↓ Login/Logout ↓
Schedule/Results
↓ Roster ↓
Salaries
↓ Archives ↓
↓ About ↓

John Kuester says more with his actions toward Rip Hamilton than any conversation could undo

Two coaches from my youth still stand out to me. Both happen to be coaches who cut me from basketball teams, one in seventh grade and one in ninth grade (I know, you must be shocked that a sports blogger was not particularly good at sports).

For those lucky enough to have never been cut from a team, it’s one of the worst feelings. Even for someone like me, who went into basketball tryouts with a good idea about my limitations (namely, build-wise I made Sean Bradley look like Glen Davis) and my longshot chances of making those teams, that final knowledge that you’re not wanted stings like few other things in life.

One coach — "KP" everyone called him — stands out because of the way he went about delivering the news to those of us who didn’t make the freshman team. He pulled us each aside individually after the last practice. He told us, without sugary platitudes, that we had not made the team. He thanked us for working hard. He encouraged us to stick with the game, and for those of us who did offer some upside if we ever grew into our gangly frames, he even offered some specific things to work on individually and invited us to give it a go again the following year. Sure, the news still sucked to receive, but there was closure involved with the way he delivered it. We knew exactly why we weren’t on the team. We knew our weaknesses in the eyes of the coaching staff. But above all, we all developed respect for an authority figure who thought enough of us as people, even at that young age, to look us in the eye and deliver news to us that I’m sure was not pleasant for him to have to deliver just like it wasn’t for us to receive it.

KP, who was a guidance counselor at the school, always remembered my name. He always said ‘Hi’ to me in the hallways. And even though I was depressed about not making the team, I couldn’t help but respect the man who made that decision.

My other memorable coach, needless to say, was the opposite. On the last day of tryouts, he announced that the players who made the team would be listed in the locker room in the morning. Sure enough, a list was posted before school started and sure enough, the coach was nowhere to be found in the vicinity of that list as kids nervously crept in to see if they had made it. Throughout tryouts, the coach was fine. He made some minimal effort to learn names. He occasionally would even give you a pointer or two, even if you weren’t one of the better players. But after that list was posted, his job was done. I never remember that coach even making eye contact with me when we’d pass in the hallways after I didn’t make his team.

It’s pretty clear that John Kuester is that second coach. I wrote early on that I thought Rip Hamilton was entitled to an explanation about his benching. And when it became a long-term benching, when no explanation was forthcoming, Kuester essentially nuked the relationship.

This isn’t meant to be a complete shot at Kuester. Let’s face it: the "meet the minimum requirements of the job" attitude is not uncommon in this country, and that starts at the lowest level jobs and goes all the way up to high profile jobs like coach of a professional basketball team. Kuester did the minimum in this case, and he’s no different than many, many other people in positions of authority who daily make difficult decisions and do so without having the backbone to face them head-on. Kuester wanted to bench Hamilton because Hamilton has not played well this season. But it’s clear he didn’t want a confrontation with a player known to be headstrong, so Kuester took the easy way out.

It doesn’t make Kuester a terrible person. Bosses, managers and decision makers make comparable moves every day for the same reason: it’s extremely difficult to deliver news to people that they won’t take well. It just makes Kuester a poor coach.

Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix wrote this about the situation:

What should have happened is Kuester should have pulled Hamilton aside after a practice or a shootaround — head coaches can do that, you know — and hashed things out. Because the reality is neither man is at fault. Kuester is a good coach. Hamilton is a good player. They both want to win, they just have different ideas on how to do it.

Mannix is a fantastic NBA writer. But this is a cop-out. You know what types of coaches pull players aside and privately deliver bad news? Good ones. Gregg Popovich would do it. Larry Brown would do it. Doc Rivers would do it. Phil Jackson would do it. And what makes all of them great coaches in that respect is that they’d do it whether it was their star player or the last guy on their bench. Hell, Phil Jackson destroyed Kobe Bryant in a book and still managed to salvage their relationship afterward and win more titles together.

Not many people blame Kuester for his decision to bench Hamilton. Hamilton wasn’t playing well, and the Pistons have clearly played better with him out of the rotation. But by failing to handle the situation in a strong way (and it surely would’ve been an unpleasant conversation, I’m not debating that), Kuester lost this one. Hamilton is a respected player in the Pistons locker room and around the league. Now, because this frayed relationship has become a national story, the Pistons look like an organization that doesn’t treat veteran players with respect, and that’s Kuester’s fault. The bottom line is good coaches are willing to take responsibility for the tough decisions they make, not just publicly, but behind closed doors, and Kuester wasn’t willing to take that responsibility.

Now, with Rodney Stuckey injured and possibly missing games, the Pistons actually find themselves in a position where they might need Hamilton. After he’s sat for about three weeks, I can’t imagine summoning him from the bench to go into a game is going to be a particularly enjoyable conversation either.

This isn’t meant as a defense of Hamilton’s actions throughout this drama. He’s paid extremely well to be a member of this team and do what is asked of him by the coaching staff. Honestly, he’s acted like a baby for the most part. But it’s kind of expected that professional athletes, especially ones who have the pedigree Hamilton does, will be childish, will over-value their worth and are, shall we say, a little removed from reality.

As depressing as the deteriorated relationship between Kuester and Hamilton is, it represented an opportunity for Kuester. An unspoken problem for the Pistons has long been the death-grip veteran players have seemed to have on the direction of the team. Hamilton and Prince are the last vocal hangers-on of that bygone era. By benching Hamilton and by owning the situation by telling Hamilton beforehand that is exactly what was going to play out on the court, Kuester missed the chance to put his stamp on the team and wrest a bit more influence away from the powerful locker room vets. Instead, he tried to take the easy way out in order to avoid a confrontation, and now Hamilton has become a more sympathetic figure, further empowering the same old ‘players run the show’ situation that has freqently been alluded to over the last 10 years in Detroit.

25 Comments

  • Jan 27, 20113:48 pm
    by Alan

    Reply

    A nice write-up and you make some good points.  After the better part of a decade in Detroit, you’d think the star deserves better.  And he does.  And he needs to do better himself.  He went diva and cost Curry his job.  Then he quit on his team.  I’m not talking about the flu stuff, I’m talking about his getting T’d up right away in 3 games earlier this season.  Once is an instance, twice is a trend, three times is a problem.  Oh yeah, and he’s the captain of this team. 

    Do you believe if Kuester had pulled Rip aside and let him know his boorish behavior was conduct detrimental to the team that Rip would’ve been understanding? 

    Let’s be clear, I’m not a Kuester fan.  I am a Rip fan.  Kuester has put together one of the best 10 game stretches since the Chauncey trade and he’s doing it with the least amount of talent.  Score one for the coach and let’s stop playing the violin for Hamilton

  • Jan 27, 20114:02 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Alan:
    I don’t think it woud’ve went well at all or Rip would’ve understood if Kuester pulled him aside. But I still think Kuester cost himself and the team by not doing it. Now he’s the one who looks petty to a lot of people.

  • Jan 27, 20114:11 pm
    by jayg108

    Reply

    Good point about the T’s Alan.  and the 10 game stretch.  I’m in agreement with you, but I’m wondering if Kuester also lost respect for Rip.
    what’s beyond the Kuester bashing comments that we read in the news?

    “I’m not getting enough minutes to get my shot going”
    after a good night of shooting “this is what I always do.  Coach doesn’t know how to use me correctly”
    “Buffoonery”  and the argument

    Of course, I’m just summarizing the comments that were making Kuester look really bad.  Plus, Kuester saw what Rip (and Sheed) did to Curry.  Maybe he thought Rip and Tay were trying to do this to him.  I think Kuester treated Rip harshly.  But I don’t know how I would’ve handled telling Rip to sit the bench if he was publicly mocking me (both in and out of the news).  I would just focus on winning so I could keep my job.

  • Jan 27, 20114:18 pm
    by Alan

    Reply

    @Patrick,
    I hear ya, I just don’t know how Kuester comes out of this a winner.  Even if he had played a different card.  Fans root for the players and not the coach.  How can any coach win with fans by benching Hamilton? 

    @Jayg,
    The game where Rip got T’d up and tossed against Kobe and the Lakers is where I lost some respect for Hamilton.  I wouldn’t blame Kuester if that’s where he lost his.

  • Jan 27, 20114:24 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @jay:
    I think that’s exactly why you have to say something to him up front though. I fully believe it would go poorly. I fully believe that Hamilton and maybe Prince would disagree publicly. But like I said in the post, there is nothing wrong with benching Hamilton, which is the real story here, but now suddenly, because Kuester handled it in a kind of spineless way, the story is about the fact that he, in the eyes of many, disrespected a proven veteran.
    I just thought Kuester missed an opportunity to exert his presence on the team for exactly the reason you point to: players have always ruled the roost here, and after this incident, it feels like they still do.

  • Jan 27, 20114:30 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Alan:
    It wasn’t so much about winning with fans. He needed to do it more to win the locker room. Guys respect Hamilton, and even if they didn’t understand the benching, I think it would foster a better environment if they felt like, if they were in a similar situation, the coach respected them enough to talk about it beforehand.

  • Jan 27, 20114:45 pm
    by jayg108

    Reply

    @Alan: the t’s versus the Lakers: was that when he said something like “thanks for losing me another $2K”  It wasn’t even a situation worth getting 1 tech, let alone 2 in the first half.  I feel bad for him, b/c someone acting like that isn’t that mentally focused.
    @Patrick  Spineless is a very good choice of words.  But that’s if he was truly avoiding the confrontation.  I guess I was wondering if Kuester was thinking that Rip’s attitude didn’t warrant a respectful “man to man.”  Being the better man, Kuester should have still spoken with Rip upfront.
     
    Is it possible that Dumars is making Kuester ice out Rip so Rip’s agent goes for a lower buyout?

  • Jan 27, 20114:49 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Jay:
    I doubt that’s the case. Chris Mannix of SI wrote earlier today that a buyout is not a possibility not only b/c Rip isn’t interested, but the Pistons can’t offer one since it would involve a huge payout from an owner who doesn’t want to spend a dime right now.

  • Jan 27, 20114:49 pm
    by Brian

    Reply

    Excellent points, Patrick. I cannot say whether John Kuester is a good coach, but can state unequivocably that he is a terrible head coach. Rip has been such a jerk this season, yet I completely sympathize with him because of the basic lack of respect he has been shown.

  • Jan 27, 20114:57 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    well-written piece. hard to disagree with most of it.
     
    as someone who never had any interest in sports until i was 22 and never played any sport (outside of little league and a forgettable stint playing c-team middle school basketball) until i was 27, i never had the experience of getting cut from a team. but i’m certain i would have been cut from any team i tried out for. as it is, i’m basically the jonas jerebko on the floor whenever i play. only i’m no jonas jerebko.
     
    as for kuester: he’s a dud. he needs to go. this didn’t take long to figure out. in order to find an NBA head coach with less of a air of authority, less competence and less of a control over his team, you’d have to go all the way back to, oh, michael curry. coaching might be the one thing we can’t blame on joe, because i don’t know what his limitations were (though if you add up the money it cost for flip to go away ($4m, iirc), curry to go away($5m over two years) and kuester to hopefully go away next season ($1.5m), you could have hired a guy worth a damn) but boy did he find some stinkers. i mean, brian hill signed on as first assistant, so he probably would have taken the head coaching job, right? or, i dunno, anyone?? hard to blame a coach TOO much for failing to achieve any success with this mess of a roster, but it would be hard for another pair of coaches to stink quite like this.
     
    on rip: i’m thoroughly unconvinced that this team would have significantly different results if t-mac and rip were the starters with stuckey OR gordon and bynum coming off the bench. so rip played poorly splitting time with two other shooting guards instead of a point guard, and later in an offense that couldn’t be called “isolation-heavy” because that doesn’t come close to capturing just how much isolation basketball the system involved… but we’ve got a qualified player running the offense now, and only two shooting guards in the rotation. and it’s not like stuckey or gordon have been blowing up or anything. there’s no reason at all to believe that replacing one of them in the lineup with rip would yield significantly different results. certainly not at the expense of sitting your highest paid player indefinitely.
     
    on dumars: the bottom line is that this is all his fault. all of it. tough to blame anyone else too much. this roster was a time bomb waiting to explode for the past three seasons now. no sane person who’s been paying attention should be surprised at what’s happening now.

  • Jan 27, 20115:01 pm
    by Dan

    Reply

    Why is everyone so certain that K didn’t talk to Rip “man-to-man”? Just because Rip says so? Has K confirmed this?

  • Jan 27, 20115:01 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    I’m not saying this is your perspective, Patrick, but I do think it’s the prevalent one.
     
    People rush to judge Kuester. IMO, he’s certainly handled this poorly. It’s been a significant mistake.
     
    But people aren’t fairly evaluating Rip. He’s made mistake after mistake after mistake for the better part of 2 years. He deserves to be benched. He’s played terribly. Further, he’s been crying like a baby to the media.
     
    In short, I completely agree with your concluding paragraph. Very well said. I just hope that the Pistons fanbase at large doesn’t forget the fact that the player has contributed as much to this situation as the coach.

  • Jan 27, 20115:29 pm
    by Alan

    Reply

    @Patrick,
    I’m not sure how much respect Kuester lost in the locker room (or how much he had in the first place…lol).  The bottom line is the team is playing its 10-game stretch in two years with Rip on the bench.  Kuester benched Stuckey for some insubordination earlier this season and I don’t blame him for doing the same with Rip.  Laser makes an interesting point about benching another 2-guard and getting similar results and its hard to disagree.  Only issue I take with that is that Stuckey rebounded from prior insubordination and its hart to imagine Gordon acting anything other than a pro.  Rip is acting like a child and as a veteran and as the captain he should be the last one acting this way.  It’s a rebuilding process and if you’re not committed to playing through the rebuilding process in a professional manner than hat tip to Kuester for benching Rip.  The 2-guards all need to battle and one man has to lose and sit out.  Rip lost and he has nobody to blame for this but himself.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Kays, PistonPowered Feed. PistonPowered Feed said: John Kuester says more with his actions toward Rip Hamilton than any conversation could undo: Two coaches from m… http://bit.ly/eWdxSS [...]

  • Jan 27, 20115:33 pm
    by Alan

    Reply

    The T’s vs. the Lakers was the third of the three ejections for Hamilton.  I think what irked me most was that it happened so early in the game.  I know for certain it was the first quarter and I’m guessing it was within the first 3 or 4 minutes.  I just don’t know how you explain this if you’re Richard Hamilton.

    Kelser came to his defense and said its difficult when you’re guarding the best (Kobe) and the refs won’t let you be physical.  I can see this but after the previous two ejections and it happening so early in the game it was just awful to see as a fan.  It’s as if he didn’t want to be there.

  • Jan 27, 20115:35 pm
    by Alan

    Reply

    @Jayg
    sorry…that last one was for you.

  • Jan 27, 20115:58 pm
    by Jason

    Reply

    Patrick, what would you think of a Rip & Max to Utah for Kirilenko’s expiring contract?
     
    Utah needs help at the SG, and frankly RIP would be a perfect fit for Sloan’s system..
     
    This would be a dream come true for the Pistons..

  • Jan 27, 20118:29 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Dan:
    “Why is everyone so certain that K didn’t talk to Rip “man-to-man”? Just because Rip says so? Has K confirmed this?”
    Yeah, Kuester has said as much. His actual comment was something along the lines of, “Players know how much they’re going to play by how much they play in practice” or something similar to that. He’s also talked about his “open door policy,” meaning that Rip can come and talk to him, but he didn’t feel the need to talk to Rip.

  • Jan 27, 20118:30 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Jason:
    Rip would fit most anywhere. I don’t see Utah having any interest in paying the final two years of his contract or Maxiell’s. If they move AK, they can get much better than Rip/Maxiell for it I would think.

  • Jan 27, 20118:48 pm
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    @Patrick

    Very nice article. hard to disagree with anything you said. And you mention the most unpleasant long term consequence of Q’s actions: the perspective of vetern players around the league that the Pistons no longer respect Rip and his contributions. It is because of that perception and the damage it can do in recruiting free agents and arranging trades, that i am surprised Joe Dumars has not stepped into this situation and resolved it in some way.

  • Jan 27, 201110:18 pm
    by grizz

    Reply

    awesome post Patrick … thank you for making some great points

  • Jan 28, 201110:12 am
    by tyler Durden

    Reply

    What was K gonna say to Rip, sorry but you suck and we think the team is better off not playing you?  K doesn’t owe any of his players an explanation because he is the coach, he makes the decisions.  If K opens the flood gates to these overpaid cry babies, then everyone will have the gumption to ask or question his every move for every game.  He only has to answer to Joe D and that’s the structure.  The fact of the matter is if Rip had been traded, this conversation would go away and everyone would assume that K didn’t play Rip because he was going to be traded and didn’t want the headache of confronting Rip.  The next time you feel like Rip is being disrespected, check your bank account and really give yourself something to cry about.

  • Jan 28, 201110:55 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Tyler:
    Good coaches, good leaders are not too intimidated to stand up to their players. I have no doubts that if Larry Brown was going to bench Hamilton, he’d tell him he was going to bench him. Popovich, Phil Jackson, etc. Communicating is part of being a coach.
    I’m not saying it would’ve changed anything. But it was the right thing to do from a leadership perspective, and Kuester chose to take the easy way out.
     

  • Jan 28, 201111:36 am
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    PCB, I’m not sure Dumars is losing respecting of veterans. Kuester certainly is. But I think veterans can respect how hard Dumars is trying to trade Rip.

    http://twitter.com/ChrisMannixSI/statuses/31015414041415680

  • Jan 29, 20113:38 am
    by tyler durden

    Reply

    Yes, Larry Brown is a good coach, but I don’t think what he was doing by courting Cleveland during the second finals with the spurs constitutes good leadership.  Yes, all those coaches you listed are good ones and winning ones, but the main thing is that they have the backing of the management and the reputation to stand up to the players.  If Sloan, or Brown, or Jackson or Pop, told their player to sit down and shut up, they would.  DO you really think that Phil would have this reputation if it were not for Jordan.  Do you think he had the balls in the beginning when he started coaching?  There are only a handful of coaches like that in the NBA who have the rep to back it up.  They are the exception, not the rule.  Even though Flip had the team to the EFC, the team still got him fired.  Was he a good coach?  And compared to who?  When you come down to it, these are men, not boys, and shouldn’t be coddled like little school girls.  I do think that coaching is also a type of mentoring for young kids and sometimes it should be handle with a bit of sensitivity to hows kids react.  What you are doing is comparing apples to oranges and making this into a very personal issue. But come on, when you are paid MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars, I think that’s gratitude enough.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your Ad Here