Several Pistons players missed the morning shootaround this morning in an apparent coordinated protest against embattled second-year head coach John Kuester. Two of the players involved, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, had been part of ongoing trade speculation throughout the year but were not traded prior to Thursday’s deadline.
The other players to miss the practice were Tracy McGrady, who has taken a leadership role in his first year with the team, and Chris Wilcox. Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye missed the team bus to shootaround, but arrived late, shortly after the media session ended. Ben Wallace missed the shootaround to attend to a “family matter” and his absence seems to have been expected and excused.
For his part, Kuester said at the practice today that the Pistons would “go with the group that was here” in tonight’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers. No direct punishment was laid out for the players who missed practice, but with two players on the shelf (Jonas Jerbeko and Terrico White), four players seeming to be inactive tonight (Hamilton, Prince, McGrady and Wilcox) and three more who might not play (Wallace, Stuckey, Daye), then the already struggling Pistons will be awfully shorthanded.
And looking beyond tonight’s game, this situation obviously doesn’t bode well for Kuester. It has long been known that the players had little to no respect for him and long been suspected that he would not be back for a third season. But now one has to wonder if he will survive the ownership change that appears on the verge of being completed. Or perhaps if he will even get THAT far.
What is most troubling to me is McGrady’s involvement in today’s mass protest. I can understand Prince and Hamilton, two outspoken longtime veterans from the winning years, walking out on the coach. But McGrady, who has been filling the leadership void within the clubhouse, always says the right things and one of the few players who hasn’t publicly feuded with the coaching staff, this could be the final straw and force Dumars hand. McGrady’s been a leader on the court and he seems to garner respect from his teammates. If he gave this bizarre stunt his seal of approval then I don’t see how Kuester can continue on.
Dumars, I’m sure, knows the situation better than anyone. And I’m sure he knows how close this team is to being sold to presumptive buyer Tom Gores. I’m sure it’s been Joe D.’s wish to simply wait for the new owner and let him make his first bold move — new owners love bold moves, after all — and relieve Kuester of his coaching duties. But if this situation looks like it will drag on over weeks or a month then Dumars might have to pull the trigger himself. For every day that Kuester and this dysfunctional bunch of players are engaged in open warfare against one another, the less likely it is that Dumars himself will survive the season as GM of the franchise.