Pistons turn to Curry's leadership skills for move to next step

Updated: June 13, 2008, 2:49 AM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Play hard or sit.

Basically, that is Michael Curry's coaching philosophy and it seems to be exactly what the Detroit Pistons need.

The Pistons gave Curry his first head coaching job Tuesday in part because they're confident he can get the most out of their remaining veterans, some of whom are former teammates.

"I don't think you make anybody play. I think you substitute," Curry said at a news conference. "You remove the ones that are unmotivated. That's pretty simple."

A week after firing Flip Saunders, Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars did not sound concerned about the 39-year-old Curry going from peer to boss.

"Guys either respect you or they don't, and they respect this guy," Dumars said. "Those guys trust him.

"They know he's a tough guy, and they know they're going to have to get it done."

The Pistons didn't meet their high expectations in three seasons under Saunders, who couldn't help them get past the conference finals after they won the 2004 title and almost repeated in Larry Brown's two years as coach.

When Detroit's season ended May 30 against the Boston Celtics, power forward Antonio McDyess lamented that the team teases itself and its fans with inconsistent because they play like "zombies" sometimes.

Curry will be offended if people are still saying the Pistons pick and choose when to play with him in charge.

"That's a stab to me and that hurts me than losing in the conference finals because that's something you directly control," Curry said. "One of my goals is to never let that be said about a team that I coach and that represents this organization."

The Pistons chose not to look far for their fifth coach in nine seasons.

Curry was on Saunders' staff last season, his first as a coach, and he played with Dumars about a decade ago and with some current Pistons during the 2002-03 season.

He will make $2.5 million a season as part of a contract that includes three guaranteed years with the team holding an option for a fourth.

Assistant coach Dave Cowens, who also was on Saunders' staff, will be retained. Coaches under contract with other teams are being considered for the remaining openings along with Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter if he retires.

"We're going to be a staff that is going to be here from the summer until the end of the season and will be here for players to continue to develop and breaking down other teams in the league," Curry said. "We're going to be a hardworking staff from top to bottom."

Curry's playing career started as an undrafted free agent during the 1993-94 season in Philadelphia and ended during the 2004-05 season with the Indiana Pacers.

Near the end of his playing career, Curry headed up the NBA players' association, leading it from 2001-2003. He later served as the NBDL's vice president of player development and the NBA's vice president of basketball operations before spending last season as an assistant under Saunders.

Curry averaged 4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 20 minutes a game over his career, which included two stops in Detroit along with stints in Milwaukee, Toronto and Washington. His defense and leadership kept him in the league despite averaging less than seven points a season.

"I prepared as an assistant as if I was a head coach," he said. "I was a role player my whole career, but I prepared like I was going to play 48 minutes."

Curry shared the court with current Pistons Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince in 2003, when the franchise started its active streak of six consecutive appearances in the conference finals. He also played with Detroit center Rasheed Wallace in Washington.

Dumars publicly put his entire team, other than Rodney Stuckey, on the trading block last week when he fired Saunders. Dumars insisted hiring Curry doesn't change his plans to alter the starting lineup, but acknowledged trade talks are slow because of lackluster offers.

"We're not talking to teams about their second- or third-best player and that's where it is right now," Dumars said. "I've talked to at least 10 teams. The phone has been ringing."

Wallace attended Tuesday's news conference, but declined comment.

Whoever is back, Dumars expects Curry to help the players reach their potential after watching him interact with them last season.

"He's not going to coddle guys and they know that," he said.

Curry cherishes the gift of playing in the NBA because it took him a long time to make it as a player. He also played professionally in Germany, Belgium and France as well as the CBA and USBL after he was a standout at Georgia Southern.

Morris Peterson of the New Orleans Hornets wasn't surprised Curry, one of his former teammates, became a head coach.

"Mike is a great guy, who has always been a class act," Peterson said in a telephone interview. "He wasn't a big-time player coming into the NBA, and he had to travel a lot of venues to turn himself into a pro. That will only help him as a coach. I'm not sure I would be where I am without Mike's guidance in Toronto."

Curry earned a master's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University while playing for the Pistons during the 2000-01 season. The native of Augusta, Ga., is married and has three children, including Deon, a wide receiver at Michigan State.

The lack of experience as a head coach hasn't seemed to put a dent in his moxie.

"I don't think it will be a hard transition," Curry said. "I thought it probably should've happened when I retired -- three years ago, I should've been a head coach. I feel ready and I've felt ready."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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