Flip Saunders will not be with the Wizards when they face his former team, the Detroit Pistons, on Sunday. But before leaving to attend the wake and funeral of his late mother, Kay, Saunders spoke about the situation in Detroit, which has deteriorated considerably since he was fired in the summer of 2008.
The Pistons are on their second coach since Saunders left, and appear to be headed toward a third, with the recent struggles of John Kuester. Kuester, the former coach at George Washington, has clashed with several of his veteran players this season and the murmurs of dissension within the ranks came to a head on Feb. 25, when several of them may or may not have staged a player-orchestrated boycott and skipped a shoot-around before a game against Philadelphia.
Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars came out in support of Kuester after an embarrassing incident in which Richard Hamilton, Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace, Tracy McGrady, Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye all missed the morning walk-through. Wallace and McGrady were given excused absences. Hamilton was the only player who didn't have a legitimate reason for his absence.
Although the Pistons have tried to downplay the situation, the perception of organized insubordination has tarnished a once-proud organization that has fallen on hard times of late.
"The only thing that's surprised me a little bit, is I think it's unfortunate," Saunders said. "Joe Dumars has done a great job, as far as building that organization. I know a lot of people have talked about what the players did, and it was against the coach. But that's too disrespectful to Joe, for what he's done. He brought a lot of those guys in there, paid a lot of those guys. That's his organization."
Hamilton has been at the center of controversy all season, with his inability to co-exist with Kuester and his failed trades to both New Jersey and Cleveland. Kuester and Hamilton have tried to work through their differences in the past week, with Hamilton playing in the past two games after appearing in just one of the previous 24.
"They feel they've got the thing righted," Saunders said. "I think Joe probably stepped in there and said, 'These are the things we need to do.' But when you lose, it can affect you, especially when you have veteran players. They had expectations that they were going to be a playoff team. And when you have those expectations and you lose, you get frustrated. I think it's a little bit surprising. But Joe, I think, took control of that situation and has got that thing going in the right direction."