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In Pistons’ young players, John Kuester finds a group that will play hard for him

John Kuester walked away from the Pistons’ bench, puffed his cheeks and let out a deep breath.

I don’t know whether any Pistons approached him before or after the Fox Sports Detroit cameras showed him after tonight’s game, but for that extended moment, he stood in isolation. And, really, that’s where he is now.

He didn’t play his young players enough early, so they don’t like him. He didn’t player his old players enough lately, so they don’t like him. All the while, he hasn’t won enough games, so management doesn’t like him. At least that’s how it all seems.

Since the alleged boycott, I haven’t heard one person who collects a paycheck from the Pistons support Kuester.

After tonight’s 120-116 win over the Jazz, Kuester has a chance to create the base of supporters he’s never had in Detroit – the Pistons’ young players. The youngsters injected life into a sad team from the opening tip, and they didn’t let up, even when a Utah team the Pistons hadn’t beaten in six years appeared to pull away in the fourth quarter.

Detroit didn’t quit, and that will go a long way in repairing its relationship with a hurt fanbase. Even the apathetic fans who long ago lost interest in this declining team bemoaned yesterday’s shootaround boycott.

Kuester insisted he had move past yesterday’s incident. He said it’s important to look ahead. At least two of his players agree.

“We have some young talent on this team, and we’ve got to start using it,” Rodney Stuckey told Eli Zaret after the game.

When pressed about why the Pistons had more energy than other games, even after several players played so many minutes last night, Will Bynum said, “You see the guys that were out there? We were all younger guys.”

If Kuester keeps playing those guys – and considering he said the Pistons showed more “cohesiveness” and “energy” than any game this season, he should – this team could become fun to watch again. Not good, but for a team that has nothing, fun would present huge progress.

Young vs. old

The divide between young and old on this team is already so pronounced. The young players play hard in games. The old players play childish games.

The five Pistons who missed all of yesterday’s shootaround – Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace, Tracy McGrady and Chris Wilcox – are Detroit’s five oldest players. For a long time, the Pistons relied on those first. Before yesterday, the Pistons hadn’t played without Hamilton, Prince or Wallace since April 10, 2002.*

*Thanks to Dave Hogg for inspiring that stat.

Ready to move on? The Pistons are showing they can.

But they’re not haphazardly leaving the veterans behind. According to Chris Iott of Mlive.com, Kuester said, “You don’t earn it on the past. You earn it on how you work every day and how you react to things every day.” That opens the door for the boycotters to return. Start acting right, and all will be forgiven. But it must be on his terms, not theirs.

Wilcox and Hamilton apologized for skipping the shootaround without an excuse, according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports. Wilcox started tonight, but Hamilton’s transgressions range way past missing yesterday’s practice.

Unless conflicting information comes out, I’ll accept the report that Austin Daye and Stuckey were late due to confusion about the practice’s time. That might be their fault, but they served their penance by missing the 76ers game. I’ve forgiven them.

As far as the other five, the healing process hasn’t begun. That wound is too fresh. Any Piston who skipped yesterday’s shootaround to protest his coach embarrassed himself and his team. Kuester has clearly made some sort of piece with Wilcox, but I’m not there with any of the five yet.

Setting an example

When it comes to the boycotters’ actions, I can take solace in only one thing. Throughout this whole saga, I’ve worried that the young players were learning the veterans bad habits.

Daye and Stuckey proved those fears wrong tonight.

“I’ll take full responsibility for it," Stuckey said, according to Iott. "It won’t happen again."

“I have no problem with Coach. Missing the bus was inexcusable. I apologized to Coach and I apologize to the fans,” Daye said, according to Hogg. I’ve worried about Daye’s maturity a lot since the Pistons drafted him, but that statement represents a huge step for him. Of course, his actions will say more, but I’m thrilled to hear he didn’t dodge public scrutiny like a few teammates did.

Austin Daye explains and apologizes for his tardiness Friday. (Video from Dave Pemberton of The Oakland Press)

Daye changed my mood toward the team. The veterans should take a lesson from  him.

Winning cures all ills

Before the game, I shared Patrick’s anger. Now, some of the bitterness has subsided. Even though the boycotters had nothing to with tonight’s victory, the effort by the players who saw the court tonight numbed some of the resentment I felt toward the boycotters.

In his interview with Zaret after the game, Stuckey joked about having a lot of energy because he didn’t play last night. Before the game, that remark would have ticked me off. But when I heard it, I chuckled. That’s because the Pistons played hard and won – a combination that will always please me.

They won because Kuester – who so many inside and outside Detroit’s locker room would like to see fired – pushed all the right buttons.

  • He rode Rodney Stuckey for 41 minutes, and Stuckey responded with 28 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals.
  • He used Will Bynum as an effective change of pace to the tune of 11 points, eight assists, four steals and a team-best plus-22 rating.
  • He let Austin Daye (18 points and 4-of-5 3-point shooting) play through several defensive lapses against Andrei Kirilenko, and late in the game Daye finally stuck with his man defensively and made a couple big shots offensively.
  • He called Greg Monroe’s number a bit more (12 points), and Monroe didn’t stop rebounding (16).
  • He dusted off DaJuan Summers, who hit a fourth-quarter 3-pointer to tie the game.

One game doesn’t make Kuester a great coach, but it’s time everyone acknowledge he’s not Michael Curry. Kuester showed faith in his young players, and they responded in a big way, keying 12-0 and 8-0 runs in the fourth quarter.

This group of players still has glaring flaws. Detroit played poor team defense against the Jazz, who shot 59.5 percent and attempted 34 free throws.

The Pistons overcame their defensive shortcomings by grabbing a 33.3 percent of the available offense rebounds. For perspective, no team has grabbed such a high percentage of offensive rebounds in a season since the 2003-04 Jazz.

That’s talking about the past, though. As Bynum said, "maybe the future is now."

10 Comments

  • Feb 27, 20111:44 am
    by qm22

    Reply

    I feel the same way. I think the lineup from tonight is the best on multiple levels, including winning. I hope we get to see this group moving forward.

  • Feb 27, 20113:38 am
    by mike

    Reply

    Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Ben Wallace, Tayshaun and Rip along with Chauncey were the consummate professionals in this league? Tayshaun and Rip never had a reputation of coach-killers prior to the incidents with Coach Kuester.  Ben Wallace was known to be a hard-worker.  Even though they played under the demanding Larry Brown, they were still very professional.  Did all of a sudden they just all suddenly, collectively turned into the crazy brats like the media are describing them now?  It’s not like they are JR Smith and Allen Iverson.  It’s Tayshaun Prince! 

    Is it possible that it’s really the coach’s problem rather than the players?  John Kuester is not Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan or even Avery Johnson, he’s John Kuester and there’s no record of him being a good coach.  It’s not like the players never gave him a chance because he’s in his second year already and things just didn’t work out and left the players with no choice. 

    Even if that was in fact a protest, is that really that bad? a mutiny? come on, have you ever pretend to be sick and skip work when you are mad at your boss?  The media tends to put too much blame on wealthy black athletes, especially when pitted against white coaches.  [I am asian, not black]

    • Feb 27, 20117:45 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      “Tayshaun and Rip never had a reputation of coach-killers prior to the incidents with Coach Kuester.”

      Fighting between Hamilton and Michael Curry is the reason Curry was fired. Ben Wallace, Hamilton and Billups not getting along with Rick Carlisle was a main reason he was fired after 100 wins in two years. Hamilton, Prince and Rasheed Wallace all expressed problems with Saunders.

      The fact is, the Pistons core guys have always, always had issues with coaches, good coaches and bad coaches.

  • Feb 27, 20114:01 am
    by Cliff

    Reply

    @mike yeah i’m sure any normal person would have skived off work due to hatred against their boss, but normal people aren’t paid MILLIONS of dollars, nor do they have thousands of people watching them worldwide. these players are constantly stalked by the media and anything bad they do is a scratch on their reputation. they are also expected to be the ‘role models’ of society and skiving isn’t the way to go. and do you see other players in the league do the same? every other player in the league has a similar schedule and i’m sure there are one or two players who hate their coaches. but that is their job and they deal with it like professionals. if every player was to ‘pretend to be sick and skip work when they are mad at their boss’, the nba would not exist. so yeah it is bad

  • Feb 27, 20116:39 am
    by Tom Y.

    Reply

    This may be a little bit off topic but I’m really enjoying Greg’s play and positive attitude lately. I remembered a post about how he ranks compared to John Wall and DMC, and I didn’t bother looking up Wall’s stats (apples to oranges IMO) but here are Greg’s stats for the last 5 games:

    Min   FG% Rebounds Assists  Blocks  Steals  Fouls  Turnovers  PPG
    34.4  .590    11           1.6         1          1.6       2.4      .6               16
    Here are DMC’s numbers for the last 5 games:
    29      .344  8.6    b       3.4         1          1.6     4.2       4.6             12
    I have a feeling Monroe’s going to keep playing like this or even better for the rest of this season, and he’ll probably be the best rookie from his draft in 2011. Something for the future there at least…

  • Feb 27, 20116:54 am
    by Zeiram

    Reply

    I have to say this:
     
    From everything I have heard and I everything I assume, Bens excuse was legit. I will move on with that in mind.

  • Feb 27, 20117:23 am
    by xerowattbulb

    Reply

    @Mike
    “Tayshaun and Rip never had a reputation of coach-killers prior to the incidents with Coach Kuester.”
    Huh?  Did someone sleep through the whole Coach Curry season? Or the Coach Saunders seasons?  RIp and Prince haven’t been what I would call “coachable” since Larry Brown left, it just happens that they were still at their peaks and the overall team talent level allowed for winning even with player/coach rifts.  In fact, part of the logic for bringing Kuester in was that he was a bridge to Larry Brown and would hopefully illicit respect from the veterans.  So now, while everyone goes after Kuester, maybe we need to note that the players seem to be the common thread, not the coach (although I did think Mike Curry just wasn’t ready to be a head coach).
    @ Dan
    I agree that Daye’s involvement with the boycott was the most alarming, because of his perceived placement as a piece of the future puzzle (I hate that thinking, because we’ve kept some players around longer then needed because of that thought process).  It’s worth posting one of Daye’s quotes in regards to his lateness to practice:
    “I have no problem with Coach- he plays me a lot. I should have been on time, and I got punished. It was embarrassing for me to do that.  There’s no excuse for a second year player to miss a buss because of a miscommunication.  I don’t hold any grudge for sitting out last night.  I apologized to Coach and told him it was the right decision.”

    I think EVERY part of that is what he needed to say, and I hope that it’s how he really feels.  Bottom line, I think that if you subtract Prince and Rip, use Ben Wallace as a 15 minute a game guy and then add a healthy Jonas Jerebko and a player from the upcoming draft, and this team is better then a lot of people excpect.  A week ago I would have thought T-Mac was a positive part of the short term future.  Now I’m not so sure.

  • Feb 27, 20119:04 am
    by Jeremy

    Reply

    Q has seemed to be a pretty decent coach on the basketball end of things. His challenge has apparently been relating to the players and inspiring them to play for him. People have been blaming him for that, and it is at least partly his responsibility. But it is clear, as we’ve known for a long time, that the Pistons aren’t an easy group to coach in that sense. Just ask their last few coaches.
     
    Hopefully Q has rounded a corner in his ability to connect with (some) players and can build on this as the season plays out.

  • Feb 27, 20115:59 pm
    by BIG MARV

    Reply

    LET THE YOUNGSTERS PLAY The can run with any team in the NBA and it showed last night this league is a young leauge now and thats what we need let the movement begin!

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