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.