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Michael Curry Hints That Detroit's 'Smallball' Lineup Might Be Done

Dec 30, 2008 – 4:30 AM
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Matt Watson

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Michael CurryA report from the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Pistons faced the Magic on Dec. 29.

Integrating Allen Iverson into Detroit's offense is an ongoing process that hasn't been easy, and Michael Curry isn't done trying new things. Earlier this month he seemed to settle on a "smallball" lineup featuring three guards and Tayshaun Prince playing out of position at power forward, but that's left the Pistons exposed on the defensive end.

More recently, injuries to both Iverson (who missed the second half on Dec. 23) and Rip Hamilton (who's sat out the last two games completely) have forced the team back to a more traditional lineup, and considering the Pistons have responded with four straight wins, including Monday night against the Magic, Curry seems ready to explore moving one of his established perimeter players to the bench.

"The big lineup makes us better defensively," Curry said. "And at the end of the day, we're going to have to make sure we're good enough defensively."

The "big lineup" Detroit started Monday's game with featured Amir Johnson at power forward, allowing Prince to slide back to his natural small forward position. Despite foul trouble, Johnson was productive with seven rebounds, two blocked shots and several hustle plays that created extra possessions for Detroit.

Rip HamiltonWhen asked if he anticipated going back to his smallball lineup once Hamilton was ready to return, Curry refused to commit, saying he'd "look at it game-by-game" and make a decision based on how well he thought a lineup would match up on defense. And as he's now ready to admit, the idea of bringing one of your best players off the bench for the sake of a balanced rotation is hardly foreign.

"We've looked at our lineup at different times and we've thought about different guys possibly coming off the bench, but we haven't made a decision on that," Curry said. "That's kind of a tough decision.

"But we look around and ... we look at teams that have done it and it's pretty effective. I think the Lakers with Lamar Odom it's effective for them, Kirilenko in Utah has been really effective, and same thing with Ginobili in San Antonio. So it can be effective, and whether it is any of our perimeter guys, one of them coming off the bench, maybe we'll have to look at it. But we'll just cross that bridge when we get to it."

Just when will the Pistons cross that bridge? The fact that he's openly talking about it as a possibility leads me to think it'll happen as soon as Hamilton is ready to return.

Earlier this month I asked Curry if he'd thought about benching Iverson for Stuckey (which, to be honest, seemed more plausible than simply starting three guards and playing four players out of position) and he looked at me like I was crazy. But last night? He admitted in front of a dozen reporters and a couple of television cameras that it's not only a possibility but perhaps inevitable, at least so long as defense is a priority.

Curry was careful not to specify which player might head to the bench, but if a move is made, I'd be shocked if it were any player but Iverson. Hamilton struggles to create his own shot, so it'd be pointless to ask him to anchor the second-unit. Plus, Stuckey and Iverson each thrive at getting to the rim, so it makes sense to separate those two.

Allen IversonWouldn't Iverson balk at moving to the bench? It's tough to say (and he managed to avoid being asked that question Monday night by speaking to the media before Curry opened this can of worms). Iverson, who was Detroit's fourth-leading scorer last night with 15 points, commented after the game how his current situation was so unlike any other he's been in during his career, but that he enjoys winning more than being the top scoring option.

"Usually when I have a game and I have 15, or even 20 points, I felt like that, that's a bad game for me," Iverson said. "So this is different. It's a different feeling. But it's a good feeling. It says a lot about the personnel that we have on the squad."

"I feel good right now. I feel good now," he said while smiling when asked if he was comfortable not carrying the load. "It's just looking at the bigger picture. I've had four scoring titles and I've scored over 23,000 points, I've had 50 point games, a 60 point game. I've [done] a lot of things when it comes to scoring the basketball, but you know, I just have a bigger goal. Those things don't mean much to me like they used to. Early in my career, you score 50 point games, you can't sleep at night because you're so happy you're able to accomplish something like that. That stuff don't, I don't get up for that stuff anymore. I'd rather have five points, 10 points or even no points and win the basketball game and it's still the same feeling I get when I score 50 points."

If you take his comments at face value, it seems like he'd welcome a move to the bench if it benefited the team as a whole ... but if he's visibly agitated not playing the fourth quarter, would he really be happy sitting out the first?

That's what Curry needs to find out, and it's what Curry seemed to be laying the groundwork for in Monday's post-game comments.
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