Pau Gasol makes a behind the back pass over the Pistons' Jason Maxiell in the third quarter. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
Auburn Hills On the positive side, the Pistons didn't waste any time spatting with their coach Wednesday night. On the downside, they didn't spend much time sparring with the Lakers.
The champs came to town and rolled, no newsflash there, but this was a weak, soft capitulation by the Pistons. Kobe Bryant scored 33 in the Lakers' 103-90 stomping, and the Kobe Show is always worth a ticket. The Pistons' ridiculous sideshow absolutely isn't.
The reality is, the Pistons are going to face a lot of frustration this season. The brutal truth is, they'd better handle it a lot more professionally.
In the first, Richard Hamilton was ejected for arguing a foul call, a super-quick trigger by referee Derrick Stafford. But it was completely irresponsible of Hamilton, and I get the ref's point: Enough with the antics already, fellas.
The Pistons (4-8) don't have to be good during this rebuilding process, but they have to stop stooping, stop caving to frustration. This includes Tayshaun Prince's verbal outburst at coach John Kuester in the previous game. It's unacceptable for Hamilton and Prince, team stalwarts, to act petulantly. Prince accepted some blame Wednesday and is eager to move past it, and he can do so by showing better leadership.
Everyone knows the mighty challenge here, as Mike Ilitch's group continues negotiations to buy the team. Plenty is in limbo. That cannot be an excuse for concentration lapses and lame effort. Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson noted of the Pistons, "It looks like some of their guys aren't playing hard right now."
Near as I can tell, everyone with the Pistons is still being paid, so acting like a pro is not asking too much. The Palace wasn't sold out, but a decent crowd of 20,284 deserved more. By the end of the third quarter, they were chanting "MVP!" for Bryant, and the humbling was complete.
"We probably looked sluggish, but I thought we came out with the right focus," Kuester said. "But they hit us, hit us hard."
This isn't just about one game. It's the other stuff that has to infuriate Joe Dumars, and at some point, he might have to be more aggressive dealing with it. It's all further evidence a trade is needed, and at this stage, I'd bet Hamilton is ready to leave.
I'm not trying to blow this out of proportion. Prince acknowledged he was wrong for yelling at his coach at Golden State, and to be fair, he has responded with effort. All parties reiterated they were moving forward, which is what they have to do. But the troubling pattern has been set.
Prince sniped earlier in the season when Kuester said more leadership was needed. Rodney Stuckey was benched in one game and forced to sit out the next for insubordination. Nothing wrong with healthy disagreements, but when players start openly challenging a coach, they're chipping away at his authority, and that cannot continue.
Prince and Hamilton have argued with coaches before, which speaks to their competitive spirit. But when you have an unproven guy like Kuester, it stirs turmoil.
No way — no way — can Dumars make another coaching change, not after the failed one season with Michael Curry, not with an impending sale of the team. I have no idea if Kuester can be an adequate NBA coach, but I do know he's been dealt a confounding hand here.
The Pistons' roster doesn't have nearly enough pieces, and also too many. Kuester has to keep the veterans — Hamilton, Prince, Ben Gordon, Tracy McGrady — fully engaged while leaning more on youngsters Stuckey and Austin Daye.
As an illustration of the difficult lineup dance, the Pistons have five players averaging between 13 and 15.9 points per game. It's a logjam that makes everyone unsure of their roles.
Sorry, still no excuse. Jobs are on the line, lots of jobs, and they should be. Kuester was in repair mode Wednesday, but he can't back down. The players have trumped the coach for years here, from Flip Saunders to Curry to Kuester. They don't have to respect the coaches' track record, but they have to respect the position.
"It's my job to make sure we get maximum potential out of those players, and that's all I'm trying to do," Kuester said. "When you're able to challenge each other, as player to player, or player to coach, that's when you become a team."
It's as if the Pistons can't move forward until they let go of the past, of some players' sense of entitlement. Hamilton declined to comment afterward, but there's no way he can get himself booted from that game. He started yapping at Stafford, who'd whistled him for fouling Bryant. Stafford called one quick technical and Hamilton kept it up, not being demonstrative but clearly saying something.
"Obviously, it was deflating," Prince said of Hamilton's ejection. "The champs can pick you apart. Their chemistry is great. We'd like to get our chemistry where theirs is."
The Pistons got slammed by the best team in basketball and it was over shortly after Hamilton was gone. No, they're not supposed to beat the Lakers these days. But they at least need to show they're fully committed — all of them — to getting better.
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