BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
When I heard reports on ESPN that former Bad Boys Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer were being considered as possible replacements for the fired John Kuester, as I was tossing and turning in bed, I warmed up to the idea.
When the Pistons won their titles in 1989-90, these two policed the locker-room and made sure that there would be no distractions to reach their goal. Just ask Thomas' best friend Mark Aguirre, who was acquired in a trade that sent Adrian Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks. Aquirre had a track record for being outspoken in the locker-room but Thomas and Laimbeer made sure that wouldn't occur in Detroit.
As executive of the New York Knicks, Thomas thought about the possibility of hiring Laimbeer as his head coach, but wound up luring Larry Brown to coach in Madison Square Garden. This move turned out to be a major disaster.
But if either of these guys gets selected as coach, lets make it clear that it should be based on their performance on the sidelines.
Thomas did a fine job as head coach of the Indiana Pacers from 2000-2003 by leading the franchise to three consecutive playoff appearances. He helped develop Jermaine O' Neal, Jalen Rose and Ron Artest into stars.
The 50-year old Hall of Famer, who is regarded as the greatest player in Pistons history, has done a solid job the past two years with Florida International University. I have watched Thomas' teams the past couple years and his records of 7-25 and 11-19 are very deceiving. Last season, the Golden Panthers lost several close games due to poor free throw shooting and Thomas quipped during his press conferences that he'll take suggestions from the media to fix the problem.
FAU Coach Mike Jarvis told me that the Golden Panthers are loaded with talent and if Thomas returns for a third season at FIU, they'll be one of the best teams in the Sun Belt Conference.
As for Laimbeer (54), he is responsible for five of the six championships at the Palace of Auburn Hills. He won two as a player and three more as head coach of the Detroit Shock of the WNBA. He was WNBA Coach of the Year in 2003 and took a franchise that was on the brink of extinction and talked late owner William Davidson into allowing him to save it.
Three titles later, it's safe to say the move worked out. I don't care what level of sports you're in. To win a championship is something to be proud of so Laimbeer can take pride in that. On the court, he was a hard-nosed player that was hated by all.
Yet one of his biggest rivals Charles Barkley has always endorsed him as a possible head coach and went on ESPN's Outside The Lines and expressed his support wondering why the former Bad Boy never received more consideration for other positions. This attention enabled Laimbeer to land an assistant coaching job with former Los Angeles Lakers rival Kurt Rambis of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Laimbeer has been instrumental in the development of Kevin Love and is working with Pistons draft choice bust Darko Milicic to make him a better player.
The commonality between Thomas and Laimbeer is the fact that they have worked with younger players and the Pistons are indeed a young team. When these players look up in the rafters and see their jersey's retired, they'll know the men teaching them to be professionals have excellent credentials.
Even if one were to get hired, the other should be the lead assistant.
In Arizona, former Tiger Kirk Gibson has led to the revitalization of the Diamondbacks. The fiery Gibson reminds me so much of Laimbeer. Both were hated by the media in their playing days but I remember seeing Gibson as a coach during spring training and he toned down and was enjoyable to deal with. I hope for Laimbeer's sake, he's mellowed because he needs the media to put people in the stands.
Nonetheless, Gibson has his Diamondbacks in second place in the National League West a game behind the World Series champions the San Francisco Giants with a 33-28 record. His bench coach is former Tigers Manager Alan Trammell. The roles were reversed when Tramnell and Gibson were running the Tigers earlier this decade. Yet, the lessons learned by Trammell working with Lou Piniella had to only enhance Alan's development in the dugout. Now the two have fans in cactus country talking about a return to the post-season. The Diamondback players know that their manager has two memorable World Series home runs and titles on his resume.
There is no reason that a Thomas and Laimbeer reunion can't produce similar results. Do you think Pistons Owner Tom Gores was a passionate fan during the Bad Boys era? Gores does live in Los Angeles and has watched the Pistons defeat the Lakers in the NBA Finals on two occasions.
If Thomas didn't burn his bridges with Davidson, who knows, perhaps we could have seen this tandem together much sooner. But Dumars did manage to win an NBA title on his own and is smart enough to know that the slate is clean between Thomas and Gores. Dumars sees there are some intriguing possibilities here. Dumars also knows that his next hire better be a good one because he know longer has the safety net of the Davidson's to cushion his next fall. Even though he was retained by Gores doesn't mean that he won't be under a more intense microscope that falls under the category, what have you done for me lately?
With the Pistons set to pick eighth in this month's draft, Greg Monroe, Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko are a good foundation, but there is little margin of error to make more roster mistakes. It's time to get it right so that the team can finally work it's way back into the playoffs.
More importantly, with the NBA heading towards a hard salary cap, Detroit could land a player or two in free agency because there will be more available as Commissioner David Stern watches his league become more balanced. There is talk that a hard salary cap could force the Miami Heat to break up their big three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. If that happens, one of these players is going somewhere.
With Gores in charge, I'll be curious to see what indeed transpires with the Pistons. If Thomas and Laimbeer don't return to the Palace either together or individually, at least the thought of it happening was enough to get me out of bed during the middle of the night to just examine the possibilities based on the developments in Arizona with Gibson and Trammell.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.
- Scott Morganroth
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