Pistons Mailbag - Monday, June 6, 2011
Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. Click here to submit your questions - please include your name, email address and city/state on the form. Return to the Mailbag homepage.
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Ron (Negaunee, Mich.): Among the handful of names that surfaced after John Kuester was fired to be his replacement was Kelvin Sampson. That one surprised me. Does that surprise you?
Langlois: Nope. Sampson made an immediate impression as an assistant coach with San Antonio after leaving Indiana due to NCAA recruiting violations. He’s drawn rave reviews in Milwaukee as a member of Scott Skiles’ staff. I’ve known Tom Izzo since college and Izzo, who shares the same Jud Heathcote roots as both Skiles and Sampson, told me a long time ago that Sampson was one of the sharpest minds in coaching. The last two Pistons coaches, Michael Curry and John Kuester, were both first-time NBA head coaches, but I don’t believe Joe Dumars would shy away from giving another candidate his first shot in the NBA if he felt he had the right background and personality traits. I think Joe D is going to prioritize two obvious things: (1) a coach who not only preaches defense but has a track record of producing results defensively; and (2) a coach who projects a level of authority that players will be compelled to respect. Sampson is a big-time defensive coach. I remember a Michigan State-Oklahoma game, played at The Palace when Sampson was at OU, that was as physical and intense a college game as I can remember – and it was early December. We can’t know about his ability to command respect at the NBA level – though, again, the word out of Milwaukee, where ex-Pistons vice president John Hammond, now Bucks GM, is very positive – but there was never any doubt about who was in charge when Sampson ran his college programs. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a front-runner for this job, but I think Sampson should count as a serious candidate.
Linda (West Bloomfield, Mich.): I keep hearing Mike Woodson is the leading candidate to replace Kuester. Haven’t the Pistons learned the last two years that maybe a former Larry Brown assistant isn’t the best coach for this team? I see a lot of similarities between Woodson and Kuester.
Langlois: As I said above, Linda, I think it’s premature to label anyone the “leading candidate” for this job. What I would say about Woodson is that he’s the most obvious candidate. He was a part of the 2004 title team and he had a good run as Atlanta’s head coach. Joe Dumars told me a few years into Woodson’s stint in Atlanta that he was impressed with how hard he had a young team competing and believing in itself. I think it’s logical to consider him on the short list. Woodson’s status makes it sort of a tricky call for Dumars in contacting him. There are some coaches you’d never think about calling to set up an interview, guys like Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich or Jerry Sloan among the most obvious. Rick Adelman might be such a candidate this off-season. By that, I mean if you have an opening and you’re interested in hiring someone who’s proven himself at the highest level, you either offer them the job or don’t call. Woodson isn’t at that level, obviously. But he does have a prior relationship with Dumars and a fairly extensive body of work now as an NBA head coach. It will be interesting to see how Joe D approaches the Woodson situation if, indeed, he is truly interested in him as a candidate.
Brandon (Ubly, Mich.): What do you think of a veteran coach like Jeff Van Gundy or somebody along the lines of a Bill Laimbeer?
Langlois: It’s been reported that Van Gundy is still cool to a return to the bench for next season. Just my guess here, but I think JVG is going to hold out for an opening with a contender. I don’t think it’s a lock he ever comes back if he’s going to hold out for that type of job. Even though he’s a really good coach who would probably make most situations immediately better, a lot of people are of the opinion that he projects an arrogance that wears thin quickly in the locker room. As for Laimbeer, a few years ago when Pistons fans would ask about him as he was having success coaching the WNBA’s Shock, I said I thought to be considered for any NBA head coaching job Laimbeer probably would have to put in some time as an NBA assistant. He’s done that now. I wouldn’t rule him out automatically as a candidate this time. I think he at least makes the long list.
Al (Wolverine Lake, Mich.): What about Mark Jackson? Wouldn’t that be a big gamble? Why hasn’t Rick Adelman’s name come up?
Langlois: Just because a name hasn’t come up doesn’t mean he won’t be a candidate, Al. I suspect Joe D has talked to very few people outside of Tom Gores and his immediate front-office staff about specific candidates. As for Adelman, I think he’s a terrific offensive mind who’s probably been underappreciated throughout a very long and successful career. He hasn’t won a championship or he’d be seen in a different light. At his age, Adelman might prefer to take on a team more prepared to win now or perhaps a franchise closer to his West Coast roots. He might be a long shot, but he’d be an attractive candidate if he expressed interest. Jackson has been a hot name for the past two off-seasons. He has good communication skills and his basketball IQ as a player was obvious. But it seems a huge leap of faith from that resume to believe he’s ready to be an NBA head coach without any coaching experience. Maybe somebody with a deep prior relationship with him will give him that chance, but I’d be at least mildly surprised if he becomes a serious candidate for this job.