Hamilton at center of Pistons’ turmoil

About a week prior to his banishment to the Detroit Pistons’ bench in January, Richard Hamilton(notes) berated coach John Kuester in a jarring and expletive-filled diatribe on the practice court, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

As stunned coaches and teammates watched, Hamilton bellowed at Kuester that he had been a failure in his two seasons in Detroit, blown the opportunity the franchise afforded him and was nothing more than a career assistant coach, sources said. Despite Hamilton yelling within inches of him, Kuester didn’t respond.

Several of the team’s younger players were mortified watching it and privately told agents and associates they wished they had the courage to stand up, confront Hamilton and try to take control back from the disgruntled veteran. Nevertheless, Hamilton influences a powerful lobby in the Pistons’ locker room, including veteran leaders Tayshaun Prince(notes) and Ben Wallace(notes).

The early January incident was the second time Hamilton had initiated a confrontation with Kuester this season, sources said, and it ultimately spurred the benching that led to such public acrimony. Once a cornerstone of an NBA championship and six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals, Hamilton helped orchestrate a player protest on Friday morning by skipping the team’s morning shootaround in Philadelphia.

Kuester played Hamilton two more games in early January – which included a scoreless performance against Chicago – before moving him to the bench on a permanent basis. Since Jan. 10, Hamilton’s played only one game for the Pistons.

With $25 million left on a contract that runs through the 2013 season, Hamilton had been nearly impossible to trade for Detroit. Still, Pistons general manager Joe Dumars and Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant had an agreement to send Hamilton and a lottery-protected 2012 first-round draft pick for a $12.6 million trade exception and a second-round draft pick on Thursday, sources said.

Cleveland was mostly interested in the draft pick, but was willing to let Hamilton join the team for the remainder of his contract. Once Hamilton made clear he didn’t want to play for a last-place team, his representatives discussed a contract buyout that would’ve allowed him to likely join the Chicago Bulls, sources said. Cleveland wanted him to take $18 million in the buyout, arguing that he could secure his 2011-12 salary now when it’s possible that money wouldn’t be paid him during a lockout next season.

Hamilton declined, and the trade died within an hour of the Thursday afternoon deadline. Hamilton stayed in Detroit, and turned out to be one of several players who boycotted Friday’s shootaround and were benched in the 110-94 loss to the 76ers.

Fines are expected for the players who were without an excuse for missing the shootaround. Despite Kuester’s struggles, the prospect of firing him in-season has been difficult to even broach because of the uncertainty of the franchise’s expected ownership change. As the organization waits for a pending sale to businessman Tom Gores, basketball operations have been largely crippled to make moves that impact finances.