The Detroit Pistons are one of the NBA's proudest franchises. From Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, to Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace, the Pistons have long been an example of a team where gritty play and teamwork trumps the talent of a singular superstar. The 2010-11 Pistons have besmirched that legacy and provided a shining example of why the NBA may be headed for a lockout this summer.
On paper, the Pistons are dreadful. 21-39 in the Central division is amplified in awfulness when you consider the Bulls are the only team in the division with a winning record. Their struggles on the court pale in comparison to their absurd problems off. The Pistons were in Philadelphia Friday to play the 76ers when a large group of players allegedly decided to boycott their team's shoot around before the game. The group, which was led by veterans Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Tracy McGrady, was unhappy with Detroit coach John Kuester and decided to make a public statement. The drama between Hamilton and Kuester has been going on for weeks. According to Adrian Wojnarkowski of Yahoo Sports, in the Detroit locker room last month, Hamilton "bellowed at Kuester that he had been a failure in his two seasons in Detroit and was nothing more than an assistant coach." Detroit's turmoil was topped off by a shot of McGrady laughing on the bench when Kuester was ejected from Friday's game.
To be fair to the players, Kuester should have been fired weeks ago. As a college coach, Kuester only led his team to one winning record in seven years. In 1988 he led George Washington to an unfathomably awful 1-27 regular season record. After 18 years as an assistant coach in the NBA, the Pistons hired him for some reason, and his losing ways have continued.
You could fill up a book with reasons why Kuester shouldn't be the head coach, but he's not the story here. Why are Hamilton and Prince, who happen to be the two highest paid Pistons, leading this revolt? Why is Hamilton, who will earn $12,650,000 over the next three years, publicly embarrassing his coach? Why can't guys who've made tens of millions of dollars over their career while playing in a city with an unemployment rate of nearly 50 percent, just suck it up? Because in the NBA once you have a contract, you are untouchable.
Eddy Curry has made $30 million dollars over the past three years while playing in a whopping total of 10 games. When Keith Van Horn was traded from the Mavericks to the Nets in 2008 he chose not to play, and got paid $10 million to travel with the team, stay in 5-star hotels and sit on the bench. These situations have become the norm in recent NBA history. A former longtime player told me that he hasn't filed for retirement yet, even though he's been out of the league for two years, because his contract can still be traded and he can still get paid.
With the NBA's collective bargaining agreement expiring this summer, the issue of guaranteed contracts will likely be a sticking point for the owners. This absurd protest from the Pistons only strengthens their argument.