AUBURN HILLS (AP) – From start to finish, the Detroit Pistons’ season felt like the end of an era – and an unpleasant conclusion at that.
The Pistons went 30-52, losing their first five games and never really recovering. Along the way, coach John Kuester and his players seemed constantly at odds. The team tried different starting lineups, players were benched, and nothing seemed to work.
Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace, who led Detroit to an NBA title in 2004, could all be gone next season.
“It is what it is. I don’t know. I don’t write it,” said Wallace, who is considering retirement. “You’ve got to ask the people on the other side what these guys meant to the franchise.”
Kuester’s future is also in doubt. The Pistons weren’t making an immediate decision about the coach’s fate, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Thursday morning. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced its plans regarding the coach.
For much of the season, the team seemed in limbo because of a drawn-out sale by owner Karen Davidson. She finally reached an agreement last week to sell the team to Tom Gores, and once that process is complete, the Pistons might finally begin the rebuilding process in earnest.
“This is a community asset,” Gores said while at Monday’s home finale. “This is not an asset that we’re going to handle alone.”
Detroit might have nowhere to go but up after this season. The Pistons not only fell well short of the playoffs, but they made news for all the wrong reasons. Hamilton and Kuester had a falling out that sent Hamilton to the bench for most of a seven-week stretch. Although the two seemed on better terms toward the end, that was hardly the only drama.
Every healthy player started at least one game this season, and all of them except Ben Gordon received at least one DNP-Coach’s Decision. Kuester benched point guard Rodney Stuckey barely a week into the season and benched him again with just over a week to go when there was friction between the two.
“Six games left,” Stuckey said earlier this month after he didn’t play at all in a loss to Boston. “That’s all I’ve got to say. Six games.”
Stuckey eventually returned to the court and scored at least 22 points in each of the last five games. He said after Wednesday night’s finale he’d like to stay with the team.
The Pistons were unable to trade Hamilton, who is under contract for two more seasons, although it’s always possible he could be dealt in the offseason. Prince is a free agent and already seemed reflective after Monday’s game.
“This organization has meant a lot to me,” Prince said. “Obviously, I try to pay that back by just going out there and playing the way I normally play.”
Detroit’s low point may have been Feb. 25 in Philadelphia. Seven players missed at least part of a team shootaround, and Kuester played only the remaining six that night in a blowout loss to the 76ers.
The Pistons are set to start next season short-handed as well. Charlie Villanueva was suspended for five games after an altercation with Cleveland’s Ryan Hollins in Monday’s game.
Amid all that, there were some bright spots. Rookie Greg Monroe established himself as a solid young big man, averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds. Austin Daye, who shot 40 percent from 3-point range in his second season, appears to be another part of the team’s future.
The 24-year-old Stuckey averaged 15.5 points. Detroit could also get a boost if Jonas Jerebko comes back strong after missing the entire season with a torn Achilles’ tendon.
Now that this season is finally behind them, the Pistons could be a younger group the next time they take the court.
“We have a new owner now,” Stuckey said. “It will be interesting to see what happens. I know there’ll be changes coming.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)