Forward Tayshaun Prince unwittingly summed up the Pistons’ drama-filled season with one word he uttered in the locker room in mid-January.
Reporters had surrounded the adjacent locker of guard Richard Hamilton after Hamilton was benched against Memphis. As Hamilton professed ignorance to why he didn’t play, Prince muttered, “Buffoonery.”
That bit of buffoonery lasted through the following month, before Hamilton and head coach John Kuester finally met to straighten out their differences. That was just of many incidents in which players clashed with Kuester and turned a highly-respected franchise into a laughingstock.
“It has been an interesting year, to say the least,” Kuester said. “To me, two things that have to happen (are), you’ve got to have discipline and accountability. Sometimes that picture was clear and sometimes that picture was clouded.”
What’s clear is that a major shakeup is required to turn around a team that went 30-52 and had the league’s worst defense. President of basketball operations Joe Dumars sat by idly and watched the team crumble around him while negotiations to sell the franchise, which were supposed to be completed by training camp, dragged into April. With billionaire financier Tom Gores in the final stages of taking over the franchise, the romper room mentality that pervaded the locker room should thankfully be squelched next season.
There’s much work to do this offseason from a personnel standpoint. Getting rid of the affable but overmatched Kuester is a must. Gores is expected to retain Dumars, who has plenty of decisions to make.
Prince, guard Tracy McGrady and center Chris Wilcox will enter the free-agent market. Guard Rodney Stuckey, and forwards Jonas Jerebko and DaJuan Summers become restricted free agents.
Deals to move at least one of their onerous contractual obligations will also be pursued. Hamilton, guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva have provided far less than they’ve been paid over the last two seasons and all have at least two years remaining on their contracts.
Some building blocks are already in place. The front office is eager to see how Jerebko, whom they expect to re-sign, will mesh up front with Monroe, who exceeded their expectations in his rookie season. Jerebko plays with a high motor and showed a lot of versatility in his rookie year but didn’t play this season after tearing his Achilles.
Striking gold again in the lottery, as they did with Monroe, would be another big step toward regaining face and respect after a tumultuous six months.
“We’ve got to get back to the old days of what Detroit basketball has been,” Stuckey said. “So hopefully the new owner can come in and make some tremendous changes.”
For a team that lost its first five games and never had a winning streak longer than three games, there were no special moments on the court. The best thing that happened came less than a week before the season ended, when Tom Gores and his company, Platinum Equity, reached a definitive agreement to purchase the team and its assets from Karen Davidson, widow of long-time owner Bill Davidson. There was a palpable sense of relief and excitement at The Palace when the announcement was made, with the expectation that the sale will be approved by the league’s Board of Governors and the front office can finally take bold action to improve the roster.
Public embarrassments were commonplace but nothing made the franchise look worse than the infamous shoot-around boycott in Philadelphia on Feb. 25, though no player would ever admit publicly there was one. Only six players showed up for the shoot-around and that’s all Kuester and assistant coach Brian Hill — who took over after Kuester was ejected late in the first half — used in the game. McGrady and Stuckey, among others, were seen laughing on the bench after Kuester’s ejection, making the players look even more unprofessional. Any pretense that they were still aiming for a playoff spot was vanquished that night.
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