Greg Monroe, right, is an important part of the Pistonsí future. The first-year player is improving each game. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
Auburn Hills The Richard Hamilton saga has illuminated some painful, harsh truths about the NBA that can't be avoided.
Teams age, the brew gets stale, and players and franchises must move on.
Hamilton didn't play for the third straight game Saturday night, the Pistons' second straight win, and they appear to be phasing him out. Whether Hamilton is traded Tuesday, Thursday or some point after that, the Pistons are preparing for life after Rip.
It happens. A lot of times it's not pretty, but it's necessary. With the way salaries are structured, players make more money at the end of their careers, when they're well past their prime. For a team like the Pistons, Hamilton's money, along with his falling production, make him a liability.
Price paid for past success
The Pistons were legitimate title contenders for seven straight seasons. Let that sink in for a moment. For seven straight seasons there was stellar basketball played on The Palace floor.
Even if you believe they should have won more than one championship (yes, they should have), or if you think they shouldn't have drafted you-know-who (no, they shouldn't have), fans must recognize a price must be paid for contending at the highest level for nearly a decade.
Pistons fans are spoiled, bottom line. Expectations for the Red Wings are high, as well, but the Wings have continued to meet them.
The Tigers and Lions are viewed differently. The Tigers still are riding the wave of their surprising 2006 World Series appearance, and they haven't made the postseason since. The Lions haven't done anything substantial since the days of Barry Sanders, yet fans are ready to throw a parade for finishing 6-10. To be fair, the Tigers and Lions do have a sense of direction.
Go back and look at NBA history. The Los Angeles Lakers went through a period where Sedale Threatt, not Magic Johnson, not Kobe Bryant or even Nick Van Exel was their best backcourt performer.
There was a time when neither Phil Jackson nor Pat Riley barked signals from the bench. Johnson had an ill-fated stint, along with some guy named Randy Pfund. More recently, after the Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal, they averaged 40 wins the next three years.
Keep in mind, the Lakers are one of the biggest brands in sports. They have the best resources, the most cachet and play in a huge media market. Yet, they've had two extended periods of struggles over the past 20 years.
Start looking ahead
You can't compete one year, then draft Blake Griffin or Dwight Howard the next. It's not realistic. What fans should expect, though, is a clear and solid plan for moving forward, with young building blocks that are ready to step up and play serious roles.
Greg Monroe and Austin Daye may not be household names yet, but they're talented. And learning on the job. Monroe is getting better every time he steps on the floor, and once the Pistons pair him with an athletic big who'll block shots while playing above the rim, he'll be that much better.
Daye was finding his footing before being yanked from the rotation and hopefully next season or perhaps later this season, they'll turn him loose.
Next year, Tayshaun Prince won't be here. He's playing well enough (14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, .494 field-goal percentage) to fetch serious interest among contenders this summer. Hopefully, the players have picked up on his savvy and intelligent court sense.
The veterans (Prince, Hamilton, Ben Wallace) have done their heavy lifting for this franchise and surely it hurts to see the team not have the success they're used to. It's on management and coaching to give the young players the opportunity to step into those big shoes, and on the players to seize the day.
That day is coming sooner than you think.