Brown Delivered. Can Saunders?

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, May 29, 2006

MIAMI The guy on the very hot seat down here is named Flip. The upside when you take over a team as talented and accomplished as the Detroit Pistons, a finalist last year and a champion the year before, is that another title is probably within reach. Even if you didn't build it, you maintained it.

But the downside, if you lose before the finals, has real unpleasantness to it. You blew it. You messed it up. The guy before you simply did a better job.

The Detroit Pistons haven't lost anything yet, but Coach Flip Saunders is hearing the latter. What if Larry Brown were still here? Would the Pistons, a defensive marvel in the past, have allowed Miami to shoot nearly 60 percent in a Game 3 loss? Would the Pistons have lost five of their last eight playoff games if the coach were better at making adjustments?

The days off in an NBA playoff series carry sometimes brutal examination, even from within.

Asked the difference between today's Pistons and the Pistons of 2004 and 2005, especially on defense, Detroit's Ben Wallace said, "Night and day . . . night and day." He pointed out that his team has dropped defensively from No. 1 to "the middle of the pack." And several players indicated here before practice Sunday that Saunders, who was rightfully praised during the regular season for improving the team's defense, hasn't worked the team much at all on defense, that he barely has talked about it in recent days.

It's difficult to know whether the Pistons, down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference finals, are just unhappy with their predicament with Game 4 here on Monday, or whether there might be some actual unhappiness with the coach.

You don't want to read too much into the comments of the usually measured Tayshaun Prince, especially the morning after a completely frustrating 1-for-7 shooting performance. But Prince did say: "I was pretty disappointed we didn't give Lindsey Hunter any action in the second half. Obviously, he's our best suit for Dwyane [Wade], as far as putting pressure on him. I know Dwyane can shoot over him, but at least he has the quickness to be where he's at all the time. We didn't give him the opportunity [in] the second half."

Hmmm. Last I checked, only one person makes the call on whom to play: the head coach. Flip.

Prince wasn't done, either. "We went to our counter options" too early, he said.

Wallace said of the team defense, "There are breakdowns all over the place."

Rasheed Wallace said of not having his number called a lot early: "I don't know. That's a question I think y'all should ask Flip more than me because I guess it's more a coaching call."

To be fair, it was later in the same session with reporters that Wallace came back and said, "It ain't like he can come out there, throw some shorts on, lace some sneaks up and come out there with us."

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