Archive → February, 2011
Pistons cancelled previously planned boycott after being told John Kuester would be fired during All-Star break
Sources say Pistons vets tried to organize teamwide boycott of shootaround before Detroit’s last game prior to All-Star break vs. Indy
That walkout was called off, sources say, when word reached some of those vets that Kuester would be ousted during All-Star Weekend
That walkout was called off, sources say, when word reached some of those vets that Kuester would be ousted during All-Star Weekend
Another source, while claiming no direct knowledge of Friday’s issues, said the team did stage a protest in the locker room after a loss before the All-Star break. That person said players walked into the shower area while Kuester was giving his postgame talk. It was not clear how many players took part in that protest.
The Pistons won that game, so he’s obviously talking about a different game than Stein is.
Yesterday, Pistons fans were just a regional group downtrodden basketball lovers who collectively felt sorry for themselves watching a boring team that is not very good at basketball every night. We were so naive then.
Now, thanks to an unprecedented display of insubordination and unprofessionalism by seven players, Pistons fans can take solace in the fact that NBA watchers all over the country are sympathetic to the plight of this franchise.
It’s hard to take an objective look at the Pistons’ loss to Philly. So I’m not going to try. Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Tracy McGrady, Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox, Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey have simply made it impossible to root for them. In the case of a player like Wilcox, for example, that’s no big loss. I’m not sure many people were enchanted with the fact that he’s only cared to use his immense physical gifts once every three weeks or so for most of his career anyway. But the others? They’ve lost something significant. Wallace, Prince and Hamilton are still champions, a fun memory to be sure. But how is anyone going to look back on that team anymore without a different perception of who those guys were now? Hamilton had already done the heavy lifting when it came to destroying his good name before his involvement in the Roundball Revolution. Prince was well on his way to getting into Hamilton territory, and this pushes it over the edge. Wallace, however, who has largely seemed to stay quiet and out of the fray this season? It’s a major disappointment that his name is caught up in this. It’s devastating actually. Daye and Stuckey? Two young players the team is counting on to continue to improve and become future cornerstones? It raises huge questions about their commitment and character. McGrady? After he re-invented himself as an unselfish player and earned praise as a calming locker room presence and leader for the younger players? All that goodwill is eviscerated.
There could be more to the story. There could be valid excuses in a few cases. But everything about this story, from the fact that it was leaked to reporters almost immediately, to the blasé actions of the players on the bench, to the fact that the coaching staff decided to in fact bench all seven names who were involved suggests it was not, as John Kuester suggested pregame, a matter of “perception and reality being two different things.” It was a calculated way to grab attention and power by a group of players who have an inflated sense of their own value.
And this isn’t meant as some type of spirited defense of Kuester. The man is a terrible coach. But the NBA is a league that continuously recycles and employs terrible coach after terrible coach. Being a terrible coach is not a crime in this league. Players have got coaches fired before, but never in such a public fashion that embarrasses themselves and their franchise. Kuester’s record is absolutely grounds for termination, but isn’t failing to show up to work because you don’t like your boss grounds for it as well? Many, many teams have dealt with playing for a coach they don’t like. Many of those coaches probably stayed on the job longer than the players preferred in an effort by management to try and make things work. Kuester hasn’t been at this job an obscenely long time, and with the team for sale, Pistons management probably had even more incentive to force the issue to try and make things work longer so they didn’t end up paying another salary to a guy to not coach them.
And even if Kuester had done a bang-up job coaching, guess what? This team is still terrible. Hamilton, Prince, McGrady and Wallace are past their primes. Wilcox never had a prime. Stuckey hasn’t improved one bit since he entered the league, and Daye could be on that same track. These are not good players. Earlier this season, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh pretty clearly didn’t like Erik Spoelstra, or at the very least blamed him for the team’s poor early-season performance. And guess what? Three of the guys with the biggest egos in the NBA who also all happen to be All-Star caliber players, showed up, played hard and got over it. Those three can do it, but Prince, Hamilton, McGrady, Stuckey, Wilcox, Wallace and Daye can’t?
This is not just an embarrassment for the organization and fans, it’s a league-wide embarrassment. Here’s what Phil Jackson told J.A. Adande of ESPN:
“I feel bad for John Kuester…it’s a black eye for the league…Detroit’s in disarray.”
The disarray part we’ve known for some time. But this situation, marginal players on a poor team rebelling against a coach in a way that no NBA team has ever rebelled against a coach, is serious. The Pistons are limited in what they can do. The trade deadline has passed. They don’t have an owner willing to spend money on buyouts. They don’t have roster spots to bring in new bodies so they can bench the offenders. But they simply can’t let these guys all walk back in tomorrow as if this issue is over and done with.
The six who are professionals, adults
Six guys had enough respect for their employer, for their league and for their teammates to show up to work today. They played hard. They didn’t play particularly well and were over-matched in depth, size, length and quickness against Philly. For three quarters, they kept it semi-close. A quarter of the total minutes DaJuan Summers has played this season came tonight. Charlie Villanueva had played 20 minutes or more only three times in the last 17 games before logging 36 tonight. Ben Gordon shot poorly, but also had the unenviable task of guarding much bigger shooting guards in Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner for long stretches. Jason Maxiell had played only 22 minutes this month before giving the Pistons 29 tough minutes Friday.
Bynum said he’s ready to play 48 tomorrow if that’s what the team needs.
This is a snapshot of Bynum’s Pistons career:
- First year: out-plays Stuckey and Allen Iverson, yet remains third on the depth chart
- Second year: out-plays Stuckey early in the season (before Bynum was injured), remains second on the depth chart
- Third year: in and out of the rotation, sometimes completely out of it, while others who struggle were allowed big minutes to work through those struggles
The point is, if anyone had cause to be frustrated with his role, it was Bynum. He plays hard. He’s had long stretches of playing at a really high level at different points in his career. And every year, he’s treated like an afterthought. And still, the man keeps a good attitude, he works hard and when he’s needed, he’ll play 96 straight minutes in back-to-back games if you ask him to.
There are certainly downside’s to Bynum’s game: he’s turnover prone, he plays too fast sometimes and, unlike McGrady who penetrates looking to pass, Bynum looks to get all the way to the rim, so that tends to nullify the opportunities for Greg Monroe to cut to the basket, which is a very reliable play with McGrady at the point.
But who wouldn’t rather watch Bynum than the other PG options at this point? He plays with as much effort as anyone on the court. He’s exciting. Unlike Stuckey, he’s actually worked on his game and extended his range in the three years he’s been with the Pistons.
And as for Monroe? He’s the youngest player on the team and been arguably the most mature this season. When he started his career with two straight DNP-CDs, he didn’t sulk, and as a lottery pick, a lot of players would’ve. He went to work. He got better. He played with the toughness that the coaching staff asked him to. He rebounds the ball like a demon even though he wasn’t a particularly dominant rebounder in college. Monroe is the single-most exciting thing about the franchise right now, as much for his attitude as his game. Monroe, Bynum … those guys are leaders right now. Those are the guys you build the team around.
(Hat tip: brgulker)
Tracy McGrady, Rodney Stuckey and Ben Wallace – regular rotation players who haven’t played against the 76ers tonight after missing today’s shootaround – laugh as Pistons coach John Kuester gets ejected. (Screenshot by Brian Packey of Detroit Bad Boys)
ESPN’s Marc Stein chimed in on the latest Pistons controversy, and he took a similar view to me: the are no perfect solutions about how to handle John Kuester. However, Stein says firing Kuester is the best option, and I say keeping Kuester is preferable.
I can see both sides, and Stein argues the alternative well:
The organization has to make its own statement on top of the damage those players have done to their own reputations … especially after Terry Foster of the Detroit News reported Friday on his WXYT-FM radio show that some of the same players were planning a similar protest on the morning of the Pistons’ final game before the All-Star break against Indiana but called it off and wound up winning when they were told that Kuester would be ousted during the break.
Kuester obviously wasn’t dismissed during All-Star Weekend, but it’s thoroughly pointless now — no matter what happens to the players — to keep Kuester in place when he lost this group long ago and has been undermined to such an extent that there’s no way he can possibly be regarded as an option to coach this team next season.
Teams: Detroit Pistons at Philadelphia 76ers
Date: Feb. 25, 2011
Time: 7 p.m.
Television: Fox Sports Detroit
I would guess Monroe starts since he wasn’t involved in the alleged skipping shoot-around protest earlier today. Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox and Tracy McGrady didn’t attend. Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey both showed up as the shoot-around was ending, as reported by Vincent Goodwill. Now, Goodwill also reported that each who missed had excuses — ranging from the flu to headaches. At any rate, Kuester’s comments suggested he wasn’t necessarily buying the excuses:
“We’ll go with the group that was here. We have a number of guys who have that bug,” Kuester said. “These guys went through shootaround the way they were supposed to.”
- Jrue Holiday
- Jodie Meeks
- Andre Iguodala
- Elton Brand
- Spencer Hawes
Las Vegas projection
Spread: Pistons +9
Score: Sixers win, 101-92
Three things to watch
1. Bench players: this is your opportunity
Players like Charlie Villanueva, DaJuan Summers, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon and Jason Maxiell undoubtedly want to play more. If Kuester is really committed to punishing guys he believes missed shootaround with ill-intentions (if in fact Kuester really believes it was a type of revolt, which he hasn’t said one way or the other yet), this is an opportunity for the “we should play more” crew. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite coaches came from Saginaw High’s Lou Dawkins. After he was upset with his team about a lack of focus and discipline in a loss to an inferior team, he told them, “I ain’t got no starters no mo. You want it, go get it.”
2. Philly’s depth could be a problem
With possibly a depleted bench, depending on how the no-show situation is resolved, the Pistons will have to deal with a Philly team that is pretty deep. The Sixers bring capable players like Lou Williams, Thad Young and Evan Turner off the bench, as well as young big man Mareese Speights, who has played well against the Pistons a couple times in his career.
3. A flukey win
The Pistons actually beat Philly in January despite the Sixers out-shooting the Pistons 48 percent to 44 percent. The Pistons won by sharing the ball (24 assists) and taking care of the ball (11 turnovers). Philly has played better since and could get to .500 with a win. Brand and Speights combined for 21 rebounds in the last game and both shot the ball extremely well as big men are wont to do against Detroit. Expect Philly to work the ball inside, especially if the Pistons play without Wallace.
- I wrote a post on David Halberstam’s great book ‘Breaks of the Game’ for the ‘Culture of Basketball’ series at HoopSpeak. And seriously, read the HoopSpeak blog. It’s great.
- Rasheed Wallace either is or is not thinking about a comeback.
- Eight Points Nine Seconds breaks down Tracy McGrady’s game
- My final piece in the High School Hierarchy series for SLAM, including an interview with Steve Smith
Joe Dumars let the Pistons’ intra-team bickering go too far – and now he can’t keep John Kuester/ can’t fire John Kuester
In an interview with Keith Langlois earlier this season, Joe Dumars explained his philosophy for managing his coach:
I’m very careful to allow the coach to make his decisions. It’s not my job. I can’t make that decision. I trust that the coaching staff is going to make the right decision. He’ll fill me in on when he’s going to make some changes, but like I always tell Q, at the end of the day you have final say on rotations, minutes – I have to defer to the coaches on that. That’s what I do.
By all accounts, he’s consistently communicated and executed that philosophy since becoming the Pistons’ general manager.
In theory, the plan shines. Hire someone you trust, and give him room to operate.
In reality, the plan stinks.
Dumars has left his coaches on an island to fend for themselves and done so under the guise of providing freedom for the coaches to run their teams. This wasn’t a sinister decision by Dumars. He thinks it’s best course for the franchise.
But the side effects of the philosophy – four fired coaches in six years and near-consistent player bickering between – negate the positives of Dumars’ hands-off policy.
Dumars gives his coaches enough rope to hang themselves, and when the noose is tightening, Dumars still won’t step in to help the man he hired. He’ll just provide the final yank.
Most of the time, Dumars’ philosophy works. Coaches thrive when they’re not micromanaged. In most situations, the coach will find the best course of action for the team without Dumars’ help. But that other small percentage of situations where the Pistons would benefit from Dumars getting involved, in time, sabotage everything else.
Dumars must realize there’s a difference between micromanaging and managing. He needs to get involved.
Today’s practice boycott by up to five players – Richard Hamilton, Chris Wilcox, Tayshaun Prince,*Tracy McGrady* and Ben Wallace* – partial boycott by Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye, who both missed the bus and arrived late, should tell him that.
*A team spokesman said Prince had the flu and McGrady was out with a headache, according to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News. Wallace has missed previous practices and games due to a family matter, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Even if the boycott is less widespread than all seven players, Dumars should act. With or without today serving as a giant warning sign, the underlying problem still exists.
Dumars has often reiterated his desire to keep these disputes in-house. The simplest way to do that is eliminate them from happening. Who knows how many practice walkouts or other signs of friction between Kuester and the players never saw the light of day? Even if just a small percentage of incidents get leaked, the more that occur, the more that become public.
Joe Dumars should intervene
What happens if Dumars fires Kuester? The old guard’s evident belief that they can undermine a coach at anytime gets reinforced, and a new generation of Pistons’ gets a lesson in how to get their way in this organization.
What happens if Dumars keeps Kuester? A team full of malcontents hurting the Pistons’ on-court performance (even more) and more public whining from players leads to more negative exposure.
Neither option is preferable, but if a compromise isn’t possible, I’d take the latter. With a 48-93 record, on the most basic level, the Kuester era has been a failure. Get at least some value from the Pistons’ fourth-losingest multi-year coach of all-time. End the inmates-run-the-asylum environment once and for all.
Of course, a compromise is still on the table. But that can happen only if Dumars gets involved. Kuester and the players aren’t going to work through this on their own.
Dumars could step in and demand improvement from both. Kuester hasn’t communicated well enough. The players haven’t respected their coach enough. If anyone can get both sides to fix their flaws, it’s Dumars, who I still believe commands respect in the locker room and the coach’s office.
It’s far from guaranteed that plan would work, and the odds are probably stacked against success. But what’s the downside? If one side or both sides don’t meet Dumars’ demands, the Pistons would be right back where they started.
Years of practicing a flawed philosophy has backed Dumars into a corner. Now, he must walk between two overlapping lines, an impossible task. Ideally, he never would have put himself in this position, but he’s here now.
It’s too late for an ideal resolution, but Dumars should find some type of resolution.
You can’t make this stuff up. Take it away, Vincent Goodwill:
A day after the trade deadline passed, Pistons players appeared to stage some type of protest against their coach.
Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Chris Wilcox did not show up to Friday morning’s shootaround, in what a team source called a “player protest.”
Wow. The threat of getting traded is gone. Now, clearly, things are going to get interesting. You thought the Pistons veterans were rebellious before? Just … wow. We’ll see if any of the five play tonight. Well, four I should say, because we clearly knew Hamilton would not play.
Per Goodwill, the team offered this explanation:
According to team spokesman Cletus Lewis, McGrady was out with a headache, Prince had the stomach flu, while Wilcox and Hamilton apparently missed the bus without a reason. Wallace has been dealing with an ongoing family matter for the past month, though.
John Kuester sounded less than convinced:
“We have some things, some excuses, not excuses, but absences because of headache and stuff like that.”
Much to Kuester’s detriment, Joe Dumars has stayed out of the fray on the multiple coach-player issues this season. Perhaps it’s time for him to maybe consider interjecting? Clearly, the players feel emboldend, and if, as Goodwill’s sources indicate, this is really some type of revolt, it’s unprecedented. Players and coaches feud all the time in the NBA. But to have four veteran leaders and, hilariously, Chris Wilcox, with alleged purposeful insubordination? That issue just can’t be ignored any longer.
I’ve often pointed out my frustrations with readers who treat this downspell in Pistons basketball as if it’s the worst possible time in the history of the franchise. In reality, it’s not even the franchise’s low point in the last 20 years. The 1990s Pistons were by far more frustrating to watch, made unconsionable decisions routinely (exhibit A: teal unis) and, unlike this version of the Pistons, they actually had a legit superstar, possibly the nicest, most unselfish superstar in the league, who they failed year after year to put competent complimentary pieces around (with apologies to Otis Thorpe, I guess). The Palace had no energy, the few teams Hill dragged that team into the playoffs the Pistons were quickly dispatched by equally boring Atlanta and Miami teams and the culmination was Hill finally became fed up and left as a free agent, but not before his final games as a Piston nearly ruined his career after he gutted it out in unwinnable playoff games on a mangled ankle.
There were bleak times, poor seasons, year after year excuses, a parade of coaches and little hope in that era. But one of my favorite elements of some of those lousy seasons in the 1990s was the 10 Day Contract. Every year, when the Pistons finally came to grips with the fact that they were not making the playoffs, we’d get a couple unknown players in late in the season. Usually, they were terrible (Ivano Newbill). But a couple of times (Michael Curry, Mikki Moore), the Pistons actually found guys who filled a role or brought some toughness or played hard.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Joe Dumars to find any takers for Rip Hamilton. And even if some scoff at the notion, Tayshaun Prince may very well fetch more in a sign and trade than getting the Dallas first round pick, which would’ve been late first round in a weak draft. Teams likely to be interested in Prince this summer will be contenders. Most of those teams will be at the cap or over it, thus probably not able to offer Prince the full salary he might be looking for, so a sign and trade for him is a viable option that could in the end bring back more than the marginal prospect they would’ve picked in the first round.
But I was hoping for something. I’ve long ago given up on buying into the team’s “we’re a playoff contender” stance. What I wanted was for the Pistons to clear a roster spot. Move an end-of-bench or marginal player for a pick. Do a minor two-for-one trade. Basically, anything to bring back the magic of the 10 Day Contract. And I even had a few candidates, currently in the D-League, who would be worth taking a look at:
- Sean Williams: Just a few years ago, Williams was a first round draft pick by New Jersey. And if he didn’t have some off-court problems in college, he probably would’ve been picked even earlier than he was. Guys who are 6-foot-10 with his athleticism are simply rare. His issues reportedly didn’t go away in the NBA and he quickly flamed out with the Nets without making much of an impact. Now, he’s averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks per game for the Texas Legends and shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. Maybe Williams will never put things together, but talent-wise, he’s a NBA player and he just happens to fill two needs — rebounding and shot blocking — that the Pistons are incredibly deficient in.
- DeShawn Sims: Throwing a bone to the University of Michigan-obsesses overlord of this site who firmly believes Sims will be a “great” NBA player, Sims is actually having a good season in the D League. He’s a little slight by NBA power forward standards listed at a generous 6-foot-8 and he doesn’t have otherwordly athleticism, but Sims scores in the paint and has range out to the 3-point line. He’s averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds per game for Maine while shooting 49 percent, not bad for a guy who is more comfortable shooting jumpers and facing up than posting up.
- Jeff Adrien: This is a moot point since Adrien was just re-signed by Golden State, but had the Pistons moved sooner, they would’ve had a crack at an undersized yet brusing power forward who was the top rebounder in the D-League this season at 11.4 per game (nearly 17 per-48 minutes). Adrien, 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, also averaged nearly 20 points per game in the D-League, using his strength and athleticism to score in the paint against bigger defenders. He’s the type of blue collar player Detroit fans have always loved.
- Courtney Sims: Another Michigan man, this is the taller of the two Sims at 6-foot-11. He’s had a few brief NBA looks in his career, but never stuck. He’s a D-League veteran now, been an All-Star in the league and averages 18 points and 9 rebounds per game while shooting 58 percent in 98 career D-League games.
- Scottie Reynolds: Let’s throw a point guard in just for the heck of it. Reynolds, you may remember, was a star at Villanova who found himself in the D-League this year where’ he’s been solid with Springfield where he’s averaging 14 points, 6 assists and 2 turnovers per game. He also shoots 46 percent. Is he the purest of point guards? Probably not, but when has that ever stopped the Pistons?
Unfortunately, it’s not to be. None of the above players would’ve altered the Pistons’ fortunes. In fact, it’s highly likely they wouldn’t even earn a second 10-day contrac based on the odds of cracking a NBA rotation midseason. But at best, the Pistons might have found a cheap player who could help fill a role next season, and with the team’s payroll having little flexibility, the chances to find cheap players to fill holes can never be scoffed at.
Instead, hopefully the Pistons give extended looks to DaJuan Summers and Terrico White when he’s healthy. Summers, very likely, has no future in Detroit. He’s never been given a reasonable number of minutes to prove himself, but he’s also been very unproductive in the minutes he does play. Still though, as Mike Payne pointed out in the comments, if Summers can play a little bit, the Pistons might be able to bring him back as a cheap rotation player next year since they’re likely to lose Prince in free agency.
As for White, his athleticism makes him intriguing and he had good moments in the Summer League. Tracy McGrady and Rodney Stuckey are free agents, so it’s possible the Pistons could have some holes at point guard next season. Hopefully the team is committed to seeing if White can give solid minutes at that spot.