Looking back at the Detroit Pistons‘ run a generation ago, the 2004 NBA championship is undoubtedly appreciated. But the six consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals yielding just one league title left things feeling a bit unfulfilled.
There are many theories as to why the Pistons didn’t win more, from the “Lakers were imploding” argument to the “picking Darko Milicic” excuse. But one of the players from those teams added some extra context to this concept.
On Friday, former ESPN personality Dan Le Batard hosted his “Freedumb” marathon on YouTube to kick off his new media venture, taking their long-popular radio show to a digital, and non-FCC-regulated, platform.
One of the guests early on the show was Rasheed Wallace. The former Pistons All-Star was the final piece to the championship puzzle in 2004, but was right there for the Finals loss to the Spurs the following year, as well as the stumble against the eventual champion Heat in 2006.
But the loss to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in 2007’s East finals stuck in Wallace’s crawl.
And after that loss in Game 6 — the fourth straight in that series to close it out in Cleveland — Wallace said he let the locker room have it.
“We had, rest in peace, Flip (Saunders) as our coach,” Wallace recalled. “I was just letting the guys know I wasn’t too keen on Flip and his coaching style. Some of the other guys in the locker room, they were cool with it, but I just let them know some of the things that were happening, for me that window was closing.”
Wallace and Le Batard both didn’t want to necessarily speak ill of the dead — Saunders died in 2015, two months after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — but Sheed didn’t sugarcoat his feelings either.
“And I felt as though we wasted three good years with him being the head coach than it would have been with Larry Brown,” Wallace, then age 32, said.
After some additional prodding from Le Batard and co-host, fellow former ESPN personality and former Phoenix Suns scout Amin Elhassan, Wallace provided a little more unfiltered version of his locker room “speech.”
“It was a bunch of f-bombs and a bunch of m-f’ers and f-this and f-that, bull(expletive) and all the other cuss words you can think of,” Wallace said. “My main emphasis was, I felt as though we were wasting our time, we were wasting these years with him, who, to me, wasn’t a good coach.
“To win a championship, it takes more than just one or two All-Stars, you gotta have an All-Star coach. Your coach actually has to know X’s and O’s on what he’s doing, and for me, personally, I just didn’t think Flip had that.”
Saunders was brought in to replace the fired Brown in the summer of 2005, right after the Pistons made two trips to the Finals. The team seemed to respond well, setting a franchise record for wins the next season.
By the way, both Wallace — entering Year 3 of a five-year, $57 million deal — stuck around. He and Saunders were bounced yet again in the East finals in 2008, this time by the Celtics.
After the third straight loss in the conference finals in 2008, Saunders was fired.
Elhassan then shared some additional insight. He was in Phoenix when former All-Star guard Terry Porter was hired from Saunders’ staff in Detroit be replace Mike D’Antoni with the Suns.
Apparently, Porter brought with him a lot of Saunders’ offensive concepts to the desert, but Elhassan said “but it was the worst playbook ever” and they “scrapped it by Christmas.”
Wallace, who just this week was named the new head coach at N.C. Good Better Best Academy in Durham, North Carolina, explained why.
“(Saunders” had success with some of those plays in Minnesota, playing with (Kevin Garnett), a lot of that 452 twist and 52 twist,” Wallace said. “But that doesn’t work for every team. And he thought that, with K.G. and I being the same somewhat type of player, that it could work for us. Nah, that (expletive) ain’t work.”
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