The Pistons, as I write this, have 35 games left in this wretched season of theirs.

Will Richard (Rip) Hamilton play in any of them?

What’s happening at the Palace is becoming a league-wide embarrassment.

Other NBA players are beginning to chime in on the Saga of Rip—and in the basketball court of public opinion, Hamilton is coming out smelling like a rose.

Hamilton is the soon-to-be 33-year-old shooting guard extraordinaire, the beanpole whirling dervish who, once upon a time, formed half of a Pistons guard duo with Chauncey Billups that had been compared to the days of yore, when Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars manned the backcourt with aplomb.

Hamilton, when times were good—and it’s not all that long ago—was one of the smiling Pistons, one of a lunch bucket starting five who represented the city of Detroit the way its denizens adore it to be represented.

“Goin’ to Work” was the marketing department’s slogan in the mid-2000s, when a championship was a legitimate goal every autumn.

The Pistons won the 2004 championship and almost the 2005 version with their eclectic blend of talent, but with a twist.

The Pistons possessed no superstars, no surefire Hall of Famers. The starters were very good, make no mistake. But there was no one guy who reigned supreme. They weren’t Michael Jordan and Four Others.

On any given night, Hamilton was no better than Billups, who was no better than Rasheed Wallace, who was no better than Tayshaun Prince, who was no better than Ben Wallace.

There was no Isiah to rescue them in the game’s waning minutes.

They won collectively—and lost that way, too.

In those days, Hamilton was happy to be one of the Fab Five. His signature catch phrase, “Yes SIRRR!” was oft-repeated by the fans—at the water cooler, in their living rooms, at parties.

Hamilton smiled a lot in those days.

What he wasn’t, because he didn’t need to be, was a leader.

I think that’s one of the reasons why he smiled a lot.

Hamilton, I’ve written many times, enjoyed his cake while eating it too when the Pistons were winning and going to the Eastern Conference Finals every spring.

He could blend in, win, and not have to lead.

Which was fine, because that’s what the romance of those Pistons teams was: One for all and all for one. They were the NBA’s Five Musketeers.

When the nucleus of the team began to fracture, i.e. when the Wallaces were gone and Billups was traded, Hamilton looked around and saw something which obviously frightened him.

He saw a basketball team in woeful need of a captain, and what’s worse, he was the logical choice for such a designation.

The horror!

Hamilton signed a fat contract extension after Billups was dealt in November 2008. It wasn’t one of President Dumars’ brightest moves.

Hamilton, since signing that extension, has shown not one inclination to be the leader that the young Pistons so desperately need.

It’s been Tracy McGrady, a gimpy newcomer picked off the scrap heap last August, who’s proven to be the one coach John Kuester looks to for leadership and basketball advice.

This is because these days, Hamilton shows up for work, puts on his tank top and shorts, zips up his warm-ups, and takes his place at the end of the Pistons’ bench, where he’s been buried for about 10 games now, and counting.

The court of public opinion has shifted as this benching has developed.

Kuester, no angel in this affair whatsoever, tried to sell folks on the notion that Hamilton’s sudden disappearance was because of a “shortening of the bench.” Trite coach speak.

But the benching happened precisely when a rumored trade involving Hamilton moving to the New Jersey Nets was bandied about. Some coincidence.

Kuester, I’m convinced, kept Hamilton shackled to the bench in anticipation of the trade, so his guard wouldn’t suffer an untimely injury that would torpedo the deal.

But the trade was called off, and Kuester didn’t know what to do next.

The benching is dragging on, and it’s the white elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about—no one who matters with the Pistons, that is.

Kuester has done what I thought at one point was nearly impossible: he’s made Rip Hamilton into a sympathetic figure.

Former backcourt mate Billups was in town this week, and he chimed in.

Billups used words like “disrespectful” and “wrong” in describing what’s happening to his friend.

Billups mentioned Hamilton’s jersey one day being hung from the Palace rafters.

I think that ship has sailed, but I get where Chauncey is coming from.

Other NBA players have spoken out in favor of Hamilton.

Denver coach George Karl, a league veteran and so wise about these kinds of things, spoke favorably of both Hamilton and Kuester, but wished someone would initiate some communication. Karl’s words seemed to button hole Kuester more than Hamilton.

This is where Hamilton has been coming out looking like a victim.

Kuester, last weekend, told reporters that he’s “reached out” to Hamilton.

Call me crazy, but I took that to mean that the coach made a personal overture to Hamilton.

You know, something like, “Hey, Rip—wanna talk?”

But no.

A couple days later, word got out—from Hamilton himself—that Kuester’s idea of “reaching out” is a rather curious definition of the phrase.

Kuester, Hamilton told the media, sent for a team official, and had that person approach Hamilton, who refused the awkward overture.

Game after game, Hamilton sits, his number never being called. Later in the week, he developed a stomach flu.

Talk amongst yourselves.

I have been a critic of Hamilton, but what is happening now is wrong.

This is no way for an NBA head coach to treat a player of Hamilton’s stature.

John Kuester is ducking Hamilton, and he’s painted himself into a corner in the process.

How much longer can Kuester continue to not play Hamilton, who’s making over $11 million a year?

And when will we hear from President Dumars, who must have been airlifted to an undisclosed location during this mess?

This has gone on long enough. It’s beneath everyone involved to engage in this kind of nonsense.

Dumars must broker a meeting between coach and player. Nothing good can happen until such a meeting occurs. After that, we’ll see.

Rip Hamilton has been wrong a lot in the past two-plus seasons.

But what’s being done to him now is no more right.

Advertisements