A tumultuous season for the Detroit Pistons looks to have turned into an all-out disaster.
Friday started with several notable players absent from the morning shootaround in Detroit. According to reports by The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Chris Wilcox missed the shootaround in protest of head coach John Kuester.
The evening was even worse for the team, particularly Kuester, as the coach was ejected in the second quarter of a 110-94 loss to the host 76ers after he was whistled for two quick technical fouls arguing a non-call. McGrady was reportedly seen laughing on the bench after Kuester’s ejection.
But it was the beginning of the day that has the sports world buzzing.
Also absent from the shootaround was Ben Wallace, but the veteran center has been dealing with an ongoing family matter for the past several weeks. The issue has forced Wallace to miss games and practices over the past month. Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey were late to the practice, showing up after the media was let in, after they missed the team bus from the hotel to shootaround.
A team spokesman said that McGrady was out with a headache and Prince had the stomach flu. However, Wilcox and Hamilton missed the bus without a reason. The News, citing a source, confirmed Prince’s and McGrady’s illnesses but reported that Wilcox overslept.
Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers were the only Detroit players who were present at the practice and fully participated. Jonas Jerebko was there for his usual rehab workouts.
Told it was suggested the Pistons had other motives for skipping shootaround, Kuester said, ”Sometimes perception is different than reality.”
The chaos led Kuester to play only the six players who attended the full shootaround: Summers, Villanueva, Monroe, Gordon and Bynum started, and Maxiell came off the bench.
Kuester called the personnel situation ”an internal matter.” The Pistons are home Saturday against Utah and there was no word if the missing players would be available.
”I feel badly for John Kuester,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ”I think it’s a black eye for the league. I know Detroit is in disarray right now at some level. You worry about a coach and, you know, his psyche after something like that happens.”
Detroit dropped to 21-39 and is almost certainly headed to its third straight losing season. There have been signs of disharmony almost from the beginning. Kuester benched Stuckey barely a week into the season, although that was only temporary.
Kuester then benched Hamilton on Jan. 12, and he didn’t play again until Feb. 5 at Milwaukee. Hamilton has missed every game since with what the team called a groin injury.
The team was unable to trade Hamilton before Thursday’s deadline. He’s guaranteed $20 million over the next two seasons.
Wallace missed eight games in January. He’s battled ankle problems and also left the team to tend to a family matter.
Kuester has juggled the lineup quite a bit this season, trying to find combinations that might help propel the Pistons to a playoff spot, but so far it’s been no use. McGrady has been a bright spot, staying healthy and settling in as a point guard, and rookie big man Monroe is showing promise – but Detroit has clearly fallen a long way since Hamilton, Prince and Wallace led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title.
Owner Karen Davidson has been trying to sell the team, and that turned into a drawn-out saga after she said she hoped it would be done by the start of the season. On Feb. 11, Davidson confirmed she and investor Tom Gores had a two-week ”exclusivity” period for negotiations.
On Friday – exactly two weeks later – there was no update from the owner.