Rip Hamilton Struggling Through the Fall of the Pistons
ORLANDO, Fla. -- This hasn't been easy for Richard Hamilton, watching his once-proud franchise slowly crumble around him, sliding downward from NBA champion to a team struggling to find respectability again.
Hamilton, 32, is mired in his worst season, playing less, scoring fewer points and wondering if this is how -- or where -- he will finish his once-celebrated career.
"It's tough. When you've had so much success and never been part of a situation where you've lost a lot of games, it's a tough situation to be in,'' Hamilton said before his Pistons lost 90-79 to the Orlando Magic Tuesday night. "You're just trying to stay motivated, stay focused.''
Hamilton has led the Pistons in scoring in each of his previous eight seasons, but that won't be happening anymore. He is shooting a career worst 40.2 percent and averaging just 13.1 points, his lowest average since his rookie season in Washington.
The Pistons are in transition, trying to piece together a respectable team by combining championship holdovers like Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace, along with youngsters like Rodney Stuckey, Austin Daye and Ben Gordon.
It hasn't worked very well -- so far. They dropped to 6-12 with Tuesday's defeat.
In the last three years, the Pistons -- who were in the NBA Finals in 2004 and 2005 -- have gone from 59 to 39 to 27 victories. At this rate, they will be lucky to win 25 this season.
"I don't know about turning it around. It's about getting accustomed to each other, the coach's style, him getting accustomed to us, and how we like to play,'' Hamilton said. "This is a different situation than we had in the past. There is a lot of adjusting to do.''
Under second-year coach John Kuester, the Pistons have moved away from the strengths of Hamilton, who is at his best as a catch-and-shoot scorer, needing help to set up his shots. Instead, they have used more isolation plays and an up-tempo offense.
And that's not what he does best.
Hamilton has had his moments this season, but they have been too few and too far between. He was brilliant, for example, in a 115-110 victory over Washington two weeks ago.
He looked like vintage Hamilton when he scored 27 points, including 12 consecutive points in overtime to lead the Pistons to victory. He was as aggressive as he has been in two years, shedding defenders by running them through screens, like they used to set for him in the glory years.
"I think that was the first time all season that I was allowed to play my game, and that's just moving without the ball and things like that,'' he said after the game at The Palace.
Too often, though, he has looked frustrated with his surroundings. He already has been ejected twice this season. Although still a starter, he mostly has been sharing time with Gordon at shooting guard. He played less than three minutes in the fourth quarter Tuesday when the outcome was still up for grabs.
Since last season's struggle, Hamilton has been the subject of countless trade rumors, linked at various times to Chicago, Utah, Oklahoma City and Cleveland, teams that could use a veteran shooting guard like the one they saw in that game against Washington.
If the Pistons are going to trade Hamilton, though, it won't be anytime soon, according to Joe Dumars, president of basketball operations.
"We don't have anything whatsoever on the table in terms of a trade, or anything even remotely close to a trade, for Rip Hamilton,'' Dumars told FanHouse Tuesday. "Nothing.''
Dumars has talked many times with Hamilton about this stage of his career, about being part of a team that has gone from winning a championship to struggling every night.
Dumars went through the same thing with the Pistons in his playing career. He won NBA titles in 1989 and '90 as part of the Bad Boys, but he stayed long enough to endure seasons of 28 and 20 victories five years later.
"He knows I went through exactly what he's experiencing now, and that helps,'' Dumars said. "It's tough for anyone who has been at the top, and then finds himself not competing at that level. It's tough for any athlete.''
Hamilton Tuesday wouldn't address any possibility of changing teams at this stage of his career. He said he didn't pay attention to what trades could be out there, or where else he might finish his career.
If the Pistons decide they want to completely rebuild, moving him would be a big step. He is their highest paid player this season at $12.6 million. He has another two years remaining on that contract worth $25 million. And if Prince signs elsewhere this summer as a free agent, the Pistons could do a clean break with the past.
"He wants to win. He understands the situation. He understands we've had an incredibly long run, and we need to revamp,'' Dumars said. "But he has not come to me and said one word (about wanting to be traded). I think he wants to see it get turned around here soon.''