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Archive → February, 2011

Member of Pistons organization: Some players “talked openly about mutiny”

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

"In all fairness, some who missed shootaround actually said they weren’t feeling good," one member of the Pistons organization told me over the weekend. "They had legitimate reasons. But there were others who talked openly about mutiny. Nobody appreciates the way Rip Hamilton has been treated, along with some other things.

"Bottom line: The players can’t stand the coach. They don’t respect him because they don’t believe he relates to players. But no matter how you feel about him, you don’t pull the kind of nonsense we displayed on the bench in Philadelphia on Friday night. It was embarrassing, humiliating. Dudes are lucky they’re still wearing an NBA uniform after that."

This person wasn’t talking just about players spewing profanity at Kuester or ignoring him in huddles during games, as some have done — or their finding time to call him the worst coach they’ve ever seen to his face because they feel he’s not personable and that he’s scared of players, which has also happened. This particular member of the Pistons was alluding to witnessing several of the players laughing openly on the Pistons’ bench as Kuester was being ejected from the game in Philadelphia on Friday.

That’s the most excerptable and juiciest part of Smith’s article. I know and understand his reputation for being loud at the expense of nuance, but this piece gets into a fairly deep discussion of race, power and how the Pistons’ latest chaos affects perception of the NBA. It’s well worth the read.

Vince Ellis stands up for good journalism

Several Pistons boycotted Friday’s shootaround in Philadelphia. We can accept that as fact now.

The organization can up with excuses for the absences of Tayshaun Prince, Tracy McGrady, Ben Wallace and Chris Wilcox other than they don’t respect their coach, but Detroit can’t spin its way past the reporting of Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Today, Ellis explained his coverage:

And uncovering this story didn’t take some level of great in-depth reporting. It went something like this:

Me: "What happened?"

Source: "You can see what’s going on."

Me: "Nah. Enlighten me."

And then the source, who asked not to be identified, started describing phone conversations about the protest. Another team source backed it up.

And then another source, while claiming no direct knowledge of Friday’s issues, said the team staged a protest after a loss before the All-Star break when players walked into the shower area while Kuester was giving a postgame talk.

If Prince, McGrady and Wallace had excused absences, why were they held out of Friday’s game? McGrady was insistent he could have played and said no one told him he wouldn’t against the Sixers. And you definitely have to give Wallace a pass considering the tragic circumstances unfolding.

Huge kudos to Ellis for not only refusing to back down to the Pistons’ spin, even when other writers gave it more veracity than it probably deserved, but for reiterating his case. I wish more reporters stood up for themselves in these situations. Ellis was in a position to do that, because he reported this the right way – with multiple sources. He built an airtight case, which made his self-defense easy to execute.

More information on the boycott

Ellis’ post also cleared up a concern I had with the initial reports: maybe the sources who confirmed it was an organized boycott were speculating and assuming, given the widespread no-shows. But if Ellis had a source who described phone conversations about the boycott, that eliminates that potential hole.

Do we know exactly who boycotted? Not entirely. Maybe Prince and McGrady happened to have injuries on the same day others boycotted. Maybe Wallace happened to have legitimate personal reasons to miss the shootaround on the same day others boycotted. Maybe Wilcox happened to oversleep on the same day others boycotted.

But all four of those players were active for Friday’s game, and none of them played. If McGrady said he could play and Wallace was at the game, that all but certainly makes them boycotters. Does anyone believe Prince wasn’t a part of it, too?

The only player whose absence the Pistons didn’t explain, Richard Hamilton, was inactive.

That leaves Wilcox, who the team claimed overslept. He played against the Jazz last night when none of the other four did, so maybe that’s all it was with him. But considering Wilcox dodged the media yesterday – especially when the two players who claimed to have missed the shootaround for reasons other than protesting their coach, Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye, publicly apologized – I’m not ready to give him the benefit of the doubt.

That actually sums up how messy this situation is. Giving Wilcox the benefit the doubt means accepting that he only overslept and missed a practice.

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."

Richard Hamilton and Chris Wilcox apologized for missing shootaround

I missed this when linking his story earlier, but Ken Berger of CBS Sports:

Hamilton and Wilcox apologized for missing shootaround.

To whom?

Pistons must interrupt drama, leaks and chaos to play basketball against Jazz

Essentials

Teams: Utah Jazz at Detroit Pistons

Date: Feb. 26, 2011

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit Plus

Records

Pistons: 21-39

Jazz: 32-27

Probable starters

Pistons:

  • ??????????

Jazz:

  • Devin Harris
  • C.J. Miles
  • Andrei Kirilenko
  • Paul Millsap
  • Al Jefferson

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +4.5

Over/under: 193

Score: Jazz win, 98.75-94.25

One thing to watch

1.  Drama

I’m eschewing the usual three-things-to-watch format, because, let’s be honest, you care about this game for only one reason. What will happen with the seven players who missed all or part of yesterday’s shootaround?

So, I’ll leave you with a question: which Pistons do you want to play today? Just the same six as yesterday? Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey, too? Everybody?

Pregame Reading

Ben Wallace will be out indefinitely after death of brother, the Rev. James McBride

Chris Iott of MLive.com:

Pistons say Ben Wallace will be out of the lineup indefinitely due to the death of his brother. #Pistons

Ben Wallace’s brother, the Rev. James McBride, died today at age 58. #Pistons

Whatever else is happening with the team, this is sad news. Condolences to Ben Wallace and the rest of his family.

Pistons won’t fire John Kuester, but they will fine Richard Hamilton, Chris Wilcox, Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey

Ken Berger of CBS Sports:

Richard Hamilton and Chris Wilcox have been fined for missing shootaround without an excuse, but the Pistons are not planning a coaching change in the wake of the perceived mutiny against John Kuester, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com Saturday.

The team engaged in lengthy organizational meetings Saturday to discuss the latest meltdown in a season that has spiraled out of control. Though sources are downplaying a significant rebellion against Kuester, a proposal to buy out Hamilton — who had another in a series of confrontations with Kuester recently — will be presented to ownership before the March 1 deadline for him to be eligible for another team’s playoff roster. The chances of a buyout for Hamilton, however, are "slim," a source said, given that he has two years left on his contract.

Hamilton and Wilcox flew back to Detroit with the team after the Pistons — with only six available players — lost to the Sixers in Philadelphia. Both players are expected to be available Saturday night against Utah, but whether or not they play will be a "coaching decision," the source said.

Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace also missed shootaround Friday prior to the Sixers game, but all three had legitimate excuses, the person said. The Pistons’ training staff confirmed to management that McGrady and Prince had been sick. Wallace is dealing with the sudden terminal illness of a close family member, the source said.

Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey were late for shootaround, missing the team bus and catching a cab, the source said. They were fined for being late.

I don’t really buy the other players’ excuses, especially because there are reports that the Pistons planned a shootaround boycott last week. I’m sorry to hear to hear about Ben Wallace’s family member, and I mean that. Dealing with that affects everyone in different ways, and if he needed to miss games or practices to handle the situation, I’d have no problem with that. But he was last night’s 76ers game. At that point, I think it’s fair to question

A hypothetical reason Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince and Wallace avoided fines: they were granted permission to miss the shootaround before John Kuester realized some of his players were staging a protest. If that were the case, and the Pistons fined those players, I think the NBA Players Association could build a strong case to appeal the fines. The Pistons can’t approve a player missing practice then fine him for it.

ESPN sources: Shootaround absences may have been due to schedule confusion rather than planned boycott; also, they may have been due to planned boycott

ESPN’s Ric Bucher:

As for the boycott, one source said some of the players did not show up for the shootaround because they were told the starting time had changed. Austin Daye was one of the players who didn’t show up on time because of the misunderstanding, the source said, but it wasn’t clear how many other absent players were also confused. "The team boycott idea is being overblown," said the source. "It was more miscommunication than defiance."

In the same article, Bucher brings up the Pistons’ previously planned boycott against the Pacers before the All-Star break.

Before Friday’s game in Philadelphia, sources said, similar attempts were made by the same veterans to organize a teamwide no-show at the morning shootaround again, presumably in response to the fact that no trades were made before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline and the fact that Kuester was not let go.

This the problem with anonymous sources. People can push an agenda without facing public scrutiny.

The reports of a boycott are more prevalent and a little more reliable, so I’m going to cautiously believe that for now.

If Austin Daye or anyone else missed the shootaround because they failed to understand the time change,* they should play tonight. A one-game suspension is enough for that transgression.

*Assuming they should have known. If it wasn’t reasonable for them to know the start time changed, they should have played last night.

Richard Hamilton’s “jarring and expletive-filled diatribe” at John Kuester led to the guard’s removal from the rotation

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

About a week prior to his banishment to the Detroit Pistons’ bench in January, Richard Hamilton berated coach John Kuester in a jarring and expletive-filled diatribe on the practice court, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

As stunned coaches and teammates watched, Hamilton bellowed at Kuester that he had been a failure in his two seasons in Detroit, blown the opportunity the franchise afforded him and was nothing more than a career assistant coach, sources said. Despite Hamilton yelling within inches of him, Kuester didn’t respond.

Several of the team’s younger players were mortified watching it and privately told agents and associates they wished they had the courage to stand up, confront Hamilton and try to take control back from the disgruntled veteran. Nevertheless, Hamilton influences a powerful lobby in the Pistons’ locker room, including veteran leaders Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace.

The early January incident was the second time Hamilton had initiated a confrontation with Kuester this season, sources said, and it ultimately spurred the benching that led to such public acrimony.

Wojnarowski has a tendency to write for the dramatic use loaded phrases, and I wonder if that misrepresents the Pistons younger teammates’ feelings, at least a little. Still, I think overall, given that multiple credentialed media members had been hinting that Hamilton had done something wrong prior to removal from the rotation, Wojnarowski unveiled the gist of the incident.

Wojnarowski also reports Hamilton’s buyout offer from Cleveland was $18 million (slightly higher than the $16 million his colleague, Marc J. Spears, indicated) and that the Pistons offered a lottery-protected 2012 first-round pick and Hamilton to Cleveland in exchange for a second-round pick.

Richard Hamilton rejected $16 million buyout offer from Cavaliers

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

Detroit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton sought a trade for months, and the Pistons were close to sending him to the Cavaliers on Thursday, league sources said. Hamilton, however, wouldn’t agree to surrender $9 million of the $25 million he could make over the next two seasons, scuttling a potential contract buyout and forcing the Pistons to keep him.

Teams can buy first-round picks for up to $3 million, and there are often teams willing to sell. Buy a couple late first-round picks for $6 million, and you can trade up.

That tells us the pick the Pistons offered Cleveland to take Hamilton wasn’t very protected. Or it tells us the Cavaliers don’t know what they’re doing. I guess we didn’t really learn anything about the pick’s protections.

At least, we now have a reference point for a Hamilton buyout – not matter how discouraging the situation seems.