When coach Michael Curry opted to have the Detroit Pistons practice on Thanksgiving, just about every player grumbled about it.For casual fans, this must be amusing. I mean, practice? Not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice? But here's the thing: the Pistons have won just five times in the 10 games since AI joined the lineup, and while they looked like world-beaters by giving the Lakers their first loss of the season, they looked like a bad college team while letting the lowly Timberwolves embarrass them by the tune of 26 points on their home floor last weekend.
Still, all but one player showed up for Thursday morning's one-hour practice. The one no-show? You guessed it, Allen Iverson.
The Pistons bounced back with a solid win against the depleted Knicks last night, but you know why they looked so good? Aside from the fact that the Knicks have even more chemistry problems than Detroit after trading two starters in the last week, the Pistons went through a pair of grueling practices on Monday and Tuesday, the first two times since AI arrived that they had a chance to practice their defensive schemes. Go figure, practice helps.
For that matter, Iverson himself admitted last night that the practices helped.
"I played for seven, eight coaches in my career, so obviously different coaches have different strategies on defense," Iverson said. "You may think that you're doing it the right way, but it may the right way for one coach and the wrong way for another. I was basically stuck at going by my rules. I didn't know the team rules as far as where we are supposed to be in different situations on the floor.That's what makes his surreal decision to live up to every bad stereotype of himself by skipping practice this morning so distressing: if the Pistons look disjointed lately, it's because of Iverson! The rest of the team is still adjusting to him, and he's still figuring out where he's supposed to be.
"The last couple of days helped out a lot."
In fact, I'll go so far as to say Iverson is the only reason this team needs to put in extra time on a holiday. By skipping practice, he's slapping his teammates in the face, telling them their time isn't worth his need for a few hours of extra sleep. There's no point for this team to practice without Iverson; he's the lone wild card since the rest of the roster spent hours upon hours and days upon days going through the same drills in training camp that they went through yet again this morning. Going through the motions without Iverson is pointless.
How will the Pistons react? For one, Curry said Iverson will be fined, though that's a mere formality. Since this is AI's first offense since joining the Pistons, the collective bargaining agreement prevents the team from docking him more than $2,500. For a guy who makes nearly $22 million a year, $2,500 is ashtray money -- it's the equivalent of an everyday joe making $40,000 a year being fined $4.56.
Curry also said that AI wouldn't start Friday's game against the Bucks, leaving open the possibility that he might not play at all. Personally, I think that's the route to go. By pulling a stunt like this, Iverson is all but guaranteeing his tenure in Detroit won't extend beyond this season. And if that's his mindset, the Pistons are better off preparing for the future.
Rip Hamilton has struggled to adjust playing next to a shoot-first point guard, so how about moving AI to the bench permanently and starting Rodney Stuckey, who notched a career-high 11 assists Wednesday night? Instead of asking the rest of the starting lineup to bend itself around AI's talents, why not stick AI in a Ben Gordon/Manu Ginobili role as an uber-sixth man? He could probably still average 20 points a game lighting up the opposing team's second unit and the other starters wouldn't have to worry about getting their shots.
It's drastic, but if Curry wants to keep the respect of the rest of the roster, he has to act. The biggest complaint from the players after being eliminated from the playoffs last year was a lack of accountability. Letting a guy who's not only a newcomer but also the biggest reason why the team has struggled put himself ahead of his teammates can't be tolerated.