Allen Iverson was an outsider from the moment he became a Detroit Piston in 2008. It was clear early on the Pistons were not getting the lightning quick volume scorer Iverson was in Philadelphia and Denver, and when that fact was obvious, he became nothing but cap space his remaining days as a Piston. Burdensome cap space, but cap space nonetheless.
Ostensibly, the reason Iverson was so easily cast aside once it was clear he wasn’t going to be productive was the fact that the team was committed to Rip Hamilton. During that season, two players openly bristled about their starting roles being usurped by an in-over-his-head coach: Iverson and Hamilton. One was exiled. The other signed a contract extension and ended up costing Michael Curry his job when Curry refused to mend fences.
Just a season and a half later, Rip Hamilton is Allen Iverson minus the promise that his days of being an organizational headache will be short-lived. The team clearly wants to part ways with him. His name has been a fixture in a trade with New Jersey rumored to be on the fringe of happening for about a week now, and unlike past trade rumors involving specific names of Pistons, Joe Dumars has not gone out of his way to deny that the team is indeed close to moving Hamilton.
The reasons why a trade is necessary for both parties are abundant and don’t need to be rehashed. But the obvious little truth that seems to keep getting glossed over is that Hamilton is actually still on the team. And he might still be on the team after the trade deadline. He might still be on the team heading into next season. As badly as Detroit wants the deal with New Jersey to go through, if Carmelo Anthony waffles on a contract extension with the Nets, which would essentially kill the trade, there’s no chance the Nets would still be interested in Hamilton. And minus that trade, which seemed too good to be true from the Pistons perspective from the start, a very simple question rises: who else is going to make an offer like that?
There is a very real chance that Hamilton’s days as a Piston aren’t as numbered as everyone has spent the last week assuming. And if the team is stuck with him past the deadline, how are they prepared to handle what will likely become an even more uncomfortable union than the one the team had with Iverson?
Jettisoning Iverson before the season was over was an easy move. His contract was up and he was an outsider anyway, someone who hadn’t been here long enough to establish relationships in the locker room and gain the support of teammates in perceived battles with coaches and management. Iverson was on his own in every way — no fans, teammates, coaches or media members were rushing to his defense here. Hamilton, on the other hand, is the polar opposite.
He’s owed about $25 million over the next two years. He’s not going to negotiate a buyout that is team-friendly, and why would he? Is it Hamilton’s fault the team signed him to that contract? Of course not. So sending him away, hoping he’ll beg out of his contract at a discount, is probably not an option.
And maybe more importantly, Hamilton is still, even with most of the players of the past gone, a respected presence for some players in the locker room. He’s been a warrior for this organization. He became a champion and an All-Star here. He’s been one of the most unique players in the NBA. He’s carried himself professionally on and off the court, he’s won and he’s been a good teammate. He’s a guy who has friends on the team who will fully support him.
So simply making Hamilton a healthy scratch as he was against Memphis is probably not going to work. In fact, there’s already ample evidence that it will backfire: Tayshaun Prince referred, presumably, to the coaches who made the decision as buffoons (great word, by the way).
Prince probably won’t find many fans who support that stance. Well, let me rephrase. Many will agree that the coaches are buffoons, but not many will feel like scratching Hamilton was the wrong decision. I’m not even sure I think it was the wrong decision. And Hamilton, for his part, was as even-handed as could be expected after the game. But he did say one interesting thing:
“Nobody warned me or told me anything. I just came out ready to play the game. I was definitely surprised. Do I think it was a level of disrespect or unfair or anything like that? I’ll leave that to y’all.”
OK, I’ll take it Rip. If this is the case, if no one legitimately told Hamilton, "Look Rip, nothing personal, a lot of guys are playing bad, it’s not just you, but we need to try something different tonight, and there’s a chance I might not play you," then yeah, that’s very disrespectful. Hamilton was owed that courtesy.
It’s clear that there’s been a disconnect between Hamilton, Prince and the coaches most of the season, so who knows. Maybe Kuester feels he gave Hamilton sufficient preparation for a possible DNP and Hamilton simply tuned it out. But it doesn’t seem like the wisest strategy for the Pistons to act like Hamilton getting traded is simply a formality. Like with Iverson, it seems like the team is already divorcing itself from Hamilton before he’s even off the roster. They got away with it with AI. But if this trade with New Jersey falls through, the Pistons may very well be in a situation where they have to find a workable coexistence with a player who might be stuck on their roster longer than wanted.