by | May 8, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Before they fade from memory, some parting comments about this year’s Pistons . . .

DOUG COLLINS: I was watching this week as Rick Pitino — who has never won an NBA championship — was given at least $6 million a year by the Celtics, and Larry Brown — who has never won an NBA championship — was given $5 million a year by the 76ers. And last year John Calipari — who had never even coached an NBA game, let alone won anything — was given $3 million a year by the Nets.

And here we were, debating whether Collins should quit because he works too hard.

And I thought: There’s something wrong with this picture. Collins is as good a coach as any of those guys, he’s just not as slick a package. He hasn’t written books. He doesn’t do motivational speeches.

But he works just as hard — most likely, harder. He cares more. He can’t sleep at night for thinking up ways to free Lindsey Hunter for a shot, or to motivate Terry Mills. Night after night, day after day, Collins kills himself for this job. Why should other guys be getting four or five times his money — while he tortures himself over the idea of coming back?

And then I thought, wait. What if that’s why he’s torturing himself?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Collins is all about money. But he has three more years on his contract at a relatively modest $1.5 million a year. Maybe he’s looking for appreciation. Maybe he’s looking for someone, like the owner, Bill Davidson, to show him he knows how hard he works. Whether Davidson reacts is up to him.

Given what Collins has accomplished — taking a team from 28 victories to 54 victories in two seasons — he is now a very marketable commodity. Plenty of struggling franchises would love a guy to get them to 54 victories fast. Heck, Larry Brown got $5 million a year and his last team didn’t even make the playoffs!

Collins could, in theory, quit this job, take off for a year, and come back somewhere else making more in one season than he would have lost in three. Then again, this is just theory.

None of which addresses a second issue. Collins is squeezing himself dry. He barely sleeps, he barely eats. He cares so much about his job, he often forgets to care about himself. Maybe he’s doing some soul searching on that. Maybe he’s thinking, “Why should I pour my guts out over players like Otis Thorpe, whom I have to beg just to look at me?”

The answer, Doug, is this is what you do. It’s what you’re good at. And by the way, I don’t think Collins’ staying hinges on Thorpe or any other player. Those guys will be traded by next season — if it’s possible under the salary cap — so why should Collins worry?

No. Part of me thinks this quitting stuff is simply fatigue and depression talking. Part of me thinks it’s business. And part of me doesn’t know, because Collins is so puzzling a person.

But for what it’s worth, I think he’s a whale of a coach, who has delivered results. Losing him would not only be a blow, it could set the team back years.

GRANT HILL: In a season that was mostly awesome, the only thing that concerns me about Hill is the last five minutes. He was not calling for the ball in Game 5 against Atlanta. He even told Joe Dumars “you take it” on a few of the critical plays.

This is not what a superstar should do.

A superstar should scream for the ball. A superstar should go and take it if anyone has the audacity to keep it from him. I think Hill is almost a gift from heaven when it comes to pro sports, but sometimes I worry that the enormous expectations make him more concerned with not failing than with succeeding. Perhaps he worries about letting everyone down if he doesn’t make that critical play.

He shouldn’t. The ball belongs in his hands when games are on the line. He has earned it. He needs to flaunt it.

LINDSEY HUNTER: It’s like watching a rerun of Allan Houston. Under Collins, Hunter has been transformed from misused and underconfident to 40 minutes a night of aggressive two-way basketball. Same as Houston.

Now we must make sure their endings aren’t alike.

I doubt they will be. If for no other reason than avoiding a Houston repeat, I think the Pistons will sign Hunter, a free agent, to a big contract. And they’ll do it fast. No, he’s not a pure point guard, but if Hill keeps usurping those responsibilities, Hunter is exactly what he needs to be.

By the way, Lindsey has also grown up off the court. He’s a pleasure to deal with, always with his wife and baby. He speaks with confidence — remember how shy he appeared when he was drafted? — and he seems to really like it here. Let’s hope the Pistons feel the same way.

OTIS THORPE: It’s not his fault. And it is his fault. That’s about all you can say. Some players don’t jibe with their coaches. Otis didn’t make it any better with his scowling, uninterested appearance on the court. And he was awful in the second half of the playoff series.

But he will play well for someone next season. I doubt it will be the Pistons. Then again, if Collins doesn’t come back, who knows? We might even see Otis smile.

As for free agent Terry Mills? He’ll go where the money is. And free agent Joe Dumars? He’ll be the last guy signed, after everyone else’s deal is in place.

By the way, Joe’s son, Jordan, who is only 6 years old, already comes up to my chest. A few more inches, and the Pistons could sign him. Which might not be a bad idea.

After all, how could Collins resist coming back with two Dumarses on the team?


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