The Pistons are 11 games into the new season and we've already seen a season's worth of story lines. A season that is supposed to be about redemption and DETermination, to prove that last year's injury riddled debacle was an aberration, has been predominantly confusion and dissension.
Not many, if any, in the media expected it, but this team honestly believed they'd be competing for a playoff spot this season. Thus, the 0-5 start was baffling, especially considering they lost four of those first five after blowing late leads. It was the team's worst start in 30 years, fourth-worst in franchise history, and looking eerily similar to the team that collapsed last year. With fewer injuries to blame, the frustrations naturally started to boil over along the way.
It all started to surface when the Pistons blew a 20-point third quarter lead against the Bulls. After the game, Ben Gordon suggested head coach John Kuester failed to make adjustments in the second half. Gordon's quote was subtle and mostly overlooked, but in hindsight it speaks much higher volumes.
The Pistons were then blown out at home by the Celtics three days later prompting John Kuester to make an ill-timed call for leadership. Tayshaun Prince, one of the three veterans remaining from the 2004 championship team, responded by putting the team's problems on the coach, too. Again, this was mostly overlooked due to the amount of coverage the Charlie Villanueva/Kevin Garnett spat received and the fact the Pistons played less than 24 hours later.
In that next game, Rodney Stuckey, who suggested in the preseason he wanted to emerge as the team's leader, ignored Kuester's in-game instructions during the third quarter. He was subsequently benched for the rest of the game and the Pistons wound up blowing their fourth winnable game of the young season.
Kuester sent a message to Stuckey and the rest of the team by benching Stuckey for the following game, in which the Pistons actually pulled out a win. Before the game, there was a team meeting and, apparently, the players voiced their frustrations about the Stuckey situation and the early season melt downs. One player in particular, Prince, said afterwards that the problems shouldn't fester and that it created a negative perception. For once, it seemed like the problems were getting cleared up, Kuester was going to have a zero tolerance policy for insubordination and the team was finally capable of finishing out games.
The Pistons went on to win four of their next five games, but all the problems that appeared to be of the past came flooding back when the Pistons fell behind the Warriors by 32 points on Monday night. After getting burned on three consecutive possessions, Kuester called a timeout and let Tayshaun Prince hear it. Prince, not kind to criticism, fired back and the two ultimately had to be restrained from getting at each other.
Unlike the Stuckey situation, Kuester failed to punish the display of defiance and played Prince for most of the second half. After the game, the two chalked it up to the game being "emotional" and full of "passion," but it didn't stop an anonymous teammate of Prince's from grumbling about Kuester's apparent double-standard.
Stuckey and Prince's public differences with Kuester are separate situations, but also keep in mind that this isn't Prince's first very public outburst directed toward Kuester and Stuckey took responsibility when Kuester called for leadership (you know, the aforementioned call for leadership that had Tayshaun deflecting blame back on the coach). It's this apparent double-standard between the young and the veteran that potentially has teammates divided and playing like strangers.
"You see it, the inconsistency," said the player, who didn't want to be quoted by name. "Everybody does."
Is that the same anonymous Piston who said the following?:
"It’s like a traveling circus – Ringling Brothers."
Not an inaccurate depiction, but it's mostly Kuester and Prince walking a mighty fine tight-rope. Unfortunately, the Pistons won't be able to really address this chaos once and for all until logistical issues are settled. The team needs to be sold, and fast. The faster a sale happens, the sooner Dumars becomes untied and can do something to fix this mess.
Unfortunately, Prince seemingly realizes now more than ever that the end for him as a Piston is near -- if he's not gone before the trade deadline, then it'll more than likely happen after the season when he's a free agent. As a result, he's become more candid and confrontational than the quiet Tayshaun Prince Pistons fans have become accustomed to over the years. Kuester needs to realize this, too, and keep the zero tolerance policy he took with Stuckey before he loses the rest of the team, if he hasn't already. Otherwise, he'll be leaving the circus with Prince.
Until legitimate moves can be made, though, the Pistons need to do a better job keeping their problems behind closed doors, as they've expressed is their intention and they attempted to do with that team meeting before the Bobcats game. If they could accomplish this, there wouldn't be all this "negative perception," as Prince has called it, which, I think, definitely leads to more inter-squad tension. It's better for Prince's value (whether it be at the deadline or at the end of the season) and it's better for the Pistons business, even if it is a circus right now.
Photoshop created by Mike Vitiello. Follow Mike on Twitter.