John Kuester showed his stubborn side – ignoring, for a moment, whether it was justified – tonight. By suspending Richard Hamilton despite having only 10 other healthy players, Kuester chanced foul trouble, injury or DaJuan Summers’ chaotic play wouldn’t doom Detroit’s chances of winning.
Thankfully for the Pistons, the Hamilton-Kuester showdown was their only lose-lose situation, and they beat the Nets, 92-82. But the non-descript victory – a likely lottery team winning at home against a worse team – won’t hide the elephant in the room.
That didn’t prevent Kuester from trying to detract attention from Hamilton after the game.
Asked about the logic behind keeping Hamilton inactive, the coach said, “it was an internal decision.” Kuester apparently liked that line, because he repeated it when asked, “Is Rip done here?” Obviously, the answer doesn’t make a lick of sense with that question.
On another Hamilton-related question, Kuester even praised the play of Summers, who took what would have been Hamilton’s minutes at shooting guard. By the way, Summers missed all three of his shots and had two fouls, one turnover, no rebounds, no assists, no steals, no blocks and a team-worst minus-8 in eight minutes. Drawing attention from Hamilton to Summers wasn’t the way to go.
If Kuester really wanted to pretend the Hamilton storyline was insignificant, he should have answered every question by talking about Greg Monroe, who had 20 points (10-of-14 shooting) and 11 rebounds . With his career-high in points, Monroe became the sixth rookie with a 20-point, 10-rebound game this season.*
*Those six have combined for 38 20-10 games – 31 by Blake Griffin. DeMarcus Cousins has three, and Monroe, Trevor Booker, Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov each have one.
It’s scary how much better Monroe can get. Nine of his 10 baskets were assisted or putbacks. At some point, the Pistons will ask him to display the ability to create his own shot he showed at Georgetown.
But anything short of a 40-20 game wouldn’t have made this his night.
Hamilton’s stepped decline – his removal from the starting lineup, his removal from the rotation, and now, his removal from the active roster – has given several rounds of attention to his downturn with the Pistons. We’ll never know for certain, but the Hamilton situation hasn’t appeared to hinder the team’s focus.
But is everything hanging by a thread?
Tayshaun Prince called Kuester removing Hamilton from the rotation “buffoonery.” I doubt Prince feels much differently about Kuester suspending Hamilton.
After the game, Will Bynum said Hamilton could help the team and was asked whether he or other players had gone to Kuester to lobby for Hamilton. Bynum paused and laughed. “We can’t go to Q, man,” Bynum said.
I understand many players would have reservations about questioning a coach in any situation, but on well-functioning teams, players can go to the head coach with concerns. On most teams, there’s at least one leader who can express the players’ issues to the head coach.
The Pistons definitely aren’t well-functioning, and they’re not even most teams. This situation looks, by far, more irreparable than ever. Kuester will barely talk about it, and Hamilton said he thinks he’ll never play for the Pistons again.
Detroit, which entered tonight on a four-game losing streak, must keep winning to return attention to the court. That’s far from an easy task – even if Monroe produces more 20-10 performances.
For a while, the Hamilton saga will fill the center ring of the circus. (And I might be treating the circus unfairly by comparing it to the Pistons’ season.)