AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - In the morning, the Detroit Pistons fired Flip Saunders. By the afternoon, the players were put on notice.

"I'm not going to sit here and make Flip the scapegoat," president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said yesterday. "Everybody is in play."

Dumars publicly put his entire lineup on the trading block less than a week after the Pistons lost in the Eastern Conference final for the third straight year.

Among those available are four players who have been together since winning the 2004 NBA title - Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace - plus another starter, Antonio McDyess, who just finished his fourth season with the team.

"There are no sacred cows here," Dumars said. "You lose that sacred-cow status when you lose three straight years."

Saunders signed a 4-year contract worth up to $26 million 3 years ago. His deal came less than a day after Detroit finalized terms of Larry Brown's $7-million severance package after he helped the Pistons win an NBA title and almost repeat in his two seasons.

The Pistons averaged nearly 59 victories in three regular seasons under Saunders, who trailed only fired Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson by two wins and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich by one victory during the span.

"There are 25, 26 teams that would love to be where we are, but good has not been good enough," Dumars said. "I appreciate everything that Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Flip Saunders have done, but I also know they were handed some great teams.

"It's not like they had to take bad teams and make them good. The next coach is going to inherit a good team."

Michael Curry is the leading candidate to be Detroit's fifth coach in nine seasons; he was on Saunders' staff and is a former Pistons player. Other candidates include Johnson and Terry Porter, another assistant last season in Detroit and a former Milwaukee Bucks head coach.

"I'm going to talk to a few people this week," Dumars said. "As we normally do, we'll act quickly. This will not be a long, drawn-out process.

"We didn't get it done. As I walked out of The Palace [following the Game 6 loss to Boston], I had a real sense of calm."

Dumars was at ease because he knew exactly what he wanted to do: Fire Saunders, then trade at least one of his starters in a move or two he doesn't expect to happen before the NBA draft on June 26.

Before coming to Detroit, Saunders was 411-326 with the Minnesota Timberwolves, whom he led to eight straight postseason appearances, including seven first-round exits and an appearance in the 2004 Western Conference finals. He was fired with a 25-26 mark during the 2004-05 season. *