Dating back to the Allen Iverson era — which was here and gone about as fast as A.I.’s first step — cracks in the chemistry of the Detroit Pistons infrastructure have effectively ended what was one of the NBA’s most consistent runs of success over the last decade. While the A.I. situation drew more national attention because of the big names involved, the Pistons’ issues over the last couple of seasons have been just as damaging. Now it’s just getting out of hand.
During last night’s loss to Golden State, starting forward Tayshaun Prince and coach John Kuester got into an exchange on the bench that required security being called. In the second quarter, Prince found himself double-screened while his defensive assignment, Warriors’ guard Reggie Williams, hit a three. Not liking Prince’s effort (or lack thereof) in fighting through the screens, Kuester immediately called a timeout and laid into Prince. The nine-year veteran player argued his side, and eventually Kuester called over a team security officer to have Prince escorted to the locker room. Prince stayed on the bench, and he returned to play later in the game, but assistant coach Darrell Walker also appeared to have to restrain Kuester from going after Prince at one point.
“I hope it doesn’t happen again,” Prince was quoted afterward by Yahoo! Sports. “I can’t say it won’t because I’m the type of guy that if I don’t see something right, I got to say something.
“It’s something that happens,” Prince said. “You can call me the bad guy. I’ve pretty much said something to Flip (Saunders), Larry (Brown) and all my other coaches. It’s part of the game. Maybe the way I handled it wasn’t the right way. When you are getting beat by 30 early, strange things happen.”
Clearly there are problems in Detroit. Kuester also benched Rodney Stuckey for one game earlier this season after Stuckey showed up the coach by refusing to enter a game, and last night wasn’t even the first time Prince and Kuester have clashed in public. At this point, does one of them have to go? And if you’re team president Joe Dumars, who do you send away?
Prince is a lifetime Piston, one of the rocks of the franchise who won a championship with the team in 2004 and had a six-year run where he didn’t miss a single game. As an Olympic gold-medal winner (’08) and longtime defensive stalwart, he is a fan favorite in Detroit and could have his No. 22 retired someday by the organization.
Kuester is only in his second season as coach, and hasn’t really done a lot to prove he’s a keeper. The team missed the playoffs last season and is 2-6 to start this year. But at the same time, if Dumars always gets rid of the coach when disputes with players threaten to envelop the team, the players may start to believe they’re running the show and will respect the next coach even less. The Pistons already ran Michael Curry out of town after one season; if the front office jettisons Kuester because of this situation, they could be creating a monster within its own locker room.
What would you do? If the Prince/Kuester situation becomes a “Him or me” ultimatum, who goes?