By Rob Mahoney
Every NBA head coach is faced with difficult decisions -- among them the seemingly basic choice of deciding who will play and who will not. In some cases that's an easy call, while in others it requires the splitting of the finest of hairs. Not only can the distinctions between some end-of-the-rotation players prove incredibly thin, but so too must a coach balance his team's interests in winning, developing young talent, marketing potential trade fodder and evaluating fringe prospects. There's much for a coach to do and precious little playing time available, inevitably leaving some players out of the mix entirely.
One such player is Detroit's Corey Maggette -- a 20-point scorer in another life who has fluttered from team to team via trade as his skillset became less valuable, his game withered on ill-fitting rosters and his coaches understandably looked elsewhere to fill minutes. Maggette hasn't been of much use to an NBA team since 2010, and few expected much at all of his time with the Pistons when he was acquired last June. Still, his season has been particularly uneventful even by that standard, as Maggette has appeared in just 18 games despite Detroit's lack of superior alternatives and Maggette playing his part as a veteran on a fledgling team. David Mayo of MLive (via BDL) elaborates:
Maggette's last game was Dec. 15, at a time when Frank already was getting hammered with questions about playing for the future, and regularly offered the rote response that the Pistons would use their best available players in a quest to win games, and if the focus shifted to the future at some point, then it is a coach's responsibility to say as much and be honest with his team.
That's the confusing dichotomy. Maggette said he had no idea that a push toward the future is why he has been benched for 45 consecutive games since the Pistons acquired him last year by trading Ben Gordon to Charlotte.
"No one told me anything," he said.
There's nothing at all wrong with Maggette slipping out of Lawrence Frank's rotation, as the Pistons really have little motivation to invest playing time in a 33-year-old wing who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. But Maggette's case seems all too common among NBA bench warmers, and Frank apparently hasn't communicated anything regarding where Maggette stands.
Perhaps some players don't warrant a breakdown as to why they wind up sitting on the bench game-in and game-out, but there is value to offering players a simple explanation as to the nature of their predicament. Doing so isn't catering to the talent in a player's league, but expressing a fairly basic courtesy to a group of adults being asked to bring consistent effort and focus to their basketball work on a daily basis. They could do so without the explanation, as Maggette has this season, but what's the harm in letting a 13-year vet know why he hasn't seen game action since mid-December, especially when he alleges to have done right by his coach and teammates in practice?
"You see me every day," Maggette said. "I'm working -- working with the young guys, out on the court, in the weight room, doing everything I can do to be able to play on this team. But situations happen the way they're going to happen. Do I know why? No. Is there a reason why I shouldn't be playing? No. It's tough, because I am a competitor. But there's nothing I can do about it.It's easy to lob criticism at NBA coaches from this side of the wall, but my mild complaint is far from strategic second-guessing. Maggette shouldn't play for the Pistons, and Frank is correct to see what he can get from the rest of his roster. But these kinds of situations, which seem to crop up several times a season, are hardly specific to Maggette and Frank. Head coaches get so much right in their management and direction of their players, but how is it that something as simple as a line of basic communication is botched between an experienced coach and an NBA regular?