On Monday, I took a pessimistic view of the possibility that the NBA’s new amnesty clause would be the elixir to cure the ills of all the teams in the NBA. While fans are desperate for their favorite team to dump dead weight and rebuild their squad into a playoff contender, the reality is that with a salary floor, tight budgets and an unlimited timeframe to use the clause, few players will probably get the ax under amnesty. Today and for the next several days, however, I’m looking on the brighter side of things. What if the Pistons truly are ready to hack off a contract, pay a player off and reinvest the cap room into a difference maker? This is the first entry in that series:
Richard Hamilton. “Rip” Hamilton. The Masked Man of Motown. The … has-been? The glory days are over for the Pistons longtime top scorer and one of the faces of the franchise for nearly 10 years. Hamilton’s shots don’t go down as frequently as they used to, they don’t structure all of their offensive sets off of his ability to use screens, and both sides seem to wish their partnership could be ended and each could go their separate ways. Hamilton as a role player on a title contender and Detroit into the rebuilding phase that they put off for far too long. Here are five reasons why the Detroit Pistons should use the amnesty clause on Richard Hamilton:
1. A GLUT OF GUARDS
The Detroit Pistons are paying shooting guard Ben Gordon $36 million over the next three seasons. The team is also heavily invested in the future of starting point guard Rodney Stuckey, but seem more and more comfortable with the idea that he is an off-guard and not a starting point guard on a playoff team that can make a deep run. The Pistons drafted Brandon Knight out of Kentucky in 2011, another combo guard who might be a great point guard but also might be a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. And don’t forget that outside of Tracy McGrady, the best pure point guard play was reserve Will Bynum, who himself is more of a scorer than a distributor. And the team will finally get a real look at shooting guard Terrico White after his rookie year was lost to injuries. In other words, not even considering Hamilton, the Pistons have an estimated $50 million and five roster spots dedicated to the guard rotation and all five players might be better in an off guard role. That doesn’t leave much of a role for Hamilton, who has spent the Pistons down years fighting with teammates and coaches and not being the mentor or veteran leadership presence that would make a transition to the new guard (no pun intended) any easier.
2. HE IS COMING OFF HIS WORST YEAR AS A PISTON
looking at the numbers, it is hard to say there are any positive signs for Hamilton going forward, save the return of quality coaching. He played his fewest minutes per game (27.2) since his rookie season. He took and made fewer shots than in any year since his rookie season. His 42.9 percent shooting was the lowest since his rookie season save for last year when he shot an abysmal 40.9 percent. He’s also getting to the line less and his rebounding hasn’t been as poor since 2002. He just doesn’t look like that good of a basketball player anymore.
3. IT IS TIME FOR A FRESH START
Detroit paid lip service to the term rebuilding but general manager Joe Dumars has really tried to turn a new generation of Pistons into a playoff team without missing a beat. And he has failed. Badly. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to punish Richard Hamilton because the signings of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon haven’t worked out. But really if there was ever a time to clean slate it is right now. The amnesty clause offers an easy break. No complicated trades have to be worked out. No surrendering of a valuable first-round draft pick. No buyouts have to be negotiated. The Pistons have a new owner, a new coach, a new staff, a new system. Chauncey is already on his second post-Pistons team and looks like he’ll be on his third at the beginning of next season at the latest. Tayshaun Prince, whose magical block against Reggie Miller was the catalyst to a great run, including a championship, is a free agent for the first time and looks ready to play somewhere else. All the teammates who have had such success with the franchise are either out of the league or playing elsewhere. It’s time to say goodbye to the last era of Pistons players for good. And if there could be only one player from that era who remains on the team, I’d personally it rather be Ben Wallace than anyone else. That’s not a knock against Hamilton, it is a testament to what Wallace meant to the team and the city.
4. TITLE CONTENDERS NEED HELP AT SHOOTING GUARD
While Hamilton has long since seen his best days in the NBA, he still has positive qualities that teams look for. He can take the big shot to win a game. He can go to the free-throw line and not wilt under the pressure. He knows what championship basketball is like. Hamilton might not be the “Rip” of old, but he sure as hell is a lot better than Ronnie Brewer in Chicago. He can be a valuable bench piece to complement the three-headed monster in Miami. Boston, Orlando, Memphis, Los Angeles, Dallas. They could all use a veteran scorer off the bench. Hamilton might not have a home in Detroit but he will find a home. And it is not going to be in Minnesota or Cleveland. It will be on a presumptive playoff team that will cherish the things Hamilton can provide them.
If new owner Tom Gores wants to make an immediate impact in Detroit and show the city he is committed to winning there is no easier way, practically and symbolically, than using the amnesty clause on Hamilton. He is owed $25 million over the next two years with a $9 million buyout essentially. The move would create enough cap space to offer more than the mid level exception and give the Pistons a chance to go after a big fish like Nene, a less expensive veteran like David West or a budding star like DeAndre Jordan. If the Pistons don’t want to find themselves back in the lottery, picking between No. 5 and No. 9, they must be bold. The amnesty clause offers them that chance.