It's been another rough season for the Detroit Pistons. At 16-30, they find themselves with the fifth-worst record in the Eastern Conference, occupying the Central Division's basement and playing out the string, seemingly eons removed from the NBA title and annual deep playoff runs of last decade. But while this season, like last, will end without playoff games in the Motor City, the team has shown more signs of life under first-year coach Lawrence Frank than it did under "dead man walking" John Kuester.
Second-year center Greg Monroe has continued to blossom into one of the NBA's best (and least-recognized) young talents. After some less-than-stellar campaigns, Rodney Stuckey has by and large outperformed the contract extension he received this offseason. Jonas Jerebko's got that Swedish Lou Amundson thing happening. Even Ben Gordon has shown flashes, turning back the clock with a ludicrous 45-point game on Wednesday night.
While Gordon's game came in a JaVale McGee-helmed loss, the team's playing tougher — Detroit's last two losses have come by a combined five points and they've hung around in more games of late than they had earlier in the season. Frank's emphasizing that silver lining, drawing on a well-worn story to explain to Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News why he's not despairing over those tough tight defeats:
Frank was asked when losing close would no longer satisfy him.
"Oh, never, really," he said. "It's almost the stonecutter hammering away at the rock. It's one, two, 100 blows and there's no crack in it. Then on the 101st, the rock splits and that's the stage we're in."
If that bit of allegory sounds familiar to you, it's probably because you are the world's greatest philosopher. Or because you remember Dwane Casey citing the same parable as an explanation for introducing a 1,300-pound boulder to the Toronto Raptors locker room after taking over as the team's new head coach.
Or because you remember Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown having it written on his office wall when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Or because you remember Gregg Popovich drilling the wisdom into the skulls of his San Antonio Spurs since the late '90s. Or because you were real heavy into the Jacob Riis Usenet group/message board scene back in the early '90s. (The Web was so much purer then. Less B.S. and more B.B.S., you know?)
Basically, every coach ever has used this quote to emphasize the importance of hard work, perseverance and focusing on the long-term process of developing good habits rather than changing things at the first sign of failure in search of immediate results. It's a good lesson for any enterprise, but especially for organizations like the ones Frank and Casey took over this season, which have no hope of becoming title contenders anytime soon and have to keep an abiding faith in future returns while undertaking a multiyear rebuilding project.
But by the same token, c'mon, Lawrence Frank. Sure, you know what Jacob Riis said, but clearly you don't know what 311 said. Or what Ghostface said. Find your own quote to rally your team around, man. If you suck your thumb, yo, suck your thumb, yo.
How about this: "Goodness and hard work are rewarded with respect." Pretty good, right? That nugget comes from Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, an American entrepreneur who knows a thing or two about hard work (and building a successful professional sports program).
Or this: "You've got to work hard for your success, and you've got to have a steady presence. That's the secret." Kid Rock stuff always works really well in Detroit.
My main point is, just because coaching is a fraternity of shared ideas, the NBA is a copycat league and so on and so forth, that doesn't mean you have to just recycle the same stuff. If you're going to use the stonecutter thing, you're at least going to have to put your own spin on it, and you're definitely going to have to top Casey's giant boulder. I suggest making Steve Guttenberg a star again. That will show you're committed to the premise.
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