Richard Hamilton returns as HOAM to help the Pistons roll the Milwaukee Bucks

In his first game since Jan. 10, Richard Hamilton appeared set to steal the show.

All the conjecture suddenly had to be viewed in a new light when the shooting guard stood up from the bench, smiled and walked toward the scorer’s table to check in late in the first quarter tonight. Whatever he did, positively or negatively, would become the story of the game. On the first three plays involving him, Hamilton committed an offensive foul, missed a jumper and fell down (although he earned an assist after falling by hastily scooping the ball to Austin Daye, who made a sweet 3-pointer to end the first quarter).

But that was the last we saw of Hamilton tonight.

During the between-quarter break, Hamilton found a telephone booth, put on his cape (he was already wearing his mask, obviously), and HOAM emerged.

A 3-pointer, jumper and assist to open the second quarter, and HOAM had successfully taken the spotlight from Hamilton and his drama. A couple more HOAM jumpers a few minutes later, and the Pistons’ four-point lead at the end of the first quarter had blossomed into an 11-point lead.

Tracy McGrady (20 points and a misleadingly low two assists) repeatedly taking the right shot or making the right pass and Tayshaun Prince (12 points and 11 rebounds) shooting and rebounding efficiently kept the Pistons comfortably ahead the rest of the game, which they won, 89-78.

HOAM (15 points on 7-of-14 shooting with with three assists in 20 minutes) didn’t lead the Pistons in any major statistical categories, but his presence energized Detroit.

He moved well without the ball. He didn’t look like the tireless Hamilton of seven years ago, who ran around screens all game, every game. He’s too old for that. But when Hamilton isn’t HOAM, he tends to wait until has has the ball in his hands before working for a better shot.

That’s not his game.

HOAM moves before catching the pass. He trusts his teammates to find him when that movement creates room to shoot – and they did tonight. It’s awesome to watch the Pistons when they’re all working in sync together.

Will Bynum (nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and four assists in 17 minutes) benefitted from the lanes HOAM’s movement opened. Prince, who sometimes looks removed from the proceedings when they don’t directly involve him, stood near the  bench and yelled advice to Hamilton. Charlie Villanueva showed confusion on a play, but when Hamilton motioned for him to run across the court, Villanueva immediately did.

After the game, Hamilton basically said the right things. It clearly still bothers him John Kuester didn’t tell him him his role had changed, but Hamilton made a point to note that doesn’t matter. Hamilton said he’ll play hard no matter who his coach is.

All of a sudden, a solution appears in sight for one aspect of this saga. Kuester could keep playing Hamilton, and if HOAM keeps showing up, the Pistons will win at a higher clip than they have been. Petty coach-player feuds dissipate when teams win.

But will Kuester keep playing Hamilton? The Pistons value Hamilton’s play more than DaJuan Summers’ right now. That’s all we really know. What happens when Rodney Stuckey returns from injury?

That question can’t be answered, because not all the evidence has been submitted. Hamilton still has more time to build the case that he deserves playing time.

When Hamilton is HOAM, he can help the Pistons. But what does it take to get HOAM show up? Last time, the Pistons had to remove him from the starting lineup. This time, they had to remove him from the rotation and active roster. Short of giving him more DNP-CDs, what can the Pistons do to get HOAM every game Hamilton plays?

That’s the Kuester muster answer.

Hamilton could make the answer easy and continue to play as HOAM. He could also make it easy by returning to the player who gave more effort toward arguing with officials than playing effectively. Anything in between, and Kuester faces a difficult decision.

As far as the other problem – Hamilton’s age and contract limiting Detroit’s youth movement – a solution remains murky. During the game, Eli Zaret reported Joe Dumars said the Pistons don’t want to trade Hamilton. Anyway, moving on to things that are even partially accurate…

Hamilton’s trade value remains low. He’ll need many more games like this before the Pistons can move him without sending out a valuable piece to entice a team to take Hamilton.

Very little was settled tonight, and it’s probably not accurate to say Hamilton’s situation has become more intriguing. But when HOAM shows up, it’s a lot more fun.

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Tags: John Kuester Richard Hamilton Tayshaun Prince Tracy McGrady Will Bynum

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