Hamilton looks to put frustration behind
Like Iverson, who left the Pistons during the summer to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies, Hamilton regards last season as the most frustrating of his NBA career and echoes Iverson's recent claims that he was lied to by ex-Pistons coach Michael Curry.
"Oh, by far," Hamilton said when asked if last season was the worst he'd experienced as a pro. "By far. When you have a coach that you've played with when I came to Detroit that lies to you, straight dead to your face, with all the things that I did here, that's a tough pill to swallow.
"But I'm past it. Far past it. My dad would always tell me [last season]: 'Don't get into it. Don't get into the media and yell and scream and cry. Just play.' And that's what I did. You come play basketball and people respect that and that's all I tried to do."
The Pistons will try to gain some more distance from the painful memories of their 39-43 record in 2008-09 and a first-round sweep by Cleveland when they open the new season at FedEx Forum. Iverson, though, is not expected to play in his first real game as a member of the Grizzlies after missing much of training camp with a partially torn left hamstring.
Earlier this month, in an interview with ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson, Iverson said he was lied to about his role on multiple occasions by Curry. Iverson said Curry assured him that he would always be a starter after his arrival from Denver in November in a trade for Chauncey Billups.
Hamilton made the same assertions about being misled by Curry in a recent sitdown with ESPN.com, illuminating the depths of the disconnect between Curry and his veterans. The tension ultimately convinced Pistons president Joe Dumars that he had to fire Curry on July 1 after only one season, when it became apparent that Curry regaining respect in the locker room was unlikely.
After being moved to the bench to accommodate Iverson -- an unpopular move with Pistons veterans, given Hamilton's long and successful tenure in Detroit -- Hamilton was moved back into the starting lineup ahead of Iverson late in the season, which ultimately led to Iverson leaving the Pistons in April after playing in just three games as a reserve.
"I don't believe that the guys here believed that I should have come off the bench and I don't believe that guys thought Allen should come off the bench," Hamilton said. "I heard Allen made the comment that guys came to [Curry] and told him they don't want to play if Rip ain't starting. I spoke to Allen and he told me the same thing, but I told him that's tough to believe when nobody was speaking [to Curry]. Nobody [was] communicating with this coach.
"And that was just one of many lies. From a head-coaching standpoint, you don't do that in the middle of the season. ... You don't try to throw your team under the boat because of a decision you wanted to make."
Pistons officials declined comment when reached Wednesday by ESPN.com. Curry could not immediately be reached for comment.
I love that people say that we're not title contenders. I don't look at it like that. I don't look at it as a rebuilding year. I don't think Ben [Wallace] would want to come back if this was just a rebuilding year. I love that we're kind of flying under the radar.” -- Richard Hamilton
Hamilton, meanwhile, finds himself confronted by new challenges as the Pistons prepare to face the Grizzlies, as one of the few remaining links to the group that won a championship in 2004 and reached the Eastern Conference finals in six straight seasons.
There is a growing sense around the league, according to NBA front-office sources, that either Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince will be dealt before the league's annual trading deadline in February. Hamilton's name has come up often, given that Detroit's backcourt also features two other prominent scoring guards in Rodney Stuckey and free-agent signee Ben Gordon.
In addition to its logjam at shooting guard, Detroit has a clear need for a more traditional set-up man as well as a proven big man. Hamilton, though, maintains that he and Prince aren't gripped by fears of "Who's next?" to be traded after the recent departures of Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess.
"Not at all," Hamilton said. "Different guys left for different [reasons]. I think, at the time, Tay and I were the two youngest [Pistons veterans]. Now we're the two oldest, but I don't think that here in Detroit they want to start all the way over and just blow up everything and be a team that wins 10, 12 games. I think we still want to win. I think as long as [he and Prince] go out and play, we're good."
Hamilton disputes the notion that he and Gordon can't coexist, countering skepticism about Detroit's ability to win with three small guards -- none of them a traditional point guard -- by saying that the Pistons had to "have more scorers" than they've fielded in past seasons to be successful. He is also quick to point out that the Pistons' title teams, from Dumars' era and this decade's champs, had All-Star caliber players such as Vinnie Johnson and Mehmet Okur coming off the bench.
"It can definitely work," Hamilton said.
After telling the Detroit News earlier this month that he hopes to retire a Piston and ultimately see his No. 32 raised to the rafters, Hamilton revealed another reason for his determination to stay in Detroit: Ben Wallace's return to the club this season.
"I love it," Hamilton said. "I think it's good for me. As crazy as the year was last year, to have one of my brothers come back that knows me personally, somebody I can talk to not about basketball, [Wallace's] coming back here makes me at ease.
"Last year was last year. I always say that. I'm happy I went through it, just for the simple fact that it doesn't make me [complacent]. Regardless of what you do and accomplish anywhere, you still have to prove yourself night in and night out. You never know what somebody else is thinking.
"I love that people say that we're not title contenders. I don't look at it like that. I don't look at it as a rebuilding year. I don't think Ben would want to come back if this was just a rebuilding year. I love that we're kind of flying under the radar. ... In previous years, we all took on a leadership role, but now I've really got to be a lot more outspoken, watching what I do, watching what I say, because I know the young guys really pay attention. It's a new stage in my career and I thrive on it."
As for his relationship with Iverson, Hamilton told the Memphis Commercial Appeal: "We loved him, he loved us. We were all friends, we were all brothers. Like I said, certain people make it complicated when it shouldn't be complicated."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.