Tied to the Bench
The Pistons have Rip Hamilton’s back.
by Jay King / @CelticsTown
In Boston’s TD Garden, Richard Hamilton sits in the corner of the visitor’s locker room. One big earring rests in each of his ears, and he wears a button-down shirt. His teammates ready themselves for their game against the Eastern Conference’s top team, but Hamilton is content speaking to reporters in his street clothes.
Hamilton hasn’t played in four consecutive contests, and all signs indicate that Tuesday night would result in another DNP-CD (it did). Not so long ago, Hamilton helped lead a selfless Detroit starting five to six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. Not so long ago, Hamilton secured three straight All-Star game berths. Not so long ago, Hamilton was an NBA champion. But now he sits in the corner of the visitor’s locker room, preparing for a game in which he would not play.
“It’ll be even harder tonight,” Hamilton said. “I think any time you play one of the great teams, like Boston – we went to war with them for so many years. To sit and watch, it’s tough. It’s hard. It’s harder than anything else because you’re passionate about the game. When you think back to so many battles like that, you want to be out there and able to contribute to your team.”
Hamilton said he doesn’t know why Detroit head coach John Kuester refuses to play him.
“I have no idea. Y’all can be the judge of that,” Hamilton said.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody,” he added, referring mostly to Kuester and Detroit GM Joe Dumars. “The only person I can speak to is my agent.”
Before the game, Kuester was asked whether he wanted to play Hamilton. He responded, “I’ll tell you this, we’ve gone through a tough year. We’re searching for the right combination of players, and right now we’re staying with the group that we’ve had.”
Most likely, the Pistons have benched Hamilton while they wait to trade him. If he’ll soon be traded, it makes sense to offer court time to players who will be around for the long haul.
There is also the rumor that Hamilton’s poor attitude caused Kuester headaches.
Then why do his teammates still support him so vehemently?
“Oh yeah. Yeah,” said Ben Wallace when asked whether the team still backs Hamilton. “Regardless of whether he gets traded, stay here, doesn’t play anymore this year, or starts playing again, he’s still going to have support in this locker room. Even if he goes to another team, when we see him we’re still going to support him. That’s how it is here, man. We’re family here.”
Is Hamilton being treated fairly?
“A veteran, you would wish the situation would be handled a little bit differently,” Wallace said. “That’s one of those things that are out of my hands. They’re out of his hands. As a player, there are some things you can’t control.”
I asked McGrady whether there is turmoil in the Pistons’ locker room, and he denied it.
“No turmoil in the locker room,” he said. “No. That’s just all speculation, what the media wants to put out there. There are no problems between any of the players. Obviously, we’ve got a guy that we feel should be playing in Rip. But that’s out of our hands, we have no control of that. He’s obviously upset, but he’s still supportive of us out there on the basketball court.”
I asked McGrady whether Hamilton deserves minutes.
“I mean, yeah,” he responded, looking at me like I was crazy for even asking the question. “He’s a veteran player. The guy can play. It ain’t like he’s lost his game. We could use his veteran savvy and leadership out there.”
“Obviously, we want to see our man Richard Hamilton out on the floor with us,” says Tayshaun Prince, mentioning Hamilton’s name unprovoked. “But guys are staying positive, being patient, and putting our best foot forward. That’s the case.”
Though the Pistons players would rather have Hamilton alongside them on the court, they understand his absence provides opportunities for less established players.
“Eventually, we’re all going to retire and somebody else will have to step up,” noted Ben Wallace. “This is a good test for the young guys. With Rip being out, we can get guys like Ben [Gordon] going – [Rodney] Stuckey, Will Bynum, get those guys playing some extra minutes. It’s a good thing for them.”
With Hamilton out of the lineup, Detroit operates differently. McGrady’s point guard play has freed Stuckey to play shooting guard, where the fourth-year pro is thriving.
“Well he’s a scoring guard,” described McGrady. “When you take him off the ball and let him do what he does best – and that’s scoring – I think it’s a better fit for him. As opposed to him having to bring the ball up all the time, he’s looking to score. If you can put everybody in their right position, I think he’s a 2-guard. And [Prince] is at his position, and me being able to distribute the ball to those guys, it’s a perfect fit for this team. It’s what’s good for our team.”
Ben Gordon, too, has opened the throttle in Hamilton’s absence. It doesn’t hurt that McGrady, who’s now the team’s primary playmaker, feels healthier than he has in a long time.
“Fourteen years, man,” he said. “Fourteen years in this league. That’s a lot of games, a lot of minutes. I feel good, though. The best I’ve felt in two years, since my surgery. So that’s a good thing, and I’m only going to get better.”
A changing of the guard has begun, and – even though a small cast of characters remains from the 2004 title team – these Detroit Pistons have begun to pass the torch from one era to the next. From Chauncey Billups to Rodney Stuckey; Richard Hamilton to Ben Gordon; Ben Wallace to Greg Monroe; Rasheed Wallace to Charlie Villanueva. The Bad Boy Pistons are long gone, and the “Five Players As One Unit” Pistons are on their way out the door.
But only Hamilton is being kicked out.
“With all the speculation and everything that’s going on… I’ve never been a part of it and never thought I would be a part of it here,” he said.
Through all the trade speculation and DNPs, Hamilton prepares as if he will play each game. After the proposed Nets/Nuggets/Pistons three-way deal fell through Tuesday night, there’s a chance – however slim – that Hamilton could see game action with Detroit in the near future.
“One thing I can say is that he’s been handling the situation well,” said Prince. “He’s been putting some extra work in to stay ready. And that’s all you can do. If I was in the same position, I’d have to do the same thing. Cheer on your teammates, stay in shape and be ready. So that’s what he’s doing.”
And your team still supports Hamilton, Tayshaun? For sure?
Anything else you want to add to that?
“No. Of course.”