays them with the expectation that they will play at a level nearly as high as his regulars. I’m sure Popovich berates those guys, is hard on them and does all the things that you’d expect a cranky old perfectionist coach like Popovich would do to players behind the scenes. I’m sure that if they get into games and prove to be mistake-prone, he’ll bench them, and if they do it a lot, he’ll probably bury them too. But he also understands something that Saunders and, to a lesser extent, Michael Curry never did. Namely, that although it’s important that young players execute, play defense and play mistake-free basketball, it’s just as important that they know you believe in them.

Did anyone ever get the impression that the coaching staff believed in Darko Milicic, for example? There were rumors that the coaching staff was openly hostile to the thought of playing Johnson, disagreeing with the front office’s belief that he could become a capable player. Saunders was never sure Delfino was a better option than Maurice Evans. Basically, with the exception of Stuckey late in the Saunders era (and Maxiell a little bit), no young player got enough playing time to do enough things right to build any kind of confidence. Instead, they fought for scraps, the got occasional minutes in games that meant little to the team and were just being used to rest starters for the playoffs. Compare that to Popovich, playing all bench players in the fourth quarter and overtime against the defending champion (and in-state and division rival) Mavericks. The Spurs and Mavs are only a game apart in the standings. San Antonio at 12-9 actually wouldn’t even have a playoff spot if they started right now. And Popovich sent a lineup of largely untested guys out to close that game? Imagine the impact that would have on your bench guys vs. only playing them extended minutes when a game is out of reach or when your playoff position is already secure.

Most frustrating in all of this is the Pistons actually had a roster set up similarly to the Spurs. Popovich can experiment with his bench like that because he has stars, particularly Tim Duncan, who are not stats-obsessed and who care about winning and going deep into the playoffs. The Pistons had those things, even if they didn’t have an individual player as good as Duncan. I firmly believe that Saunders could’ve gone to his bench much more often. I firmly believe the veteran players would’ve understood it was in their best interest to rest more. I firmly believe that Delfino, Afflalo, Maxiell and Johnson would’ve played well had they been given more minutes. This probably would’ve cost the Pistons some regular season wins, maybe they would’ve been a slightly lower seed in the playoffs, but it also might have gained them some wins in stalled playoff runs.

Saunders’ experience before and after Detroit actually showed he was ill-equipped to handle youth. His most successful Minnesota team came when they added veteran All-Star level players in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. When the team went with younger (albeit worse) players around Kevin Garnett, Saunders didn’t last long. It’s also impossible to categorize his tenure with a very young Washington team as anything but a mismatched failure. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that he wasn’t comfortable with Detroit’s youth.

During Monday’s game against Milwaukee, a clip aired of Dumars talking about the need to rebuild the talent base and the fact that that doesn’t happen overnight. I hope he also realizes that another run as a contender will involve more than simply finding the talent.

41 Comments

  • Jan 31, 201212:23 pm
    by Brad

    Reply

    I agree with this completely. It always frustrated me that we never gave Amir a chance to shine besides being a human victory cigar and the Bucks game you mentioned above. I could never understand how we could let a 6’11″, long, lean, athletic, forward just sit there and wither away in the same way that we did with Darko before him. I wonder if Kyle Singler had an inclination that this would be his fate as well if he came to Detroit to play this year? Also, on finding talent late in the draft, I would add Chase Budinger and DJ White to that list as well, both are on their way to becoming solid rotation players. Great article, and might have to purchase that book to remind myself why I still love this team even living 6,000 miles away.

    • Jan 31, 201212:29 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I left Budinger and White off because I don’t think the Pistons “drafted” either player based on wanting them. They most likely had deals in place to trade those picks. Often draft day trades for picks aren’t finalized by the time the picks need to be made, so the team acquiring the picks will just tell the team trading the pick who to draft for them. Budinger, in particular, is not a player I think was on the Pistons radar, based on the fact that they already took three SFs in that draft. I think Houston wanted him and just told Detroit to take him there.

      You’re right though, both White and Budinger have turned into solid players out of the second round.

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  • Jan 31, 20121:31 pm
    by Travis

    Reply

    Historical revisionist: The fact is Amir could and would rack up 3 fouls in a blink of an eye. He had the talent as the last high school player drafted in the NBA, but he could never control his quick fouls while in Detroit.

    • Jan 31, 20121:51 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Amir still racks up fouls at a fast rate. Despite that, he’s a good rotation player who provides energy, rebounding, shot-blocking, runs the floor and hits like 60 percent of the shots he takes.

      I’m not saying the dude was destined for superstardom. But the idea that he couldn’t do what he’s doing in Toronto now for Detroit then doesn’t hold with me. His stats have always supported that he could be a contributor, even if his fouls meant he’d never be a 35 minute a game player.

  • Jan 31, 20122:06 pm
    by Mel

    Reply

    Great Article , I totally agree and wished the Pistons had better developmental coaches on board. I thought about  Austin Daye, it’s kind of pathetic to see that he would need to call his summer trainer in to help get him out his shooting slump. I also don’t like it when I see other teams we play against players shoot the ball with no hesitation. Our guys shoot the ball tooo slow and the hesitate many times, especially Ben Gordon and he didn’t do that in Chicago.
    I feel the coaches should have a summer’s things to do list for each player after the season. Stuckey improve your dribbling , layups and indurance or you don’t play. Monroe go to the weight room with Daye and don’t come out till preseason. Ben Gorgon find some confidence. Jonas focus on ball-handling and post moves. Knight just keep working. Prince go buy a seasons supply of 4 hr energy. Yada Yada Yada , you know the rest. Accountability and some of that Popovich stuff too.( Kick em in the @$$)

  • Jan 31, 20122:20 pm
    by neutes

    Reply

    Popavich is a good coach and all but I’m not completely sure about the correlation here. Just because you play young players doesn’t mean they are going to be good. And good players are more likely to get playing time than bad players. What’s more likely – that San Antonio’s rookies turned out to be good because they got playing time, or that they got playing time because they are good? I’m going with the latter.

    But I also don’t want to ignore the Detroit situation. It’s hard to assess the value of young players if they don’t play, and this may be where you get into situation where you’re letting value like Amir, Delfino, and Afflalo walk away. San Antonio doesn’t just give minutes to any young player though. They give minutes to the good ones. And they also make room for them, or draft for need almost. It’s like every player that comes along was needed to fill a hole. Instead of putting a veteran band-aid in place they put a young player there, but they do a good job of evaluating need and talent.

    • Jan 31, 20123:03 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      “What’s more likely – that San Antonio’s rookies turned out to be good because they got playing time, or that they got playing time because they are good? I’m going with the latter.”

      Maybe. But look at Danny Green, for instance. He was terrible in Cleveland, shot 27 percent from three and ended up getting beat out the next summer league/preseason by an undrafted player in Manny Harris. He’s turned into a good reserve in San Antonio. Isn’t it possible that San Antonio’s structure/environment/etc. made it possible for a player like Green to flourish moreso than he would’ve in another place?

      Matt Bonner is another good example. Did you ever watch Bonner in Toronto and think, “that guy will eventually turn into a competent defensive player.” I would guess not, but he has in San Antonio. He’s not great, but he’s way better than he looked like he could be elsewhere.

      • Jan 31, 20123:45 pm
        by frankie d

        Reply

        great post.
        what SA has been able to do is not just a coincidence, or a matter of identifying talent.
        the abbot post links to a podcast with abbot and david thorpe that talks about developing young players that is very instructive.   in the podcast, thorpe basically argues that the coach’s influence is most important for most players.  that lots of good/excellent/great players would not necessarily be that good/excellent/great but for the patience of their coaches.it’s worth listening to, and i’d hope that dumars and coach frank would take the ideas to heart.

        • Jan 31, 20123:49 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          One hope I still have for Frank is that Devin Harris and Brook Lopez both had their best seasons playing for him. I do think he’s doing a good job with Detroit’s young players this year too. He’s at least been consistent in what his expectations are. His expectations for the veteran players is another discussion …

  • Jan 31, 20122:43 pm
    by Jacob

    Reply

    Great piece Patrick. It seems like the difference between the Spurs and Pistons on this topic is the degree to which young players are used. Pop does it in moderation and achieves a good balance of playing time for young guys while the Pistons have done it in extremes. They thrust the barely-proven Stuckey in as a starter trading away Billups to give him the reigns while letting Amir and Afflalo get glued to the bench in 08-09. I think Frank has done a better job by letting Knight have plenty of PT without just turning everything over to him just yet. That is partially out of necessity right now with injuries but hopefully it will help in his development.

  • Jan 31, 20122:56 pm
    by inigo montoya

    Reply

    In Sunday’s game, Pop realized that he had to go with the players that brought the Sputs back into the game.  I don’t think any coach would have pulled those players to put the starters back in.  Besides not sending the right message, no coach is going to put himself in the obvious position of being 2nd guessed.

    I am not going to dispute that the Spurs might be better at player development, but the Spurs have had their share of mistakes too.  The Spurs really did not get much back for having drafted Scola, Salmons, Barbosa, Mahinmi, Hill (got Leonard, jury still out) and Dragic (got Blair in that trade, maybe edge to Spurs on that one but I remember Blair sitting alot in the playoffs last year)

    They have signed, released and signed again Danny Green (pretty dicey move releasing him).  Yes it appears their doing all the right things with their pickup of free agent Gary Neal.

    (And I bet the Spurs are still kicking themselves for signing unrestricted free agent Jefferson to that 4 year contract in 2010.)

    Overall, maybe the Spurs have been better than the Pistons in player development, but the Spurs have made their fair share of mistakes too.

    • Jan 31, 20123:08 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      “Overall, maybe the Spurs have been better than the Pistons in player development, but the Spurs have made their fair share of mistakes too.”

      Every team makes mistakes, that’s not the point I’m getting at. The point I was making is that despite finding value late in drafts better than just about every team in the league. The Spurs also find value both late in drafts and in the D-League. The difference is the Spurs have been able to develop quite a bit of those finds whereas players like Delfino, Amir, Afflalo never sniffed the rotation consistently here. I think the organizational philosophy in how the Pistons handled young players was a flawed one. Whether that philosophy came from the front office or the coaching staff, I don’t know.

  • Jan 31, 20123:08 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    There is definitely something here, but the fact that Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are still more relevant than anyone from the 2004 Pistons title team and that they are arguably players who are better at making other players better than anyone from that 2004 title group mitigates the notion that it is all about coaching and giving credit to Pop.
    Further, Detroit is presently devoting an enormous proportion of minutes to the youth movement and when you look back at Johnson, Delfino and the like, the team was so different and so much more built for the present than future that I don’t think it’s a great comparison.
    Also, despite your point about San Antonio’s future, I firmly believe they are headed for the lottery in a spot around last place as soon as Duncan and Ginobili retires.   The Spurs success has all really revolved around Duncan and Ginobili since they were drafted and their primacy and attitude have made almost every player they have played with play beyond how they could have contributed otherwise.

    • Jan 31, 20123:37 pm
      by frankie d

      Reply

      they may or may not hit the lottery after those guys retired.
      but they did not foolishly trade those players away for peanuts.
      players get old and players get hurt and players leave via free agency.
      but few teams self-destruct as detroit did, by making horrible trades that gutted their elite team.

    • Jan 31, 20123:41 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Where, exactly, did I compare the Spurs to this version of the Pistons? I was comparing them to when the Pistons were still relevant. Detroit is giving big minutes to young players because they suck and have no choice. San Antonio is doing it and still remaining a viable playoff contender in the West.

      I was comparing them to the old Pistons, though, because the Spurs have made a habit out of getting unlikely contributions out of random young players at key moments. Dejuan Blair and George Hill have had big playoff games or big games in the stretch run of the season in recent years. Matt Bonner developed from a 3-point specialist into a guy who can actually defend and stay on the court for long stretches. Tony Parker and Ginobili were late picks who developed into stars at their respective positions. The Pistons only developed one of their picks during their era of winning (Prince) into a starting caliber player. Okur, Delfino, Cardinal, Johnson, Afflalo — none of them got better until they left. Maxiell played some, but generally disappeared from Flip Saunders’ mind during the playoffs. The point is simply San Antonio figured out a way to use its young players and develop them while also winning. Detroit never developed its players and the excuse has always been that they couldn’t win and develop youth. The Spurs are proof that you can.

      “Also, despite your point about San Antonio’s future, I firmly believe they are headed for the lottery in a spot around last place as soon as Duncan and Ginobili retires.”

      No one can predict that. Whenever Duncan retires, that will be $21 million off their payroll. Parker can and probably will at some point be dealt for assets because he’s still young and in his prime. Ginobili has another year left after this. If he doesn’t bounce back from this injury, he becomes a $14 million expiring deal next year. Kawhi Leonard, Dejuan Blair, Danny Green, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter are all young, cheap players with upside. The Spurs may not have a star to help them transition to the post-Duncan era, but they certainly have an abundance of assets.

      • Jan 31, 20123:54 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        An overlooked aspect of the Spurs run is that they, like Detroit, have not seemed like a very attractive destination for free agents whether they were great or not.  Sure, an aged McDyess signed with them and they were able to overpay Richard Jefferson, but their owner was one of the hardliners behind Michael Jordan during their the lockout and he was vocal about San Antonio’s inability to compete for free agents with the big markets.   And that is all with Duncan!   Remove Duncan, Parker and Ginboli from the equation, Pop probably retires and the Spurs are no different from any other small market team and salary cap and a collection of Leonard, Blair, Green, Neal and Splitter look like a league worst team to me whether you fill out the roster with some B and C level free agents or not.  The franchise level free agents are as little likely to go to San Antonio as they are to Detroit.
        BTW: Everyone knew Blair could play but they were afraid of his knees.  I think the Spurs took the chance because they looked at him as a short term rookie who might stick long enough to play alongside their aging veterans before he had to prematurely retire and I still think that’s how things will play out as with Brandon Roy.

        • Feb 1, 20129:05 am
          by Tim in Surrey

          Reply

          You’re ignoring the fact that San Antonio consistently won for (literally) decades before Pop arrived. It all comes down to ownership and San Antonio has had very strong owners–Angelo Drossos and Peter Holt–over their entire history. They didn’t build great teams, they built great organizations that could repeatedly build great teams. Look at what some of their front office assistants like Dell Demps and Sam Presti have done. So I don’t think the history suggests that they will tank if you remove Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili from the equation. They just know how to run a railroad.

          About this discussion in general, the most fascinating thing to me as a Spurs fan is that most Spurs fans think Pop is terrible about developing younger players. I’ve never really bought into that argument, pointing out that when he has had TALENTED youngsters, like Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, they have developed very well. But Spurs fans still wail about missed opportunities with stiffs, like Alonzo Gee, or talented guys who don’t know how to play basketball, like Ian Mahinmi. It’s amazing to see how one unusual move by Pop and one short essay by Henry Abbott have suddenly altered Pop’s reputation as a developer of talent.

          • Feb 1, 20122:49 pm
            by Max

            The Spurs stunk in the years between Gervin and getting lucky enough to draft David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

          • Feb 1, 20123:21 pm
            by Max

            Hey, just to be clear since you’re a Spurs fan.  I think the Spurs are a great organization–I think the Pistons are too but it’s not the best time to say so.  I think the Thunder seem like a great organization right now too, but all three teams I believe face similar challenges in that no matter what their rosters look like during a given year, it is a longshot that they can ever sign good free agents that more attractive markets covet.  This dynamic makes it much more difficult for them to rebuild without a lot of pain as the Lakers seem to be able to do, but the Knicks, the drought in BO between Bird retiring and the Garnett trade, the Clippers and the Nets attest that having a good organization is better over time than an attractive big city market.
            The thing with the Spurs though is that Pop is probably going to leave when Duncan does and unless they get really, really lucky again with a franchise player to build around (which will probably  require at least one terrible year) they are going to be going through some years of pain too.

  • Jan 31, 20123:34 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    “In Sunday’s game, Pop realized that he had to go with the players that brought the Sputs back into the game.  I don’t think any coach would have pulled those players to put the starters back in.  Besides not sending the right message, no coach is going to put himself in the obvious position of being 2nd guessed.”
    you must not have watched the flip saunders’ pistons.
    saunders routinely did exactly what you claim coaches would not do. He routinely pulled reserves who may have played well, in order to put his starters back in the game.  he had a very rigid rotation, and simply played his bench in order to rest the starters.  but it was his habit to simply reinsert his starters, say, at the 8 or 9 minute mark of the 4th quarter, regardless of how well the reserves may have played.

  • Jan 31, 20123:51 pm
    by Marvin Jones

    Reply

    Every coach Dumars had hired has been under a mandate to win now, Saunders came in after LB and back to back Finals appearances, so developing players was not on his agenda, Curry was also expected to win to keep the consecutive conference finals appearances going so no time for  youth there; now I thought Kuester would be more youth friendly but he was such a weak coach that he let the vets push him around so not much attention to youth there. Now that JD has admitted we’re rebuilding maybe under Frank  youth will be served, but I have to admit the signing of Prince is disappointing.  

    • Jan 31, 20123:54 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Explain Popovich then. Have the Spurs not been a ‘win now’ team? He’s won AND found minutes to develop Bonner/Hill/Leonard/Blair/Anderson/Green/Neal into reliable rotation players. How come a veteran, winning team like the Spurs could do this, but a veteran winning team like the Pistons couldn’t?

      • Feb 1, 20128:53 am
        by Marvin Jones

        Reply

        That’s easy to explain, Pop has job security, he’s going to be the coach until he no longer wants to be the coach. You can think long term if you’re going to be there long term, the Pistons coaches have not had that luxuary.

        • Feb 1, 20129:11 am
          by Tim in Surrey

          Reply

          Yeah, that is a good point. Remember, Pop was the GM first, then he took over as coach and promoted R.C. Buford to run the franchise. But, last I heard, he was still officially the “President of Basketball Operations” (although R.C. is “President of Sports Franchises and General Manager” (the plural refers, I believe, to the WNBA and dev league teams). Even Phil Jackson never had that kind of tenure.

  • Jan 31, 20123:57 pm
    by Murph

    Reply

    Good aricle.  But let’s not forget Larry Brown’s role in failing to develop the Pistons’ young players.  Brown famously had run-ins with Okur, Darko and Delfino.  Instead of developing those three, LB all but ran Memo off the team, turned Darko into the “human victory cigar”, and questioned the way in which Delfino had his knee treated, played Delfino sparingly, and left him off the 04-05 playoff roster.

    Instead of developing his youth, LB loved to play old broken down war horses, such as Derrick Coleman, Anthony Goldwire, Horace Jenkins, Darvin Ham and Tremaine Fowlkes.

    • Jan 31, 20124:01 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Yeah, I only left him out because I remember part of the Dumars/Saunders presser was that Flip wasn’t going to be afraid to go with the young guys.

      LB used to drive me nuts playing Elden Campbell over Okur before the Rasheed Wallace trade. I’m sure not wanting to come off the bench drove Okur away, but the Pistons also couldn’t match what Utah paid him and still re-sign Sheed at the time.

  • Jan 31, 20124:00 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t these veteran Spurs older in general than the veteran Pistons were when they were great and doesn’t a core of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker allow for more minutes than the five man core the Pistons always had whether the fifth man (not fifth best) was Big Ben, Webber or McDyess?

  • Jan 31, 20124:49 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    To my last point; isn’t the main issue here somewhat explicable by the fact the Pistons run was predicated upon a large core group as compared with most great teams that are built around a superstar and another all star or two?    Didn’t that give them a tougher challenge regarding integrating other piece as compared with other teams?

  • Jan 31, 20124:59 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    So a three man core doesn’t leave more minutes than a five man core.  Interesting.

  • Jan 31, 20125:03 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    BTW: Henry Abbot actually said a couple of weeks ago during his NBA TODAY podcast that the Pistons had the best numbers of any team in the league during crunch time.  He did say he wouldn’t make anything out of such numbers but I really don’t know how it is even possible that the Pistons could have qualified for such a distinction at any time during this season.

  • Jan 31, 20126:19 pm
    by ryan

    Reply

    I strongly agree with your point here. Our player development under Larry Brown and Flip Saunders was horrible and then everything was horrible under Michael Curry and John Kuester but it also goes to Joe Dumars’ desk. I respect that he tries not to interfere with his coaches but at some point you need to put your foot down for the good of the whole roster.

    I really believe we could’ve one at least one more title if we had better player development. Even the greatly reviled Darko Milicic is much more of a contributor now than he ever was with us and that’s telling. Our squad should have been much better.

    I think that we also have to blame the players though. That starting five got really, really entrenched and entitled after they won that title against the Lakers. In a way that title ruined our team because Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace “went from selling crack to smoking it” to borrow a line from Talib Kweli. They believed the hype, believed we could flip a switch, maybe the others did too. If they’d remained hungry and kept the young guys involved and been open to sitting a lot during the regular season (I remember Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince bitching about minutes) I think that we take the title in ’05 and at least go to the finals the each year until 2008, yes we would’ve even beat the Celtics. I’m not saying that the bench guys would’ve been stars but we had such great size and depth that even if they were just defensive specialists it would’ve been enough.

    This franchise could’ve established itself as being the king of the second tier teams, as a fan I have way more regret about that run than good memories. They should’ve done so much more.

  • Jan 31, 20126:41 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    You can remember things the way you like but other than that 2004 title, Shaq or Duncan won every single championship between 99 and 2008 and the 2004 Pistons beat Shaq in the finals.  I really don’t know how you can look at a group that didn’t have Shaq or Duncan during that period and won a ring, went to 2 straight finals and 6 straight conference finals and believe they underachieved.

  • Jan 31, 20127:10 pm
    by David

    Reply

    Great analysis. Great discussion. As the season moves along I’d love to read your thoughts on Frank in his role in developing young players; which is really the only important job he has right now. 

    There are definitely coaches (Larry Brown) who can coach a championship team but not develop young players. There are coaches, like Popovitch who seem to be able to do it all. And there are coaches who, maybe, are just good at developing young players. All good coaches. But different coaches for different stages of a team. Hopefully Frank is one of the latter two. It’s years too soon to know if he can coach a champion. By the end of this year and into next we’ll see how Knight, Monroe, JJ, Daye, Singler (if he comes back next year), and Anthony Davis (ahem…) develop under his coaching. Hopefully he can polish…

    • Jan 31, 20128:27 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I said it in a comment above, but the fact that Devin Harris and Brook Lopez had arguably their best seasons when Frank was coaching that team gives me some hope. And it’s hard to argue with how he’s played his young guys so far this season. Daye is getting good minutes now that his shot is straightened out. I’d like to see Macklin get a look at some point, but that is a small complaint.

  • Jan 31, 20127:43 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    And Ryan, Darko didn’t do anything in Memphis and NY before he finally had a good month or two last year before getting hurt.   He’s not doing much this year and the idea that his play right now means he should have gotten minutes seven-eight years ago is ludicrous.  Many players take years to develop and he has taken many years to develop.   Further, Dumars flipped Darko to Orlando for their pick which became Stuckey and which of those two would you rather have now anyway?

  • Feb 1, 20123:16 pm
    by RussellC

    Reply

    We took Daye over Ty Lawson, Summers over Blair, and either JJ or Walter Sharpe over DeAndre Jordan. We traded away the rights to Budinger. We wasted cap space on Gordon and Charlie V rather than David Lee and Gortat or Brandon Bass.

  • Feb 1, 20126:39 pm
    by solo

    Reply

    Hey, great article. I just wanted to point out something you guys probably missed about the Spurs future: “Draft & Stash”.
    The Spurs currently have something like 7 or 8 guys playing and developing in Europe. But the thing that important to this article is that the Spurs have not one but two guys whom are ready to come & play for the team next year:
    Erzem Lorbek, acquired in the Hill-Leonard trade in the last draft, is a 6-11 monster who is currently averaging 20 & 10 for Barcelona. Arguably the best team in Europe. He is also in a run for the Spanish league[ACB] MVP. He is 27 years old.
    The second guy is Nando De Colo. He is a 24 years old Frenchman who play for Valencia in Spain. He just had a game this week: 32 points,5 assists,5 rebounds,5 steals in a Eurocup game. He is a a 6-4 PG/SG with very Manu-like game.

    That’s where Detroit failed. If you don’t have any minutes to give guys to develop, that’s fine. Draft Euro-guys and stash them abroad. Take them when they are 18, by the time they are 22, they will have enough experience to be productive. That’s what the Spurs did for years, Manu was stashed and came to the Spurs as the Italian League & Euroleague MVP, Splitter was also the Spanish League MVP.

    • Feb 1, 20129:36 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Oh, any Michigan State basketball fan will certainly remember Mr. Lorbek’s one forgettable college season in East Lansing. Glad to hear he’s doing well overseas.

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