Monday, August 17, 2009

Is Bill Laimbeer NBA Coaching Material?

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH



When I see Charles Barkley endorse Bill Laimbeer as a potential head coach, "My Wheels Start Turning" as to why a man with two NBA Championships as a player and three more as head coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock isn't receiving much consideration getting NBA interviews.

There is no doubt that Laimbeer has done an outstanding job making enemies in the league. He's been in altercations with current and former executives & coaches named Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Kurt Rambis when the Pistons/Bad Boys were winning titles during the "Bad Boys" dynasty.

The "Bad Boys" dynasty saw Bird fire Isiah Thomas when the pair were on the Indiana Pacers payroll. It was inevitable that Celtics and Pistons couldn't work together.

What amazes me about Laimbeer is I do believe he could have done a much better job than the Pistons recently deposed Coach Michael Curry.

Laimbeer is a fierce competitor and along with Thomas, they took it upon themselves with their strong personalities to lay down the law when Detroit acquired Mark Aguirre and made sure he wouldn't be disruptive in the locker room. The rest is history as Detroit defeated the LA Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers and won their championship rings.

The one thing I'll never forget about Laimbeer was when I made my lone appearance at the Boston Garden in January of 1990, I was in the Pistons locker room talking with Dennis Rodman.

On December 25, 1989, the same day former Tigers Manager Billy Martin was killed in an automobile accident, I was injured in a skiing accident on Magic Mountain in Vermont tearing the ligiments on my last run of the day.

A concerned Rodman was asking me why I was wearing a fiber glass cast on my left ankle. At that time, Dennis and I had a great rapport and he was always cooperative when I wanted to speak with him. Rodman treated me like a friend.

As I was speaking with Rodman, Laimbeer made some stupid wisecrack and I went ahead and told him, "Just because you can afford to make your car payment doesn't mean I can afford to make mine." Rodman quickly jumped in and told Laimbeer to get off my back and to leave me alone. Dennis and I then proceeded with my interview and I went on to talk to another player.

Right then and there, I knew like many people, why Laimbeer was hated. It's easy to tolerate a guy when a team is winning. But he made reporters jobs more difficult and as aforementioned, didn't get along with other players. Little did Laimbeer realize that dealing with the media is free advertising for the team. I certainly never questioned his basketball intelligence, but his public relations skills were horrible.

Laimbeer did a masterful job with the Detroit Shock by saving a franchise that was destined to fold to winning championships. Since I never covered the Shock, I'm unaware of his dealings with the media. I would think that they should have improved.

Laimbeer reminds me of former Tiger Kirk Gibson, who as a player was lousy with the media. But as Gibson retired and when he became a part of the media, he appreciated the other side and now as a coach is much better to deal with. I do believe that it's a matter of time before Gibson becomes a manager because the difference between him and Lambeer is he didn't burn bridges with other baseball people like Laimbeer did with basketball people.

Gibson's dramatic World Series homers with the Tigers in 1984 and LA Dodgers in 1988 will always be great memories on ESPN Classic. Laimbeer's elbows and fights on ESPN Classic won't capture the imagination of fans but will only infuriate them.

I'm still amazed that Joe Dumars hasn't hired him as an assistant coach unless the two discussed it but Laimbeer frowned on the idea. Again, I don't know so I don't want to be questioned for making false statements. But Dumars has been around all five of Laimbeer's championships so there is more to this than meets the eye.

When Thomas was running the New York Knicks, he did interview Laimbeer but hired Larry Brown. I'm surprised that Thomas didn't talk Brown into hiring Laimbeer as an assistant coach. He's always made sure that Brendan Suhr and Brendan Malone had jobs with him during his stops in Toronto and New York.

Dumars' former top front-office aide and now Milwaukee Bucks General Manager John Hammond had a chance to offer Laimbeer a coaching job of some sort when he hired Scott Skiles as his head coach. There was familiarity but nothing transpired.

Laimbeer did interview for the Minnesota Timberwolves head coaching job which did go to Rambis. I wouldn't have expected there to be a friendly reunion between these one time rivals unless Rambis won't hold a grudge against Laimbeer and utilize his basketball knowledge that he obtained from the late Chuck Daly. Even before Daly passed away, I'm surprised that Daly wasn't able to get Laimbeer more consideration for other jobs unless he thought his former center was happy working in the WNBA.

Nevertheless, the question remains, is there a future on an NBA bench for Laimbeer? I'd like to think there is since he does know how to win.

It's no secret that he plays mind games with his players but even the best coaches in sports like Bill Parcells, Pat Riley and many others do to keep their players off balance and focused.

But the NBA coaching ranks are very weird. I'm amazed that New York Knicks legendary Center Patrick Ewing hasn't been given the opportunity to be the head coach for this team since he has paid his dues as an assistant under Jeff and Stan Van Gundy and played under Riley. This is an injustice.

Until we find out how Ewing and Laimbeer would do as coaches, for the time being, we'll never know. Ewing is more media friendly but Laimbeer still has what Ewing was unable to accomplish in his career and that's win an NBA title.

The only thing I can say to Laimbeer at the moment is if there are no NBA jobs in the future, Bill you should rejoin Thomas at Florida International University (FIU) and learn how to teach because if there is a job that opens up with a bad team, you'll be forced to educate the younger players and develop patience.

It would be scary to think that FIU would be the amateur version of the "Bad Boys" with the boosters paying the fines because of rough play. Then again, they won't care if the team is winning, gets to the NCAA Tournament and becomes a Cinderella Story that bolsters recruiting and puts the university on the map.

It's time to start paying dues Bill like the rest of us who take entry level positions and work our way up. At least you know now through ESPN's "Outside The Lines" that while Barkley still might not like you, he does respect you and does believe you'll be a winning coach, thus you do have an unexpected ally.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written.

My take.

Bill Laimbeer was a winner in his entire basketball career. The man, with limited athletically ability was able to beat people with far better natural ability. he earned every minute he played, and was far more valuable than the checks he cashed. He was a steal of a player. And a player you just don't find very often. And in his case might not ever find.

When he first came in the league he was a tamer personality. But he soon realized he, and the team needed a personality. And Laimbeer was the personality of the Pistons. He wore his persona on his sleeve, he was not friendly to the media, he was not friendly to his peers, and was certainly not friendly with opposing players.

And yes this, and this alone is what is hurting his ability to find a coaching job. As he was a far better player, and arguably a smarter basketball mind than most former players turned GM or coach.

Was he better than Paxson? Yes. Skiles? Yes. Del Negro? Yes. Rambis? yes. Rivers? Yes. Ainge? Yes. I can go on... Cartwright... You get the idea.

But where these players have the upper hand on Laimbeer was not talent, or brawns, or brains. It was social networking. And Laimbeer just graded a flat F in that regard.

But here is the kicker. You go back in time... Soften Laimbeer up. Make him kindler, gentle. Well you probably have just killed off the Bad Boys championships. Laimbeer sold his professional soul for those titles. He knows it, Isiah knows it. Dumars.

Look I have heard some CLASSIC stories that puts your bad leg story to shame. Not even in the top 100 probably. He made a little girls go crying out of the locker room while she was only doing a school report. Made a professional singer feel "so small" when after she sang the national anthem during a playoff game she told Bill "I sang the national anthem for you, good luck out there" In which big Bill replied "I don't care if you sang us an entire concert".

But let me tell you. Laimbeer has done allot for charity. He has helped many kids foundations. (he lost his first child at birth) And really, he is a very nice honest, and charismatic person. You just have to get to know him. You have to stand up to him, and be honest. He respects honesty. And he was an honest person. For better or worse.

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