Rip Hamilton played 26 Minutes in his return to the Pistons lineup last night. He came off the bench and shot 4-17 in a very winnable game. But how did we get to this point, and how can we understand what coach Kuester's planned role is for Hamilton moving forward? More in a second after the jump.
My perception is that we're really dealing with three separate issues when we talk about playing time for Richard Hamilton:
1. Putting your best team on the floor
2. Evaluating talent for the future of the team
3. Creating a consistent system for determining playing time.
Hamilton's performance this year has been... sub-par. Several factors are certainly viable reasons why that is the case. First, and most simply, Hamilton is another year older. He's past his prime and every year is another year further down the road to retirement. Secondly, he's dealing with inconsistent playing time. Finally, he's no longer playing in an offense designed around his specific skill set. And that last one is a big issue. The Pistons no longer plan their offense around Rip Hamilton. What do the Piston's plan their offense around? IsoTayshauns as far as I can tell, but for the sake of this discussion, suffice it to say Rip Hamilton is much less effective in the current scheme. Might that change? Maybe. But not likely.
It's also hard to argue that Hamilton is a building block of the future for this team. He shares a position with at least 3 other players on the team, and maybe 4. Gordon was signed to replace him. Stuckey was moved to SG after his failure as a PG. McGrady has been playing PG, but has played SG in the past and Austin Daye can play SG as well. Gordon will never live up to his contract playing off the bench. Stuckey can be kept with a qualifying offer of $3.8M next year, but the Pistons need to know if he's worth keeping at that price. Daye's role on the team is yet undefined, but can only be defined with extended playing time. Hamilton's increase in playing time interferes in establishing Gordon, and evaluating Stuckey and tangentially Daye.
Which brings us back around to Coach Kuester and his plans for the rotation going forward. Kuester's recent statements include ""All starting positions, all substitution positions (are open). We have to get after it." It seems that Kuester wants to to create a particular work ethic in practice and let that determine the starting lineup. In many ways, this is an admirable goal and a good sign if your team is in as much turmoil as the Pistons are. However, it just isn't viable long-term solution to deciding who plays and who doesn't, and given the recent conflict between Hamilton and the staff, it actually undermines Kuester's authority by making him seem... well, gutless.
Hamilton's petty dispute with the coaching staff over playing time this year means that the past can be forgiven, but shouldn't be forgotten. You can certainly convey the message that "effort matters" to the team by using the effort=minutes system, but you can't completely undervalue the attitude part of the equation. Hamilton could find himself back in the starting lineup mere days after staging an unprecedented "walk out" at practice. Unacceptable.
I don't really care if Rip's the hardest working man in practice the rest of the year. Short of catastrophic injury to one or more of his teammates, Rip Hamilton should not see playing time for this team. If Kuester puts him back in the lineup, he's lost my support and any sympathy he might have gained from his role in this mess. Refusing to learn from a mistake is a worse oversight than committing it in the first place.
Now, your thoughts.