March 22, 2011
The Detroit Pistons have fallen hard after their success in the mid-'00s, turning from perennial contenders to perhaps the league's most overlooked franchise. Saddled with several terrible long-term deals, little hope to improve anytime soon, and one of the league's least watchable rosters, they are a depressing mess. I hate to be so critical, but it's sadly the truth.
Of course, things might not be so awful at the Palace of Auburn Hills if management would get its act together and just fire head coach John Kuester already. In just this season, Kuester has grossly mishandled a feud with Rip Hamilton, inspired a player protest that involved skipping a practice, and just generally lost the team in every way possible. He will almost certainly be fired -- it's a matter of when, not if.
Despite the justified heat Detroit's vets got for their unpardonable mutiny, that apparently hasn't stopped some of them from privately referring to their coach as Sean Penn ... as in "Dead Man Walking." But Kuester can't claim to be blameless in the deterioration of the Pistons' culture and has to know that he'll soon be asked to leave, even if no one is quite sure who will be doing the asking.
I suppose it's possible that this isn't a bad nickname -- I mean, Penn did a great job of portraying inspirational gay rights leader Harvey Milk and is perhaps best known for playing a super-chill surfer dude. Maybe the Pistons vets have made amends with Kuester and want everyone to know he's an awesome leader who also knows how to kick back and catch some tasty waves.
OK, fine, that's unlikely. This is an immature effort by the Pistons to further shame their coach before he gets canned, and Pistons fans deserve better. But, before we make this issue the fault of the players entirely, let's also realize that Kuester has acted like a child, too, refusing to meet with a player who helped the franchise win a championship and doing very little to reach out to a very obviously angry group of players. His relationship with the team is irrevocably broken, and things typically get ugly when that situation is allowed to continue.
Ultimately, that's why the fault for this entire Kuester mess should currently fall with the team's front office, not the coach or players. It's been obvious for months now that Kuester needs to go. Why allow him to stay on the bench when the problem is so clear? Is it worth saving a few dollars in buyout money to keep the team in a long-term stasis with very little hope for improvement?
Or maybe Kuester is the architect of an elaborate game designed to make the Pistons vets reach an emotional catharsis, and this series of arguments is all a part of his master plan.