John Kuester returns to Detroit, and everyone plays nice

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  • John Kuester
    American basketball player and coach

If you blinked, you may have missed John Kuester's two years as head coach of the Detroit Pistons. If you paid attention, you'll probably only recall the time his players referred to him as "Sean Penn" (as in, "a dead man walking"), or that one night that they laughed at him when he was ejected in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Following his dismissal at the end of 2010-11, Kuester gladly took on a gig as Mike Brown's assistant coach (a role he played to much acclaim before Detroit hired him away from Cleveland in 2009) in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, those Lakers will be in Detroit. And Kuester is playing nice in his return to Auburn Hills, to his credit, in an interview with Ramona Shelburne at ESPN Los Angeles.

"I have no complaints, no complaints at all. I wish we had won more games. I wish some things could have been different. But you're dealt a certain hand, and now we go ahead and move on.


"The bottom line, this is a game where you've got to win, and if things don't work out the way you want them to, then obviously they make changes. But I am very appreciative to the fact that I got an opportunity. The people of Detroit were great. I wish them nothing but the best."

Both Kuester (who turned down interview requests on Tuesday) and former Pistons guard Rip Hamilton allude to, in separate interviews, how the Pistons seemed to run (or, because Kuester was calling the plays, "walk") in place following the death of owner William Davidson in 2009. Though GM Joe Dumars was able to use his considerable cap space to sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in the summer of 2009, the team was in a holding pattern with a litany of parts that didn't really mesh well. And, as Shelburne points out, Dumars readily admitted to the "moratorium on doing anything" in between Davidson's passing and the sale of the team to Tom Gores last year.

Hamilton, true to typical player form, blamed the media:

"The media made a bigger deal about the situation than anything. A lot of stuff wasn't him. It was kind of over his head," said Hamilton, who is now with the Chicago Bulls. "So the media's going to always talk about it, but like I always say, you never heard any foul comments come from me. You never heard no foul comments from him."

Yes, because it was the media's fault the team couldn't stop itself from laughing in public on the bench at their coach after his ejection. It was the media's fault one player leaked the "Sean Penn" anecdote, and it's the media's fault the Pistons clearly had no interest in running full plays for the last 4 1/2 months of Kuester's last season. Especially when Hamilton himself points to Kuester's significant X's and O's acumen, and relays the fact that former Pistons coach Larry Brown often handed the clipboard to a then-Pistons assistant by the name of "John Kuester" to "let him control the huddle."

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The ownership situation was a mess. The roster wasn't put together properly. There were plenty of excuses, but Kuester failed his players in a way, and his players failed him in a major, major way.

Kuester may have a head coach's big brain but an assistant's style of communication, and the Pistons really never had a chance at the playoffs in 2011, but there was no excuse for them to tank the way they did.

It's nice that both sides (and, to be fair, good-guy Hamilton was far from Detroit's biggest problem last year) are taking a high road a year later, and new coach Lawrence Frank is doing a fantastic job cleaning up the mess he inherited, but all these tactful tones are cold comfort to Pistons fans that had to deal with a team that clearly wasn't up for competition during Kuester's era.

They, and Kuester, deserved better.

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