Rip Hamilton appears to be done grieving, and that’s a step in the right direction, anyway.

Hamilton chatted up the team during Media Day on Monday, and he spoke with a twinkle in his eyes and often times barely able to suppress a grin.

“We have to teach the newer guys, the younger guys, how to win,” Hamilton said as the press people cornered him in his creamy white Pistons home uniform.

I know who “we” is, in Rip’s mind, but he’d be best off placing himself at the top of the list of “we.”

The Pistons are Hamilton’s team, for better or for worse. And he’d better start acting like it.

Monday was a good start, albeit in a venue and situation where everyone tends to say all the right things.

But it’s still progress for Rip, because last season he didn’t come close to saying any of the right things. At all.

Hamilton went into mourning and soaked himself in grief after the Pistons traded longtime teammate and friend Chauncey Billups to Denver for one Allen Iverson. Then Rip got hurt. Then he didn’t want to be the sixth man. Then he openly and brazenly challenged rookie head coach Mike Curry.

Rip Hamilton fussed and kicked and screamed and it was hardly what a new coach like Curry needed—heaped on top of the Iverson debacle and the degradation in skills and attitude of Rasheed Wallace.

But Hamilton didn’t care, clearly. It was all about him and how things affected…him.

I’m willing to give Rip a pass and call last season a fluke—something we’d all like to forget in Pistons Land—if he’s willing to step up and be a leader.

The Pistons could use one, you know.

In the Billups days, the Pistons liked to portray themselves as a team bereft of superstars but who get the job done because of their work ethic and commitment to team. The sum was always greater than their parts.

They won a championship doing that, and came close to another one.

Not having a superstar was fine, because Billups was more of a leader than we knew, until it was too late.

The Pistons still don’t have a megastar, but now they don’t even have anyone in the captain’s chair.

Hamilton better get used to that seat and the controls before him in the cockpit.

This is Rip’s team, make no mistake. Whether he chooses to act like it, we’ll see.

I don’t want to hear this talk about “we’re all in this together” and “we don’t need a leader because we can all lead.” And I especially don’t want to hear it from Hamilton, who should know better. That’s a bunch of doo-doo.

So newcomer Ben Gordon plays the same position? Tough. Deal with it.

The Pistons need a solitary leader, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

Who better than Hamilton, despite his gagging on the opportunity last season?


Hamilton (left) and newcomer Ben Gordon pose at Media Day

You’re not going to get it from Tayshaun Prince, the Marcel Marceau of the Pistons. Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, the new free agents, are, well, new. Rodney Stuckey is still too wet behind the ears. Ben Wallace, back from sabbatical, has never wanted any part of leadership.

Who else?

Kwame Brown? Chris Wilcox?

It’s Rip, by default.

But on Monday, at least, Hamilton seemed ready to take a step toward becoming the captain.

“Offensively, we can hold our own with anybody,” Hamilton said, again trying to suppress the grin of a cat about to swallow a canary. “But we have to make a statement on defense, by stopping people. We have to get back to that.”

So true, so obvious.

It’s a start—because Hamilton didn’t do or say the obvious things last year.

Maybe Rip finally has the Billups trade out of his system. For him, it’s the “Billups trade.” For the rest of us, it will be known as the “Iverson trade,” because AI’s last name is now synonymous in this town with “debacle.”

Rip seems to be done pouting and grieving.

“I was told by one of my first coaches in the league that the more positions you know how to play, the better chance you have of staying on the floor,” Hamilton said on Monday, smiling. “I look at it as a challenge, if I have to play the (small forward) position,” he added, referring to the logjam at shooting guard, thanks to the addition of the flash scoring Gordon.

Those are some nice words, almost cleansing, after last season.

It’s a start.

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