Pistons' Richard Hamilton still sidelined
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The chant began at the end of the first quarter, and again in the final seconds of the half.
"We want Rip! We want Rip!"
It was no use.
If Detroit fans want to catch a glimpse of Richard Hamilton these days, chances are they'll have to look over to the sideline. The 32-year-old swingman who helped lead this franchise to an NBA title in 2004 has been benched for the last four games amid talk his days with Detroit could be numbered.
To come out and not be able to perform in front of [the home fans] is hard.” -- Pistons guard Richard Hamilton
On Monday, the home crowd started up a cheer for Hamilton, trying to coax coach John Kuester into putting him in. Hamilton never made it on the court in the Pistons' 103-89 victory over Dallas.
"I always believed that the fans here are the best in the world," Hamilton said. "To come out and not be able to perform in front of them is hard."
Hamilton is in his ninth season with Detroit, and it's been a difficult one for the entire team. The Pistons are 15-26, and Kuester has spent quite a bit of time juggling the lineup, trying to come up with more effective combinations.
Hamilton lost his starting job last month, and there's been talk he could be part of a major trade that would send Carmelo Anthony from Denver to New Jersey. Last Wednesday against Memphis, Hamilton didn't play at all. It was the first of four straight games Kuester has left him on the bench.
Kuester says he was simply trying to shake up his rotation when Hamilton was benched -- and to the coach's credit, it appears to have worked. Detroit is on its first three-game winning streak of the season.
"We're searching for something that could make us head in the right direction, and we've made a lot of adjustments throughout the year," Kuester said. "Right now with this group, we feel comfortable right now, and so we want to ride it as long as we can. Players are in and players are out. It's happened throughout the season, and because you're in the position that we're in right now, we've got to make adjustments."
Hamilton said Monday he hadn't discussed the situation with Kuester.
"It's something that they wanted to go with. It's out of my control," he said with a laugh. "I'm just here. I show up."
Hamilton played in only 46 games in 2009-10 as he nursed a sprained ankle and other injuries, and he shot a career-worst 40.9 percent from the field. Still, when he was healthy enough to play, he started.
His shooting percentage is at the same level this season, and Kuester has changed course. Hamilton clearly isn't thrilled, but the benching hasn't been a disruption. The team has played well lately.
"He's been a professional about it," said Tracy McGrady, who signed with Detroit before the season. "It's the only thing he can do. It's something that he can't control."
Hamilton still has at least one strong ally in the locker room. Tayshaun Prince, who was also a part of that championship team, insists there's still a role for Hamilton.
"He's a guy that we can definitely use on the floor. We're a young team. Whenever one of our veterans is out, that's something we're missing," Prince said Monday. "When we're not shooting the ball at a high percentage, that's when we need veterans out on the floor to kind of control the game, slow it down, knowing the right things to do. Obviously we've been shooting at a high percentage the last few games. When things matter most, obviously we need him out on the floor."
At this point, however, it's not clear if Hamilton will even be on the roster much longer. There's a sense that any home game could be his last with the Pistons.
Perhaps that's what inspired Monday's chants -- and Hamilton's kind words for the fans.
"I appreciate them so much for the last nine years I've been here," he said. "They've been incredible to me. They just want to see me out there."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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