It was only a few days before the Detroit Pistons stunning defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat that I made my weekly appearance on the international internet radio station, BetUSradio.com, when I told the show’s host and my good friend, Matthew Ross, that the Pistons should be ashamed of themselves for trying to pin their pathetic defensive performances in the eastern conference finals on first-year head coach, Flip Saunders for his supposed lack of preparation on the defensive end.
I told Ross that day, and I will firmly state once again, that, in no way, should Saunders be blamed for the Pistons shortcomings against a Miami Heat team that was visibly hungrier than the former two-time eastern conference defending champions.
Although I feel that Saunders shouldn’t bear as much blame as the players themselves, he will obviously be under some scrutiny for his overall lack of success in the postseason throughout his head coaching career. However, for the Pistons players to blame Saunders for this season’s postseason failure was waaaay out of line.
Even before Game 4 in Miami, Saunders was being called on the carpet by some of his own players. The enigmatic Rasheed Wallace barked at him at least once in Game 3 – upset that he resorted to the Hack-a-Shaq strategy in that game and later, Ben Wallace, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, said the team had forgotten its defense-first mentality.
For his part, Saunders refused to stoop to the level of some of his players.
“I’ve been like a standing pinata,” Saunders said the day before Detroit’s season ended. “They’ve gotten a little bit of candy out of me, but I’ve got a lot left.”
Saunders also revealed that this isn’t the first time he’s heard some complaining from his team although they won a franchise-best, 64 games in the regular season.
“They gripe all year. Everybody just doesn’t know about it,” Saunders said. “That’s how players are. You talk to some of them about where they’re at, but I think what you do more than anything, we talk more about challenging. You challenge them. It’s a matter of going out and executing what we want to have done.”
As Detroit’s MVP-caliber point guard, Chauncey Billups said himself; this is a road the Pistons have been down before – without Saunders.
“Some of us, a lot of us, have been here more time than he has,” Billups said. “We can pull from a lot of our experiences. … We’ve been here before.”
So now, as the Pistons head into an uncertain offseason in which Ben Wallace will become an unrestricted free agent, the players are left to ponder the reasons for their surprising flameout. Maybe they should begin by looking directly into a mirror.