Hours before the start of NBA free agency, Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars made a splash of a different sort
Tuesday, firing coach Michael Curry after just one season amid ongoing concerns about Curry's command of the locker room and fears that keeping him could hamper Detroit's offseason business.
NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com that the Pistons -- projected to have more spending money than any team in the league when the market opens for business at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday -- had been contemplating the move for weeks after Curry's rocky debut season, and decided to go ahead with the change, in part to help maintain their position as the team with the most free-agent ammunition this summer.
After making what he described as a "difficult" decision," Dumars told ESPN.com Tuesday afternoon: "As we have continued to go through this transition, it has become clear that we needed a more experienced coach to help guide us through this period."
The Detroit Free Press also quoted Dumars as saying that he "asked a lot of Mike as a first-year head coach."
Pistons spokesman Kevin Grigg said the timetable for naming a new coach was up in the air.
"Obviously with the free agency period starting tomorrow [Wednesday], we don't know quite the speed of it," Grigg said.
One prominent coaching source told ESPN.com that it's unlikely Dumars would push for such a move, given the timing, without already having reached out to prospective targets.
Sources said that two names high on Dumars' list as potential replacements are former Pistons coach and current TNT analyst Doug Collins, along with ex-Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, who just completed his first season as an ESPN analyst.
A source close to the situation told ESPN that Johnson met with the Pistons on Wednesday.
Former Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, who recently resigned as coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock to pursue NBA coaching opportunities, is unlikely to be considered, sources said.
The Pistons went 39-43 under Curry in a tumultuous 2008-09 campaign that ended with a first-round playoff sweep against Cleveland. Curry gradually lost support from some of Detroit's veterans -- most notably popular shooting guard Rip Hamilton -- after he elected to move Hamilton to the bench to accommodate November trade acquisition Allen Iverson.
Curry was an assistant to Flip Saunders for just one season before he was hired to replace him. An irretrievable relationship with Hamilton; doubts about how Curry would cope if Hamilton is not traded this summer; and the potential negative impact such tensions could have on recruiting free agents prompted Tuesday's sudden announcement from the team.
The next coach will be Dumars' sixth in 10 seasons as the head of Detroit's basketball operations, but he has shown no hesitation throughout his reign to react quickly to perceived mistakes, as evidenced by trading away former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic and a subsequent trade of Nazr Mohammed shortly after signing Mohammed to a long-term contract.
The Pistons are projected to have nearly $19 million in salary-cap space this offseason, assuming the cap stays in the range of $59 million. Orlando Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu and Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon are widely regarded as two free agents Detroit will pursue, along with the Pistons' hopes of re-signing Antonio McDyess.
It is not immediately clear how Curry's departure will affect Hamilton's future; there were signals in recent weeks that Hamilton could be traded away to make room for Gordon.
The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this week that Curry and Hamilton still were barely speaking to each other, with little suggestion of a possible thaw in their icy relationship.
Such squabbles were not what the Pistons expected when Curry was chosen as Saunders' successor, given that his perceived ability to communicate with Detroit's players and hold their respect was the chief selling point that prompted Dumars to hire Curry, despite his lack of experience.
"Are there things I could've done differently?" Curry said in Monday's editions of the Free Press. "Yes. There were mistakes, but mistakes are correctible. That's how you grow."
"This was a difficult decision to make," Dumars said in a statement. "I want to thank Michael for his hard work and dedication to the organization. However, at this time, I have decided to make a change."
Curry, who played for the Pistons in 1995-97 and 1999-2003, started his playing career as an undrafted free agent during the 1993-94 season in Philadelphia and retired during the 2004-05 season with the Indiana Pacers.
Near the end of his playing career, Curry headed the NBA Players Association as president from 2001 to 2003. He later served as the D-League's vice president for player development and the NBA's vice president for basketball operations.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.