Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pistons Pass On Trades, Move Past Alleged Protest

Pistons Pass On Trades, Move Past Alleged Protest
By Steve St-Pierre

An already difficult season for the Pistons took a turn for the worst in late February when several Detroit players allegedly orchestrated a player protest, skipping a pregame shootaround. The organization has gone at great lengths to deny the allegations and move past the ugly occurrence.

The incident took place following the NBA’s trade deadline. According to various reports, the Pistons negotiated two separate deals involving veterans Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.

The Dallas Mavericks, interested in acquiring Prince, offered Detroit the expiring contract of injured forward Caron Butler along with their 2011 first-round draft pick. Joe Dumars, Pistons President, allegedly passed on the deal because he wasn’t interested in swapping expiring contracts – Prince is also a free agent this summer – or acquiring Dallas’ pick, which is expected to be in the late 20’s overall. Likewise, Dumars wants to keep his options open with Prince, looking to either keep him this offseason or sign-and-trade him in a more beneficial deal.

Reportedly, the Pistons agreed to send Hamilton to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with a lottery-protected 2012 first-round pick in exchange for a $12.6 million trade exception and a second-round pick. Hamilton allegedly made it clear he did not want to play for the league’s last-place team, so the Cavs discussed a contract buyout that would have paid Hamilton $18 million of the $25 million left on his contract and allowed him to sign with any other team.

Supposedly, Hamilton passed on the offer, perhaps hoping the Pistons will be purchased soon by a new owner, opening up the possibility of a higher buyout.

With frustration building throughout the Pistons’ locker room, several players apparently decided to take their frustrations out on John Kuester, Pistons Head Coach, by boycotting the shootaround. The players accused of participating in the protest include Hamilton, Prince, Tracy McGrady, Chris Wilcox, Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye.

The organization has denied the allegations, vouching for each player. According to the Pistons, Prince and McGrady were excused due to illness, Wilcox overslept, and Stuckey and Daye showed up towards the end of shootaround due to a mix-up.

Hamilton, though he was unexcused, apologized to Kuester. The two had been at odds since Hamilton was benched early in the season in favor of McGrady. For the time being, it appears that Kuester has flip-flopped the two in his rotation, opting to play Hamilton and sit McGrady. Hamilton has been coming off the bench, with Stuckey moving back to point guard and Ben Gordon starting at shooting guard.

Additionally, Ben Wallace missed shootaround the day of the protest but has been excused from the team to deal with the death of his brother. As a result, Daye and Wilcox have been starting at the forward positions alongside rookie center Greg Monroe. In an effort to move forward from the so-called shootaround shun, the Pistons quietly issued fines for Hamilton, Wilcox, Stuckey and Daye.

“We’ve had a lot of interesting things happen to our team…” Kuester says. “…This is an emotional game, a passionate game, and my goal as a coach was always – and will always be – to get the maximum potential out of players.

“I always go back to Ben Wallace saying ‘Players aren’t going to like coaches, coaches aren’t going to like players, (and that’s) the way it is.’ I just want the maximum potential out of these guys.”

As of now, Daye has been the only player to open up about missing shootaround.

“For me, personally, I have no problem with Coach,” Daye says. “He’s been playing me, so why would I protest someone that’s playing me?”

Daye stands by the Pistons’ explanation of what occurred and acknowledges it was his fault.

“That’s why I got punished,” he says. “You make a mistake, and you learn from it…trust me, if I could’ve been on time, I would have…it’s a mistake I’ll never make again, and I apologize to Pistons fans and the Pistons family for being late.”

Dumars, who’s known for shying away from the media, issued a statement to voice his support for Kuester. The players understand why Dumars carefully picks and chooses when to speak out.

“If he feels that something needs to come up and something needs to happen, he’s going to do it because he’s the head honcho around here,” Daye says. “And we all respect him.”

Despite the negative that’s come out of this season, the Pistons have had some positive highlights as well. For example, the players who did not protest against the coach have benefited by staying on the floor and continuing to develop for the future.

“That’s what it’s all about, getting an opportunity and taking advantage of it,” Kuester says. “One of the things that happens in this league is that no one is entitled to anything. The big thing about respect and earning respect, you earn that every day. You don’t earn it on the past. You earn it on how you work every day and how you react to things every day, and that’s how you earn respect.”

“I’m here to play basketball,” Monroe adds. “That’s my job, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Though the odds are against them, the Pistons believe they have enough in them this season for a playoff push. However, they know it’s going to require a commitment from the entire team.

“We have a lot of maturity, and I think Greg Monroe has benefited a lot from Ben Wallace,” Kuester says. “I think Austin Daye has benefited a lot from Tayshaun Prince. I think Tracy McGrady has done some things to help our young players too.”

“Of course, those guys are a big part of our team,” adds Monroe. “They’ve been a big part of this franchise for a long time.”

Despite the constant backlash from his players and the rumors of his eventual dismissal, Kuester maintains confidence in his team.

“This isn’t about coaching,” Kuester explains. “This is about players, and this is about them wanting to win.

“Sometimes, you’re not going to execute the right way or do things the right way. But when you play with energy and play with intelligence…good things will happen.”