Every player on the Pistons, I would wager, is ready for this season to be over. When Rodney Stuckey expressed how ‘mentally drained’ he was by what has happened this season, it was understandable. I’m sure every player on the team feels similar. It has been a drama-filled year with most players on the roster having their roles changes multiple times, most guys under-performing, dissension with an in-over-his-head coach and frustration caused by a paralyzed front office that is unable to make moves to fix anything because the sale of the team is dragging on longer than expected.
But what I take exception to is how Stuckey chose to express his mental fatigue. Twice this season, Stuckey has publicly and embarrassingly disobeyed his coach, the first time early in the season, ignoring John Kuester as Kuester yelled from him to come over for instructions, the second ignoring an order to re-enter a close game against Chicago. I pointed out that Stuckey’s incidents are a bad look for a guy who has yet to prove himself as a starting caliber player for a good team in this league, particularly for a guy headed into free agency, and I’m going to expand on that belief some.
There is ample evidence after two years to suggest that Kuester is a poor communicator and a coach who was ill-equipped for the head job here. But he’s been treated by several players (not just Stuckey) as if he’s the worst coach to ever grace a NBA sideline, and that’s just not true. The NBA is full of failed coaches. Hell, some of them even get multiple jobs before teams realize they aren’t cut out for this level. It has long been a reality of this league: there are fewer really talented coaches than there are teams, so there are always going to be a handful of guys like Kuester around, struggling to win games, annoying fanbases and frustrating players on the roster who want to win. Players are still expected to conduct themselves with a basic level of professionalism. Most players in the league will play for a bad coach at some point. Imagine if every player reacted to that as poorly as Stuckey and a few other Pistons have this season? The league would be total chaos.
Some people in the comments have defended Stuckey’s actions. Their premise, I guess, is that since Kuester is a bad coach, it’s OK for Stuckey to refuse to re-enter a game when he’s told to. I obviously disagree wholeheartedly with that, and I’ve yet to hear a plausible, rational case made by any Stuckey defender about what makes how he handled this OK.
I get Stuckey’s frustration and if, as some have suggested, he wants a fresh start with a new team next season, I completely understand that. I’m sure the fact that he was annointed as a franchise savior by the team when he was just finding his way in this league didn’t do his development any favors. Playing for Kuester and Michael Curry certainly didn’t help either. At this point, the best solution for Stuckey and for the organization might be parting ways.
Unfortunately, Stuckey is going about making that happen in the wrong way. He’s been in the league four years, was a starter for about two and a half seasons and played significant minutes. Although there have been some incremental improvements in his game, he’s been terribly inconsistent. He’s yet to prove he’s cut out to play point guard and he’s yet to add a perimeter game to balance his ability to penetrate, which makes him a really one-dimensional scoring threat if his position is going be at the two. Add to that these highly publicized incidents of insubordination, and Stuckey, as a restricted free agent, has all but killed any chance that a team will covet his potential enough to offer him a big, front-loaded contract that would be too big for the Pistons to match. Basically, by behaving poorly, perhaps as an attempt to express his unhappiness here, he’s actually made it more likely he’ll stay here.
Compare him with two other Pistons who very likely want to go elsewhere and who have also not been saints this season.
Tayshaun Prince called his coach a buffoon in the media. He’s had a couple of shouting matches with Kuester picked up by the cameras. But he’s also had a really solid bounce-back season and probably been the Pistons’ most consistent player this season. Since March 1, Prince’s scoring is up about a point per game over what he was previously averaging this season. His shooting percentages (47 percent overall, 35 percent from three) are very solid. Although he’s not the defender he was during the title run, he’s improved defensively this season after sliding for a couple of years. And most importantly, he’s kept quiet for virtually the entire second half of the season. He shows up, he plays solid most every night and he’s rebuilt his value heading into free agency.
Despite being completely healthy, Rip Hamilton played in five total games in January and February. He and Kuester traded barbs in the media. Reports that Hamilton’s benching stemmed from him humilating Kuester in front of the entire team during a practice surfaced. Oddly enough, Hamilton’s return to the lineup was aided by an alleged fight between Stuckey and Kuester that led to Stuckey’s benching in March. Hamilton and Kuester apparently worked out their differences, at least to the point where the two could co-exist civilly, and on the court, Hamilton has been his old self. Since March 1, he’s averaged 17.4 points and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 46 percent and 33 percent from three. Those numbers are a significant improvement from earlier in the season, when Hamilton was shooting just 41 percent as a starter and part of the rotation.
This is not meant as any kind of defense of Prince and Hamilton. Those guys have not always behaved like consumate professionals this season. They’ve been difficult to coach at times, I’m sure. But the point is, if they want out of Detroit to start over elsewhere, they’re going about getting out the right way: they’ve stopped the griping in the media and, more importantly, they’re ending the season by playing well. It’s still going to be a difficult task to trade Hamilton and his contract, but he’s made it much easier by proving that he can still shoot the ball well and by showing some level of maturity by working out a less tense relationship with Kuester. But whatever difficulties remain, Hamilton and Prince clearly took responsibility for their actions and went about improving their situations as best they could. If Stuckey had taken a similar tact, his options heading into the offseason would be a lot better than they currently are.