TRAVERSE CITY -- Michael Curry's attention is focused on football today.
The Detroit Pistons rookie head coach is in East Lansing to watch Michigan State play Florida Atlantic. His son, Deon, is a receiver for the Spartans.
But his focus will shift back to basketball soon after as he leads a Pistons contingent on a mid-week six-city tip-off tour. The tour -- which will include players Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo and broadcasters George Blaha and Greg Kelser -- will stop in Traverse City on Wednesday afternoon. A rally is planned downtown between 3-6 p.m. near the Front and Union intersection.
Curry, a former Pistons player, joined coach Flip Saunders staff last season. He was promoted to the top job when Saunders was fired after the Pistons lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.
He talked about the transition, and his goals, in an interview with the Record-Eagle.
How has the transition from assistant to head coach gone?
It's gone well. I was able to put together a great coaching staff. I was able to get guys from different teams that I think can add to our staff -- defensively and offensively. I also thought we had a productive summer with our young guys. For most of the summer, we had six to nine players on a daily basis working out at the practice facility. Making that commitment, learning what we want to do as a team, and improving their skill level, will put them ahead of the curve.
What kind of a coach will you be? What will be your style?
I want us to be a really good defensive team, a team able to apply pressure. I want to be good in all aspects, whether it's half-court defense, applying pressure full court or trapping. When you look at teams that are successful, and win championships, they are versatile on defense.
From an offensive standpoint, I want to continue to be a team that's very unselfish. But I would like to see our offense flow a little better without a lot of play calls. Hopefully, with our defense, we'll create more turnovers and get more points in transition than we have in the past.
Will the transition game be a point of emphasis in training camp?
There are three areas offensively we'll address -- transition baskets, points in the paint and winning the battle at the free throw line. All of those are part of being aggressive. I want to be the team that's most aggressive. When we're aggressive defensively we'll create turnovers -- and I would like to convert at a high percentage in transition. As far as points in the paint, that's a battle of wills. We have to post more, whether it's with our bigs or with our perimeter players. We also have guys capable of dribble penetration and we have to do a better job at that. If we can get to the free throw line (more often) it will allow us to set our defense and anytime you can set your defense you're a much better team.
After last season, team president Joe Dumars said he might break up the core of the team. He said no player was untouchable. That core unit is still together. Now as head coach, would you like to see it stay together?
I definitely would. When Joe mentioned that (trade talk), those guys were very aware of it. He had told them that (before talking with the media). It was a matter of being honest with them. He told them, 'If you no longer as a group can get it done, as far as getting to the finals and possibly winning the finals, then it's time to make some changes.' After four years (since the 2004 championship), as well as this team has done, sometimes it gets to the point where you become complacent or stale. I think that was setting in on us. But based on what I saw and heard this summer, I think they have a renewed desire.
So it lit a fire under them?
I think it did. I've been on that side of trade talks before. No one wants to move their families. That's part of our business, though, and we understand it. But it makes you want to do everything you can to make this situation here work. I think that's all he's (Dumars) ever asked of those guys -- to make sure you're giving it everything you've got.
Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Flip Saunders all had impressive records, but only Brown could win a championship. Do you feel the pressure to win and win now?
I know expectations are high. You have to realize I was a player just a few years ago. I (faced) expectations every year or I was going to get cut or traded. You deal with that. I'm immune to it. I expect to do well. We have a tremendous amount of talent. We have a really good team. The expectation and desire here is to compete for a title every year. I'd much rather have that than a team that's expected to win 25 games this year, hopefully get up to 35 next year and maybe make the playoffs by year three. I'd rather be in this situation and face the pressure of making it to the finals. I'd take that every time.
Do you see an expanded role for second-year pro Rodney Stuckey?
We look at Rodney Stuckey as a sixth starter. He's capable of starting for most teams in this league. We have to find a way to get him 30 minutes a game. We expect a lot out him. He expects a lot out of himself.
We expect more out of Amir Johnson. He's shown, at times, that he can be very good. But we want that from him consistently.
Jason Maxiell has been a staple for us. He's played well. Then we have Kwame Brown and Aaron Afflalo. Kwame, as long as he's been in the league, is still a young player at 25. He's played some big games, had major roles as a starter. Sometimes they've asked more from him than he could produce, but we're asking him to come in and be a role player on a really good team. Based on his work this summer, I think he'll do a really good job for us. Aaron Afflalo is rock solid. He does everything you ask of him. He works extremely hard every day. We expect a lot from those five.
When you start camp (Sept. 30), and get the players together for the first time, what will your message be?
First of all, I'm going to address the trade talk. That stuff happens. I'm going to tell them that we're happy to see everybody here and let them know how much we understand and appreciate the great job they've done the last six or seven years. Immediately after that, I'll explain that 20 years ago, during the Bad Boys era, this team was really good. But the Bad Boys era didn't carry over to the team that won the championship in 2004. There was a distance in between. I want them to understand there's also a distance between 2004 and now. This is a new era. We no longer have meaningless regular season games. Regular season games mean something to us. We've been consistent and we've been good, but we haven't been the best at the end the last four seasons. We want to get back on top. Until then, we're fighting an uphill battle. That's what I want the guys to understand.