Both sides deserve some blame, but Richard Hamilton should understand this: He has more to lose in this spat, and heís losing it, day by day. (Clarence Tabb Jr/The Detroit News)
The passive-aggressive nonsense needs to stop. I swear, if we have to spend one more day debating who's disrespecting whom in the Pistons' Richard Hamilton saga, I'm gonna rip my hair out.
Both sides deserve some blame, but Hamilton should understand this: He has more to lose in this spat, and he's losing it, day by day.
The Pistons are 5-3 since John Kuester sent Hamilton to the end of the bench. Trade possibilities have bubbled and vaporized. Of course a trade would be best for both parties, and the wait has to be humbling for a proud, accomplished athlete like Hamilton. Until it happens, both sides must handle it better.
If Kuester and Hamilton really aren't communicating at all, Joe Dumars should step in and demand they do. There long has been a sense of entitlement among Pistons players, so Kuester clearly is taking an anti-coddling stance. And let's keep this in perspective — no one is being publicly nasty, just subtly petty.
Kuester has said he wanted to try different lineups, which is the prerogative of a coach, last I checked. And different lineups are working.
Hamilton, 32, has indicated he doesn't understand it and feels disrespected, and there's nothing else he can do. Well, for one thing, he could look at the examples set by fellow veterans Tayshaun Prince and Tracy McGrady, who have played tremendously at times.
Part of the past
It's too bad it's going down this way, but nothing lasts in professional sports, nothing but your legacy. And Hamilton's legacy as a legendary Piston — he's the franchise's all-time leading playoff scorer — takes a hit every time they win a game without him, confirming he doesn't fit here anymore, that younger guys need to play. Austin Daye, Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum are pieces of the future, and you saw a glimpse of it when the Pistons won at Orlando.
Denver comes to the Palace tonight in a bizarre convergence of all that used to be good about the Pistons, and all that's bothersome about the NBA. Nothing stays built, nobody stays put and loyalty is an illusion.
Chauncey Billups once was the leader of the Pistons. Now he's trying to finish his career in his hometown of Denver and doesn't want to be traded again.
Carmelo Anthony once was the unquestioned star of a rising Nuggets team. You might be vaguely aware he could've been a Piston in the 2003 draft. Now he wants to go elsewhere, and essentially squashed the three-team trade with the Pistons and Nets.
Hamilton once was the Pistons' fearless, relentless masked scorer, leading the team eight straight seasons. Then Dumars traded Billups for Allen Iverson, and compounded the mistake by giving Hamilton a fat contract that carries two more years. Even all that money didn't soothe Hamilton's hurt about losing his backcourt mate.
In another time, Hamilton and Billups could have played together to the end, like Isiah Thomas and Dumars. But it turns out that 2004 Pistons championship team really was a remarkable rarity. Without a superstar, players' individual worth got overvalued. You knew it was going to end eventually, after six runs to the Eastern Conference final, but it shouldn't end with reputations smudged.
Kuester has much to learn in his second year as an NBA head coach, and he could've handled Hamilton's demotion differently. I can understand why Hamilton would be upset, but please, let's hold off on the sympathy cards. He hasn't made the transition any easier, shooting a near-career-worse 41 percent and sulking at about the same percentage.
Good and bad Rip
Hamilton has been a fan favorite, and there will be smatterings of "We want Rip!" from the crowd. But for someone who can be very likeable, he also can be petulant, already ejected three times this year.
It was ridiculous for Hamilton to refuse a meeting with Kuester the other day because he was "offended" the coach sent the team's security chief, Jerry Hendon, to request it. Hendon is well-respected by players and management, so I don't get why that was offensive. Is this really what we're down to? Kuester and Hamilton haven't talked because neither has asked the right way?
This symbolizes the best of what Dumars has done here, and the downside. He brought in strong-willed players like Hamilton, Billups, Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, and they did great things. He also overly empowered them by changing coaches they didn't like.
Kuester doesn't have the respect a big name would bring, but I'm sorry, these 17-28 Pistons don't have the power to challenge it, either. Younger players are picking up minutes and playing well and that should be the only issue, although it isn't.
You'll see two guys tonight who once represented the feisty spirit of the Pistons, before age and business intervened, as they inevitably do. Billups plays for the other team and Hamilton plays not at all.
At one point, Hamilton might have won this silly public-relations battle. Now, it's hard to see anything left for him to win here.
The Pistons are 5-3 since Richard Hamilton has been benched. Here is the game-by-game breakdown:
Jan. 12: L vs. Memphis, 107-99
Jan. 14: W at Toronto, 101-95
Jan. 15: W vs. Sacramento, 110-106
Jan. 17: W vs. Dallas, 103-89
Jan. 19: L at Boston, 86-82
Jan. 21: L at New Jersey, 89-74
Jan. 22: W vs. Phoenix, 75-74
Jan. 24: W at Orlando, 103-96
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