Richard Hamilton looks and sounds as bored as ever, a three-time All-Star sitting on the bench. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
Auburn Hills— Hopefully, this was goodbye, for all parties involved.
Hopefully, this was Rip Hamilton's swan song in a Pistons uniform at the Palace.
And hopefully, as the Pistons reached the midpoint of a season in transition with Monday's 103-89 win over Dallas, this was the beginning of the end of the drama with this team.
Of course, that may be wishful thinking, what with the franchise still up for sale and a dismal 15-26 record in mid-January and a roster with too many square pegs and a coach who's been hung out to dry more times the last two years than anyone, least of all John Kuester, cares to remember.
But so was the "We want Rip!" chant from the fans at Monday's holiday matinee game. It wasn't particularly loud, and since it didn't come until there were 2.8 seconds left in the first quarter, it's hardly what you'd call a groundswell.
But such is the level of fan apathy with this Pistons team at the moment: Most of them are too bored to be angry right now, though I suppose the fact that this was "Kids' Day" helped soften the message Monday.
And Hamilton? Yeah, he looks and sounds as bored as ever, a three-time All-Star sitting on the bench, waiting for a three-team, 15-player trade that's stuck in limbo. He's neither gone, nor forgotten, try as everyone might on both counts.
"It's something they wanted to go with," Hamilton said Monday, after he'd earned a "DNP - Coach's Decision" for the fourth consecutive game. "It's out of my control. I'm just here. I show up. And I do what I've been doing for the last nine years, and that's coming out and being professional and trying to help my teammates."That's his version of this sad comedy, at least. It ignores the obvious insubordination we all witnessed earlier this season, and everything — from the backbiting to the "buffoonery," as Tayshaun Prince so accurately put it last week — that has gone on with this passive-aggressive bunch the last few months.
But really, all that's irrelevant now, because it's obvious that Kuester is done playing Rip, and vice versa. There are no games left to be played here, clearly, and everyone's ready to move on, just as soon as that Russian billionaire can convince Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets to play along with this blockbuster deal they've hatched.
That doesn't mean everybody's happy about it, mind you. The holdovers from that 2004 championship team — and the extended run of success of the past decade — aren't exactly thrilled about this current state of affairs. But even that's old news by now.
"I still stick with the same thing I said before," Prince said, wearily, after an impressive outing with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists Monday against the Mavericks. "He's a guy that we can definitely use on the floor. We're a young team. Whenever one of our veterans is out, that's something we're missing. … "When things matter most, obviously we need him out on the floor. We need Ben Wallace out on the floor. We have to see what happens."We know what'll happen eventually. They'll all be gone, from owner Karen Davidson to what's left of the title team — Hamilton, Prince and Wallace, though he's signed through next season as well — and maybe Kuester, too, unless his team produces a lot more efforts like this one the rest of this winter.
Give Kuester and the Pistons credit for finally stumbling on a lineup and rotation that seems to have some chemistry — and a future. But give it a few weeks — and some better tests on the road — before we declare any problems solved with this team.
And in the meantime, please, someone give Hamilton his early release, with credit for time already served Look, I know it's hard to muster much sympathy for a guy who's making $12.6 million this season. And next season. And $9 million the season after that. But he's a competitor at heart, and, yes, he heard the fans calling his name Monday.
"It's hard, man," Hamilton said, nodding. "Because you want to be out there playing. You want them to be cheering for you when you're out there playing. But it's just a thing where they appreciate you and I appreciate them so much for the last nine years I've been here. They've been incredible to me, and they just want to see me out there. But it is what it is. So you just gotta stay patient and keep a smile on your face."That's what he did Monday, at least.
Asked if he'd gotten a direct explanation from Kuester, who politely praised Hamilton's "professional" behavior after the game, or team president Joe Dumars about his benching, he smiled and said no.
Asked if he felt insulted by that, Hamilton offered another smile and this reply, "You answer that question."And with that, a 3-minute postgame interview was done. Maybe his Pistons career, too. Or maybe not. But either way, there's not much left to say.