Things got ugly when Pistons coach John Kuester removed the Pistons’ regulars late in the fourth quarter of last night’s 105-93 loss to the lowly Pacers. From Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:
And when Prince came to the bench, that’s when he yelled at Kuester, who gave it back momentarily before going back to the huddle to give instructions to the backups.
When asked after the game what transpired, Prince said: “Nah, don’t ask me that question, because if I speak on it y’all ain’t going to do nothing but change my words up so I ain’t even going to answer that.”
When a reporter tried to ask a follow-up, Prince snapped: “Did you just hear what I said?”
When another reporter asked if he and Kuester would get past the disagreement, Prince said: “Of course.”
And he walked away.
As for Kuester, he spoke for less than a minute and never took a question about Prince and left quickly.
In itself, this isn’t necessarily a big deal. Players and coaches get caught in the heat of the moment all the time. It’s not necessarily a sign of a bigger problem. But last night’s incident reminded me of something else Prince said.
A strange answer
Before the season, Prince talked to the media about the challenge of playing for his third coach in three years. Then a follow-up question – For Kuester to stick here, what advice would you give him? – caused him to take a snippy tone.
“What advice for me to give him to stick here?” Prince said. “I mean, that’s not – my advice doesn’t matter. I don’t make the decision for John Kuester to be the coach or for John Kuester, for his success to be here, that’s not a decision I have to make.”
Prince’s response struck me as odd at the time. But I didn’t report it because I had no idea what his answer meant, and I still don’t
- Did he just think it was a dumb question?
- Wary of the Piston players’ reputation for running off coaches, did Prince not want to be seen as meddling?
- This was the near the end of his interview, so did he just grow tired of answering questions?
- Did Prince have a problem with Kuester and not want to offer any advice to an adversary?
All four possibilities, and more, certainly crossed my mind. It was just strange. Prince had been pretty mellow during the interview session. Why did this question change his mood?
The Prince-Kuester relationship
Kuester has repeatedly called Prince one of the team’s leaders. It’s not as easy to find Prince quotes about Kuester.
I think one reason is that, with all the time he’s missed due to injury, Prince just hasn’t talked with the media often. And maybe there are dozens of instances of Prince praising Kuester that haven’t been reported.
Here’s the only general Prince quote about Kuester I could verify. It’s from a preseason interview with Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:
KL: I know you have some history with John Kuester as an assistant coach here when you won it in 2004. What’s your sense of what type of coach he’s going to be?
TP: He was here during the Larry Brown era and the way Larry did things, the assistant coaches around him did things in a similar fashion. I would kind of expect him to be similar in that kind of situation. But he’s also been under different guys. With Mike Brown last year, he gave him the opportunity to carry more of the load, especially offensively. I think he’ll incorporate a lot of different things he’s done with all the different coaches he’s been with, he’ll bring that to this team.
Translation: Kuester has been an assistant coach. He will be a head coach this year. He will coach with the knowledge that he knows.
Langlois practically begged Prince to praise Kuester, and the small forward didn’t bite. He didn’t say anything negative, but a question like that usually garners more of a positive response.
The search for a second quote from Prince on Kuester gets mysterious.
NewsBank, a newspaper database, turns up an August article by Terry Foster of The Detroit News. It ends with this quote:
"John is a heck of a coach and he will have his defensive system," Prince told pistons.com. "But he is going to get us up and down the court."
"I know every year we talk about getting up and down and making quicker passes. … I think the guys we have offensively can do that."
OK, that seems pretty positive. So, I found a linkable version of that story. But this version ends six paragraphs before the NewsBank story. Not a huge deal. There must’ve been a mix up when it was posted online. (I’m pretty sure the NewsBank articles are based on what runs in print.)
Still, I want to find the quote on Pistons.com to verify it and see the context. This video is the closest thing I could find:
If you listen to Prince at the end, he says similar things about the Pistons running more. But the quote’s actual words don’t match the Foster article. What Foster wrote is what you might get if you were transcribing the video in the middle of a concert.
Most relevant, Prince never says anything like, “John is a heck of a coach.”
Maybe this has nothing to do with Kuester at all.
This certainly can’t be an easy time for Prince.
- He’s missed most of the season with injuries, which must be especially bothersome for a guy who had played in 496 straight games.
- The Pistons just drafted three players who share his position.
- One of those rookies, Jonas Jerebko, has played well enough that some want to see Prince come off the bench now.
Add an ugly loss to a bad team at home, and well, why should he be in a good mood? Maybe Prince just lost his cool momentarily. After all, he said he and Kuester would definitely get past this.
At this point, evidence of a Kuester-Prince feud is all circumstantial. But it’s more solid than the evidence that they get along.