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Friday, February 25, 2011
Coaching change coming in Detroit?

By Marc Stein

Look for the Detroit Pistons to have a new coach by next week.

It sends a horrible, horrible message to make a coaching change after the apparent and indefensible protest staged Friday morning by five Pistons players, who skipped Friday’s shootaround in Philadelphia in what the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press report was an organized attempt to make their disdain for coach John Kuester as publicly clear as possible.

But there’s no way that the Pistons can go on like this with 20-odd games to go, whether or not they care about still trying to make a run for the No. 8 seed in the East.

Dissatisfaction among Pistons vets with Kuester’s strategy, rotations and communication skills has been one of the season’s longest-running story lines. The passing of Thursday’s trade deadline with no escape routes for some of those vets -- with Detroit unwilling to trade Tayshaun Prince unless the receiving team was willing to absorb the millions left on Rip Hamilton’s contract -- has clearly ramped up player frustration.

Yet the situation only promises to get uglier and more embarrassing if the Pistons do nothing now, which has been their standard response to most issues this season because of the team’s ongoing sale negotiations. It’s believed that Pistons president Joe Dumars wanted to be more active before Thursday’s deadline, but the expected sale of the team by the late Bill Davidson’s wife Karen has been frequently cited as the factor that has robbed Dumars of flexibility.

There surely has to be some measure of discipline meted out to the players involved (Hamilton, Prince, Tracy McGrady, Ben Wallace and Chris Wilcox) if it’s proven that this was indeed an organized walkout. The organization has to make its own statement on top of the damage those players have done to their own reputations …  especially after Terry Foster of the Detroit News reported Friday on his WXYT-FM radio show that some of the same players were planning a similar protest on the morning of the Pistons’ final game before the All-Star break against Indiana. Word is that the players called that protest off and wound up winning when some were told that Kuester would be ousted during the break.

Kuester obviously wasn’t dismissed during All-Star Weekend, but it’s thoroughly pointless now -- no matter what happens to the players -- to keep Kuester in place when he lost this group long ago and has been undermined to such an extent that there’s no way he can possibly be regarded as an option to coach this team next season. Making Friday’s events even more embarrassing to the embattled coach: Philadelphia is Kuester’s offseason home.

It’s gotten so ugly that the Pistons can’t possibly save face no matter what happens next. So trying to restore some semblance of order, now that they’ve lost the opportunity to trade Prince or Hamilton away this week, is the only reasonable counter they can muster.

The most sensible scenario from here? Detroit has Sunday and Monday off after the Philadelphia game and a home game Saturday against Utah. That creates a window to allow Kuester to volunteer to “resign” -- with a paid-off contract -- and enable Dumars to install Pistons assistant Darrell Walker as interim coach for the rest of the season.

This team needs a serious overhaul when the sale goes through after the utter deterioration of the Pistons’ team culture, but that’s nothing that can be addressed now. Hamilton has too much money left on his contract to suggest that there’s any hope of negotiating a buyout to make Kuester's life a little easier ... and no time to expect that sort of miracle when a buyout would have to be completed by Tuesday to make Rip eligible to play in the playoffs with another team.

Putting Walker in charge would at least restore some semblance of normalcy to the locker room to usher the Pistons to the end of the regular season, after the second fast flameout of a Detroit coach since the dismissal of Flip Saunders.

Kuester lasted longer than Michael Curry’s one-and-done reign as Saunders’ replacement, but don’t expect to see him reach the end of season No. 2. The best compromise response to Friday’s chaos is turning to Walker to drag this team to the finish line, at which point the increasingly under-fire Dumars and his eventual new bosses have to hatch an entirely new plan to put a halt to Detroit’s steady slide since it lost to Boston in the 2008 Eastern Conference finals.