When one side says, “There’s really nothing to talk about,” and the other side says, “There’s really nothing to talk about,” it usually means there’s something to talk about. Which brings us to Chuck Daly and the Pistons.
Daly is in the last year of his contract as Pistons coach. He is popular. He’s pretty successful. And, come the end of this season, he is free.
Daly and Jack McCloskey, the Pistons’ general manager, have not talked turkey in four months.
Now, depending on whom you listen to, this is either 1) Not to Daly’s liking; 2) Exactly what Daly wants; 2) Not to McCloskey’s liking; 4) Exactly what McCloskey wants; 5) Not to anybody’s liking; or 6) Exactly what everybody wants.
I remember a story about a judge who listens to two sides of an argument. After the first side finishes he says, “You’re right.” After the second side finishes he says, “You’re right.” A third party interjects, “Wait a minute. They can’t both be right.” And the judge says, “You’re right too.”
So who’s right here? Let’s check the facts. A problem of arithmetic
McCloskey says Daly is his “first choice” as Pistons’ coach. Daly says he wants to stay here.
No problem, right? Wrong. The Pistons kept Daly from joining the Philadelphia 76ers last summer — a job he would have relished — by demanding a first-round draft choice as compensation. Daly had to watch the 76ers pull out, like a shipwrecked islander watching the boat sail away. The Pistons were within their rights. But it might have been fair if they’d said, “Look, Chuck, we want you. Here’s three more years (reportedly what the 76ers offered). Go get em.”
Didn’t happen. Here’s what did:
Daly and McCloskey were talking in late August. Contract came up. McCloskey said, “What do you want?” Daly, who admits he was thrown by the sudden question, asked for another year and a raise (from $175,000 to $200,000 this year and to $225,000 next year). McCloskey said OK.
With some time to think, Daly went back to his financial advisers and decided he probably deserved better; at least longer than one year. So when McCloskey wanted to announce their agreement to the press, Daly backed out.
They haven’t talked contract since.
Which isn’t the worst part. Daly says the offer was for one additional year, taking him through 1987. McCloskey says the offer was for two additional years, taking him through 1988. When asked about the discrepancy, Daly said,
“That wasn’t my understanding . . . If it had been two years, I would have been very interested.”
Let’s get this straight. A coach and a GM can’t distinguish between one and two? Come on.
You don’t get such details mixed up in a professional organization. Just as you don’t go four months without a conversation. Not if both sides truly want one another.
So maybe they don’t. There’s been plenty of speculation on that. Some absurd, some possible:
1) McCloskey Wants To Coach The Pistons Himself: The answer is “Ha.” Even Daly says he couldn’t see that. McCloskey, 59, only laughed at the suggestion. And gave a long no.
2) McCloskey Wants Someone Other Than Daly: Maybe. McCloskey will not say so. But a poor season by the Pistons could change that.
3) McCloskey And Pistons’ Owner Bill Davidson Are Sore At Daly For Backing Out. Anyone who thinks sports executives are above holding a grudge hasn’t met many sports executives. By Daly’s own admission, “They (the Pistons management) like to go to the wire. Look at how they’ve dealt with free agents like Long, Tripucka and Tyler.” Maybe they just want Daly to sweat?
4) Daly Wants To Keep His Options Open. Perhaps Daly is fed up. He has been one of the lower-paid coaches in the NBA with the Pistons, despite two consecutive playoff seasons. He wants some security — three years, maybe. Spots will open at the end of the season where he might get it. Maybe even the 76ers, although they deny it. Is the word ‘goodby’ inevitable?
Chuck Daly is a good coach. He should be kept. The Pistons’ woes don’t begin with him; they are simply not a deeply talented team. They’re fragile, especially with Terry Tyler gone — traded for a draft choice that may help the future but chokes the present. Most nights Daly needs great games from Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer to win.
Compare that to, say, the Celtics, thigh-deep in excellence. Or the Lakers, the NBA’s answer to an American Express Gold Card. And forget it.
Daly is in a lousy spot. He doesn’t know where he’ll be working next year. The current slump doesn’t help his cause. He admits he can’t help thinking about it in between games.
Meanwhile McCloskey — who for the record says “We’ll work this thing out”
— makes no attempt to prove himself a prophet.
The obvious springs at you like a chest pass:
If Daly really wanted to be here and the Pistons really wanted him, he’d be signed by now.
Instead we have silence on one side. Silence on the other side. Be prepared. Often in such cases, the next word spoken is the last word spoken.