Dumars shakes up Pistons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — In the morning, the Detroit Pistons fired Flip Saunders. By the afternoon, the players were put on notice.

‘‘I’m not going to sit here and make Flip the scapegoat,’’ president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said Tuesday. ‘‘Everybody is in play.’’

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Dumars publicly put his entire lineup on the trading block, less than a week after the Pistons lost in the Eastern Conference final for the third straight year.

Among those available: Four players who have been together since winning the 2004 NBA title together, plus another starter who just finished his fourth season with the team.

‘‘There are no sacred cows here,’’ Dumars said. ‘‘You lose that sacred-cow status when you lose three straight years.’’

Messages seeking comment were left on Saunders’ cell phone.

Saunders signed a four-year contract worth up to $26 million three years ago. His deal came less than a day after Detroit finalized terms of Larry Brown’s $7 million severance package after he helped them win a title and almost repeat in his two seasons.

The Pistons averaged nearly 59 victories in three regular seasons under Saunders.

, who trailed only fired Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson by two wins and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich by a victory during the span.

Saunders was 30-21 in the playoffs for the Pistons, losing in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final each year. He has coached 24 conference finals games, the most by an NBA coach since 1971 without reaching the NBA finals, according to STATS.

Under Saunders, Detroit became the second team in league history to lose in the round before the NBA finals three years in a row, joining the Celtics from 1953-55, according to STATS.

Saunders extended Detroit’s Eastern Conference finals appearance streak to six years, the first franchise to accomplish that feat since the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, after Rick Carlisle started it in his two seasons as coach.

Three starters — Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince — played for all three coaches, Rasheed Wallace was acquired in 2004 and Antonio McDyess signed in 2005.

‘‘There are 25, 26 teams that would love to be where we are, but good has not been good enough,’’ Dumars said. ‘‘I appreciate everything that Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Flip Saunders have done, but I also know they were handed some great teams.

‘‘It’s not like they had to take bad teams and make them good. The next coach is going to inherit a good team.’’

Michael Curry is the leading candidate to be Detroit’s fifth coach in nine seasons. He was on Saunders’ staff and is a former Piston.

Other candidates include Johnson and Terry Porter, another assistant last season in Detroit and a former Milwaukee Bucks coach.

‘‘I’m going to talk to a few people this week,’’ Dumars said. ‘‘As we normally do, we’ll act quickly. This will not be a long-drawn-out process.’’

Dumars decided a year ago to bring back his key players as well as Saunders, while infusing energy with rookies and young reserves.

But after watching the Pistons blow a 10-point lead with 10-plus minutes left in Game 6 of the conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Dumars said he had seen enough from this group.

‘‘We didn’t get it done,’’ Dumars said. ‘‘As I walked out of The Palace, I had a real sense of calm.’’

Dumars was at ease because he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

First, fire Saunders. Then, trade at least one of his starters in a move or two he doesn’t expect to happen before the NBA draft on June 26.

Wallace seems to be the player most likely to be dealt because of his one-year contract, inconsistent play and powerful personality that lifts his teammates and drags them down depending on his mood.

‘‘I view him the same way that I do all the other guys,’’ Dumars insisted. ‘‘Make no mistake, everybody is in play right now.’’

Before coming to Detroit, Saunders was 411-326 with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He led Minnesota to eight straight postseason appearances, including seven first-round exits and an appearance in the 2004 conference finals. After winning franchise-record 58 games, he was fired with a 25-26 mark during the 2004-05 season.

Celtics guard Sam Cassell expects Saunders, one of his former coaches, to be back in the league.

‘‘He’ll get a job real soon — maybe even today or tomorrow,’’ Cassell said.

Boston coach Doc Rivers said he was surprised by the firing even though he heard speculation that the move was coming.

‘‘I don’t understand it,’’ Rivers said. ‘‘It makes coaching not fun.’’


AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Waltham, Mass., contributed to this report.