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The sad saga of Richard Hamilton

(Damian Strohmeyer/SI)

I flipped on Fox Sports Net the evening of Sept. 11, 2002, and the broadcast opened with news of the Pistons trading Jerry Stackhouse for Richard Hamilton. A few months earlier, FSD opened its broadcast with news of an outrageous trade before cutting away to reveal an April Fools Day prank. Surely, this had to be another, albeit more poorly timed, farce.

Jerry Stackhouse had given everything to the Pistons. He stopped trying to lead the league in scoring and started trying to win. He bought into Rick Carlisle’s defense-first system, and he played a key part in the Pistons winning their first playoff series in 11 years. Surely, the Pistons didn’t reward Stackhouse’s sacrifice by trading him – let alone for an unproven, although apparently talented, Hamilton. It had to be a joke.

I wish this were a joke:

The Pistons have come full circle. They started with a high-volume shooter, who despite being more well-intentioned than not, wasn’t devoted to winning in Stackhouse. A decade later, they’re left with a high-volume shooter, who despite being more well-intentioned than not, isn’t devoted to winning in Hamilton.

Richard Hamilton was progress. His energy allowed him to compete throughout the regular season and deep into the playoffs, a trait Stackhouse couldn’t duplicate. Hamilton was one of Joe Dumars’ many success stories.

Now, he’s the obvious face of a segment of the Pistons who are stuck in the past, too stubborn to change. He reminds me of an old band, playing hits of yesteryear to remain relevant. But in the NBA, unlike music, the younger, sharper acts share the arena and expose the old-timers. Hamilton isn’t left to play his classics the best he can in peace. He has to fend off new competition, both on opponents’ rosters and his own team, every night.

That must be a scary proposition for Hamilton – knowing your best days are behind you and there’s nothing you can do. I doubt Hamilton will ever accomplish anything on a basketball court he hasn’t already. That’s certainly not easy to handle.

Rather than adjust, Hamilton presses on, fighting battles he can’t win. He’s protesting the NBA’s stricter technical-foul rules by getting ejected from as many games as possible. He’s shifting blame for Detroit’s struggles to the coach by refusing to play hard for the coach. He’s campaigning to start by getting sick at the thought of coming off the bench.

This sad saga was all too predictable.

The education of Richard Hamilton

(John Biever/SI)

This has been building for some time.

The Pistons let Ben Wallace, the heart and soul of the team, leave for the Bulls in 2006. That created a void for Hamilton and his teammates to find themselves. Chauncey Billups was always a rock, but unfortunately, Rasheed Wallace, not Billups, took a more authoritative role.

Ben Wallace’s lessons on how to treat coaches (read: as poorly as you desire) were reinforced and augmented by Sheed, whose head-butting with Flip Saunders trumped any of Ben’s testiness with Rick Carlisle. As a bonus, Sheed taught Rip how to argue with officials (read: as much as you desire).

The Wallaces meant a lot to the organization, but their head-strong attitudes left a mark on the impressionable Hamilton. Unfortunately, their most brusque traits veiled the subtle nuances in their ability to help teams.

Then, the Pistons took the most drastic step in Hamilton’s decline.

(Getty Images)

They traded Chauncey Billups to Denver. Smiles like those pictured above became fewer and farther between for Hamilton.

Psychologically, the trade took an obvious toll. Hamilton lost his best friend to another team.

What happened to Hamilton on the court is a little trickier. A common theory: without Billups’ pinpoint passes, Hamilton has struggled to find his shot. Here’s another theory: without Billups’ passes, Hamilton believes it’s difficult to find his shot.

The trade also brought Allen Iverson to Detroit. Iverson and Hamilton battled for the starting spot on the court, in the locker room and in the media. Hamilton won. Iverson took the rest of the season off.

The victory was short lived for Hamilton, lasting only until the season ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers. The Pistons quietly let Iverson walk in the offseason. Unfortunately, the example of entitlement he set has apparently lasted longer.

Odd man out

(Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

To make matters worse for Hamilton, the Pistons signed Ben Gordon that summer. Two rhythm shooters playing the same position and combining to make more than $20 million per year doesn’t make anyone happy.

Hamilton, who once outwardly enjoyed playing basketball more than any key Piston in this era, sulked. It didn’t take hold immediately, but it was inevitable.

(Getty Images)

The Pistons hired John Kuester, who immediately championed Hamilton as a valuable part of the team. Since stroking Hamilton’s ego then, Kuester has continued to treat Hamilton well. Even though the organization committed to open competitions for starting positions and playing time this season, Hamilton, remained the starting shooting guard for 27 games despite poor play.

The pandering ended before – or depending whom you believe, when or shortly after – a mysterious stomach ailment kept him from the Pistons’ win over the Hornets on Sunday.

Slowing the leak

(Brandy Baker/The Detroit News)

Whispers became news when Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News found a Pistons source to say Hamilton “quit on us.” That article brought Hamilton’s problems public, preventing either side from concealing them anymore.

But I also had no doubt Joe Dumars would nip this in the bud. He commands too much respect. When he told Hamilton to stop sulking, I knew Hamilton would, and I’m sure that was the crux of the pair’s 20-minute conversation today. Whether or not Hamilton wants to be traded, his behavior helps nobody.

After his chat with Dumars, Hamilton went to the media and said the right things*:

Pistons guard Richard Hamilton practiced Tuesday and declared afterward he would take coming off the bench "like a man" and do whatever it takes to win.

But I don’t think Dumars can fix Hamilton’s attitude. Beyond the typical clichés, Hamilton also said, “Joe will find out who said it and get to the point on that.” I believe Dumars told Hamilton he would try to find Goodwill’s source, but they talked for 20 minutes, and that’s what Hamilton took from their talk?

Maybe whoever criticized Hamilton should take more accountability, but why is Hamilton demanding it? Does he not see how his comment makes him look? Can Hamilton take any responsibility for the comment? Time will tell, but the early indications suggest no.

Actions speak louder than words, and Hamilton has taken one appreciable action this season – sitting out Sunday’s game.

*Update: It was pointed out to me that Hamilton met with Dumars after speaking with the meeting. I’d guess before their face-to-face meeting, the two talked in some other way. If they did, my points stand, If they didn’t, my points mostly stand, but we’ll find out more when Hamilton speaks publicly next.

Accountability

(Getty Images)

The heat burns intently on Hamilton now. Today’s article in The Detroit News is deservedly receiving national attention. Every NBA fan now believes Hamilton doesn’t measure up, and they’re get a hint of another unfortunate truth:

Every member of Pistons team fears leading it.

On one hand, how can you blame them? The team will probably fail, regardless, and the leader will take more of the blame. On the other hand, this team has no chance of succeeding without a leader.

Hamilton needs to realize three things:

  1. He’s the Pistons’ highest-paid player.
  2. He’s a captain.
  3. He’s, as result of today’s report, now the face of a lost franchise.

He can keep heading down the same path, but it won’t do him any good.

A new era

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This image represents the past. Hamilton no longer holds the edge over Gordon, and I think Hamilton knows that. I don’t know whether he accepts it or how he’ll deal with it, but I think, deep down, he knows it.

Hamilton accomplished a lot in Detroit, and nothing will ever take that from him. But history isn’t objective. How Hamilton handles this situation will play a huge part in his legacy – whether he’s remembered as the Pistons’ all-time leading playoff scorer or that malcontent who drained three years and $37.5 million from the organization.

I hope he knows that.

25 Comments

  • Dec 21, 201010:27 pm
    by gmehl1977

    Reply

    @Feldman
    Well written my man. Definitely our best article this year. The part where you state:
    “He has to fend off new competition, both on opponents’ rosters and his own team, every night”
    I think the whole team has been this way because it is a team of 2 halves that make it hard for the team as a ‘whole’ to succeed.
     

  • Dec 21, 201010:30 pm
    by gmehl1977

    Reply

    Whoops typo…It is meant to say ‘your’ not ‘our’ btw.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dan Nixon, PistonPowered Feed. PistonPowered Feed said: The sad saga of Richard Hamilton: (Damian Strohmeyer/SI) I flipped on Fox Sports Net the evening of Sept. 11, 20… http://bit.ly/f18np0 [...]

  • Dec 21, 201010:44 pm
    by Jason

    Reply

    Well said, Feldman.

  • Dec 22, 20101:05 am
    by Nelson

    Reply

    great article, well said

  • Dec 22, 20106:18 am
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Thanks, guys.

    Gmehl, I think intra-team competition can, and should, be a great thing. But you’re right, on this team, the division between the old guard and new guard is too steep. I don’t think the players look at it as just competition for minutes, but a competition for the soul of the team. Unless the losers are immediately traded, it’s too difficult to compete this way, because the losing side will just poison the locker room.

  • Dec 22, 201010:52 am
    by Odeh

    Reply

    I just hope the starting Gordon over Rip change isn’t short lived.  The Pistons need to see this change through and give it an honest effort at succeeding before making any moves or changes going forward.  I just can’t get myself to trust Kuester to see this through.  He’s the type of coach that will start Rip again as soon as Gordon has one bad game, just to say he tried it and it didn’t work.  We need to make this change permanent to see what we have with our younger core.  After all, we can’t get much worse.

  • Dec 22, 201011:23 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    i dunno… it’s well written, but i have a few overriding thoughts:
     
    1) the saddest part of the saga is that you’ve just written his obituary, and there’s no good reason to think he won’t be here for two and a half more seasons.
     
    2) i blame joe 100% for this mess. you think WE know rip’s reputation and personality?? uh, shouldn’t joe know just a smidge better? it’s not like the moves joe made with respect to rip weren’t obviously “risky.” swap chauncey for stuckey as the PG for a guy who needs to get the ball in exactly the right spot, bid against yourself to pay a guy who needs a particular system to excel a damn fortune to be here until he’s 35, sign a younger guy who does the one thing rip does best (read: shoot the rock) better than rip does. and all of this knowing the guy is a stubborn competitor with a chip on his shoulder. it would have taken a miracle for this to have ended without disaster.
     
    3) saga ain’t over yet, fellas. rip was happy “coming off the bench as long as we’re winning.” this may help us get more out of the better shooter of the two, but does anyone seriously think this is the change that’s going to take this team from 10 games below .500 to a winner?? if anything, assuming these guys end up playing similar minutes (they’re both sitting at 27 per), this has a better than average chance of being a change for the worse, since there are serious advantages as far as morale goes to rip starting and gordon coming off the bench. i suspect he’ll have an easier time coming off the bench behind a true piston than a washed-up rental like liverson, but that isn’t saying much.
     
    stay tuned…

  • Dec 22, 201011:35 am
    by Alan

    Reply

    Nice article, Dan.  Let’s see how Rip adjusts to life on the back-side of his career.  Obviously, one-game into this realization, it’s not off to a good start. 

  • Dec 22, 201012:20 pm
    by IsraeliPiston

    Reply

    The problem with Rip is he needs around 15-20 seconds to run around, have our bigs set picks and then get the ball and shoot. This was fine when we had Ben and Rasheed. Billips would dribble, wait for rip, pass it to him after a wall of screens were set and Rip would shoot.
    Today, we don’t have the bigs to set the screens and Billips to wait for Rip. We need to run and we need players like Gordon who can create their own shots. Plus, the league has caught on to what Rip does – after 9 plus years, they have more or less figured him out and learned to stop him.
    I predict that Larry Brown will take a chance on him and Rip will soon be a Bobcat.
     
    or at least slow

  • Dec 22, 20102:09 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Odeh, I think this change will last for a while for a couple main reasons.

    Kuester took a long time to make this change. He surely didn’t come about his decision lightly. He didn’t want to offend Hamilton, but that damage is already done. He can’t offend Hamilton by benching him again, unless he brings Hamilton back into the starting lineup again.

    Kuester is fighting to keep his job next year, and the easiest way he can do that is win. He made this change because he thinks it will help the team win. The risk is you lose Rip, and maybe subsequently, the team. But given a team source felt comfortable telling a newspaper that Rip quit, that risk is probably minimized.

  • Dec 22, 20102:14 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    also, anyone else think local sports writers aren’t doing the team any favors by flooding the internet with articles bashing the guy?? all the negative press for a guy whose “controversies” not entirely his fault at all can’t possibly help the chances of getting his ass out of town.
     
    so he’s got a bad attitude. so do i. this team is a complete mess.

  • Dec 22, 20102:24 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Laser, sports writers don’t owe the team any favors. They don’t work for the team.

  • Dec 22, 20104:07 pm
    by jk281

    Reply

    Great article. To touch on your point at the end about Rip needing to accept Gordon surpassing him, Rip needs to take a page from his UConn mentor Ray Allen. When Rip was in his prime back in the mid-00′s, he had arguably surpassed his teacher, Allen, at the time. Instead of sulking about it, Allen moved on to greener pastures in Boston, re-invented himself, and won a championship. This situation is obviously a little different, with Rip and Gordon being on the same team, and Gordon taking Rip’s job, but my point is that Rip needs to realize his career is not over, just because it appears over here in Detroit.

    He needs to ust accept that Gordon is now in his prime and ready to hopefully do what Rip did in his prime. Instead of holding Gordon back out of spite or jealousy, he needs to step back for the time being, let Gordon grow, and just wait for a trade out of here. I understand he may be frustrated if nobody will take his contract right now, but if he was really frustrated, instead of crying about it, he would just negotiate a buyout and move on to a contender for the vet minimum, like a lot of vets do at the end of their careers, hoping to land that last ring before retirement. If he’s not willing to sacrifice his salary to get himself out of this situation, than he has no business complaining about it.

  • Dec 22, 20104:18 pm
    by gordbrown

    Reply

    I think the key point that everyone is missing is that Prince had his best game of the season when Rip took a walk. In some sense, Kuester’s stubborn insistence on keeping Rip in the starting lineup was both losing games and losing the team. Finally seeing the light as to the team’s main problem seems to have brought the team back around, at least for the moment. It was clear that the team’s problem was in their heads (a team that can build a 20 plus point lead against a team with talent and playoff aspirations has some ability somewhere) as it’s chief problem was an inability to close out games (and that dates back to last year).
    Also I don’t understand the Stuckey bashing (although I know that its clearly an ongoing theme in the comments on this site). Stuckey is what he is, but he is certainly the team’s best performer, he is growing by leaps and bounds in terms of pushing the ball when he can and pulling out when its not there and he is proven capable of putting up big points and big assists at the same time. Remember it took five years for Billups to become Billups (and he is clearly starting to degrade from that level).

  • Dec 22, 20104:27 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    @feldman: they may not owe the team any favors, but what about their readership?? i’m all for honest journalism, but a flurry of personal attacks on rip hurts ME. i want this guy GONE and they’re not helping. that’s all.
     
    the guy can still play, but he’s in a system that MINIMIZES his effectiveness and perceived value. i don’t like that he “mysteriously” missed the first game where he was set to be benched, and a report that some anonymous source inside the organization accuses him of quitting on the team is fine, but it pisses me off more than a little to see a dozen opinion pieces today burying the guy when he’s STUCK here. if someone’s upset about the guy, this isn’t going to help get him elsewhere, and this is all joe’s fault anyways! sure, rip signed that extension even though chauncey was gone, but do you think he signs it AFTER gordon’s been locked up for half a decade?? fat f*cking chance. it’s all joe’s fault. rip is a scapegoat. and if these local journalists are so pissed off at the guy, they should realize that all this bad press is helping to guarantee he rides out his contract here. that’s my problem.
     
    i feel bad for the guy. he probably messed up by missing that game. upset stomach or not, he should have toughed it out. heck, even if he didn’t feel good enough to go, he should have still suited up and played just to make a statement. but this mess is NOT his fault. nobody knows what rip does on the basketball court better than joe, and he built a system where everyone loses… especially rip. and since he’s hurt the most, he’s the focus of all the blame. so the guy’s got a bad attitude. so does everyone else! most of us here, included.
     
    i’m not going to say people aren’t free to say what they want and spin things however they want, but if you want the pistons to move forward and be good again, FOR YOUR OWN SAKE why not try a piece about giving rip a chance to man up, learn from his mistakes, embrace his new role and eat opposing benches alive??? that’s all. pieces like this (and there’s more than a few just like it, most more strongly worded) hurt the pistons, and they hurt the fans.

  • Dec 22, 20104:37 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    if joe extended rip until he was 35 (or close to it) and then went and signed, say, a young, talented small forward to that contract instead of gordon, these articles would be about how prince is a bad apple and washed up and a distraction and blah blah blah. i know prince is more versatile, so it wouldn’t be quite the same issue, but the bottom line is that joe made a bunch of foreseeably bad moves, and rip happens to be the greatest casualty.
     
    is anyone surprised that rip needs a particular system to be efffective? or that rodney “shoot it again” stuckey and rip aren’t particularly compatible? or that we don’t have the right big men to set double screens for rip to come off of? or that rip and gordon can’t play together? or that as a result of being predictably awful, gordon is getting a chance to start over rip? he was signed to play with stuckey? is anyone surprised that nobody in the league wants to pay rip almost $13 million a year until he’s 35? all of these are foreseeable problems, and they’re all on joe. every last one of them. so give rip a damn break. so he sat out a game because his ego needed some time to adjust to reality. we WON the damn game anyways! in part due to his absence. that’s all i’m saying.
     
    write a piece about how he probably messed up by probably missing that last game due to being a baby, but give him a chance to come off the bench with some poise before you bury him. unless you want to see him retire a damn piston, and i don’t think ANYONE wants that… rip included.

  • Dec 22, 20104:39 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    sorry, in the heat of the moment i typo’ed. that last post should posit that joe extended tayshaun. so there was someone younger and better knocking on his door. still not the most apt comparison, but it should make a little sense as to why rip’s not entirely to blame.

  • Dec 22, 20105:15 pm
    by Ryan

    Reply

    I just hope Rip doesn’t do anymore of this kind of thing and make himself absolutely untradeable.  Joe has to be just shaking his head even more right now.

  • Dec 22, 20105:27 pm
    by Michael

    Reply

    This is sad. Pros are conditioned their whole life that they are the best and have worked the hardest. The fall from the top must be awful.

  • Dec 22, 20106:21 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Gordbrown, I debated writing more about Prince having his best game when Hamilton was out, but I decided against it because I don’t know what to make of it. I really have no idea whether it’s coincidence or there’s something there, but tonight should give us another clue.

  • Dec 22, 20106:27 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Laser, I hope your view of the media isn’t that shallow that you think it’s in the best interest of writers covering the team to write what would appease fans. Fans want many different things. That’s an impossible game to play.

    Did I write once Rip wouldn’t have a chance to get back on track? I said he’s been on the wrong track, and it’s helping nobody.

    And by your logic, everyone on the team — players and coaches — are in a tough spot because of Dumars. But Rip is the only player who has even drawn the suggestion he sat out because of it.

    I won’t touch the hilarity of you defending Rip for having a bad attitude.

  • Dec 22, 20108:58 pm
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    the reality is that Joe Dumars is probably fielding a lot more calls inquiring about Ben Gordon and Tay than about Rip. it wouldn’t surprise me to see both those players traded by the deadline and see Rip still on the team.

  • Dec 23, 20101:37 am
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    Rip could be in Detroit for a while, despite the fan base being “against” him.  He is such a scapegoat, and your article is predictable, Feldman.  I tend to agree with Laser, this team is just put together poorly, but this constant garbage about the old guard Pistons is giving us all blinders.  That aspect is over-rated, and besides, star athletes are always taught to impose their will, why wouldn’t older Pistons try to do what they know?  If you go out and play pick-up ball when you get older, yeah you may not try to dunk and topple opponents with your athleticism, but what competitive player doesn’t still want to determine the outcome of the game?  This expectation that Rip should just recognize his new limitations and submit/defer to Ben Gordon are just plain ridiculous.  Are we listening to ourselves?
    Being the team captain, Rip should take a lot of heat.  But I would like to know the source that called him out.  Seems pretty weak and un-leader like.  I don’t want Rip’s attitude to change, I just want his performance to change.  I personally think his attitude gives him a swagger that, in the past, has helped his performance.

  • Dec 24, 20105:13 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    @feldman: honestly, your article is less damning than most of the other ones out there; this just happens to be the blog i comment on regularly. but the issue isn’t about “appeasing” anyone. the bottom line is that fans want what’s best for the team. if i go out on the internet and bitch about the team and root for losses in the interest of the long-term benefit of the team, it’s different than throwing the one player under the bus who can help this team the most by getting traded.
     
    i assume you want what’s best for the pistons, since you spend a significant portion of your time blogging about them. i don’t run a pistons blog, and i certainly want what’s best for them. i wouldn’t be so passionate about them (for now) if i didn’t care. i don’t want you to be disingenuous about them for the sake of trying to make them look good, but i don’t see the benefit of shooting the team in the foot by (unfairly, in my opinion) throwing the one guy under the bus that everyone wants gone. and the reason i want him gone has nothing to do with rip. but joe dumars, for some stupid reason, thinks stuckey and gordon are untouchable, so that just leaves rip for trading. you can complain about the guy, and that’s fine, but to do an entire piece turning him into a scapegoat for JOE’S BLUNDERS is bad for the pistons.
     
    rip is a very good basketball player and could be an all-star as the primary scoring option on a team with solid bigs and a great passer who knew where and when to find him. disgruntled as he was, being a scapegoat and all, he came out and carried the offense with 35 DAMN efficient points. meanwhile, gordon laid an egg in his first chance as a regular starter, and stuckey just played like a shooting guard again. there’s always going to be a scapegoat here until we just point the finger squarely at joe, who constructed this DISASTER of a situation.
     
    the situation is the problem. joe created the situation single-handedly. why bother pointing the finger at the guy who happens to fit in the least in a system joe built? so he sat out a game for mysterious reasons. BFD. the guy needed one game to man up in a season that was over before it started, and we won the damn game anyways. we know who he is, he’s a stubborn, prideful hothead, and he wants to start. joe knew who he was when he extended and overpaid the guy until age 35. was rip supposed to know joe was going to add a THIRD shooting guard to the roster for some insane reason? his worst crime BY FAR was trusting joe dumars.
     
    judging from last night’s result, and probably based just on logic, it makes more sense for t-mac and rip to start and stuckey and gordon to come off the bench. god knows why you’d put a starting lineup on the floor without a single playmaker, or why your captain would come off the bench. but nothing about this team makes sense.
     
    if you want rip to ride out his contract here and retire a piston, which all but guarantees two more losing seasons after this one, god bless you. keep burying the guy. he makes a wonderful scapegoat, after all. “in joe we trust,” or whatever. or you could focus on the problem here.
     
    missing one game is bad. fine. we read about that speculation already. he shouldn’t get a free pass, and he didn’t once the story about that anonymous source broke. but piling it on is not good for anyone who cares about this team. a little discretion will go a LONG way here. nobody has to heap praise on the guy to try to add to his perceived value, but you’re hurting all of us by writing his obituary now.
     
    write a piece about how joe dumars should be drowned and set on fire for what he did to this team, and you’ll hear no complaints from me. ever. he’s the one who messed up. he’s the one who deserves ALL of the blame for this mess. every last bit of it. and if his name gets dragged through the mud, so be it. he’s the proper target of our frustration, and he’s not on the books for $30+ million until 2013.

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