How do you treat All-Stars who aren’t All-Stars anymore? How do you allow players to age gracefully if they aren’t gracefully aging? What will happen when the Big Three get a little older?
At some point the Boston Celtics will have to decide how to treat their aging superstars. At some point Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett won’t still deserve 30-35 minutes per game. At some point there likely will be a clash between winning and treating the old stars with love.
Over in Detroit, home of Eminem and Casey Kasem, John Kuester and Joe Dumars are providing the blueprint for how NOT to treat a former star. Don’t give the star DNP-CD after DNP-CD. Don’t disrespect the star by refusing to tell him why he’s being benched. Don’t finally invite the star to come talk… by sending the security head to tell the star he’s free to come to your office. Don’t threaten to trade the star, then whiff on the trade, then continue treating the star like he’s cancer.
As most of you readers know, I coach a JV high school basketball team. None of my players helped my school win an NBA championship. None of my players made three All-Star games. Hell, most of my players can barely make passes that aren’t deflected and/or stolen by the other team. But when I take a JV player out of the starting lineup, I let him know. I tell him why we made the move, and I tell him what he needs to do to regain his spot. Why? Common courtesy. People deserve to know why they aren’t playing, and they deserve to hear it from their coach. Why else? Because telling my players what we need them to improve can only help matters. If a player knows what he’s doing wrong, he can change it.
It’s clear Richard Hamilton no longer fits into Detroit’s plans. For whatever reason — whether it be a bad attitude, Hamilton’s fading skills, Hamilton’s “he doesn’t deserve nearly that much money anymore” contract, Hamilton’s age or a combination of all the preceding factors — the Pistons have deaded Hamilton’s career. Barring a 180-degree turn, Hamilton has played his last game with Detroit. After eight-plus years of helping Detroit to a mini-Eastern Conference dynasty of sorts, Hamilton is now being treated with zero respect. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s teammates still have his back; they also say Hamilton did not cause headaches for Kuester.
The Pistons have started to win games, which provides evidence that Kuester could have made the right decision. But is losing the respect of an entire locker room worth going 5-3 in the last eight games? Do you think Rodney Stuckey sees the way Hamilton’s being treated and thinks, “Man, I definitely want to stay here in Detroit. It’s such a compassionate, classy organization.” No. He’s probably thinking, “Get me the fuck out of here. Fuck John Kuester and his never-ending string of bullshit. How they’ve treated Rip’s a crock of shit. Even if you’re going to bench him, be a man about it and let him know.”
Not that Rodney Stuckey staying or leaving will make or break the organization — he’s not that quality of player. But players won’t want to play for a coach who will fuck them over, who won’t show a single ounce of loyalty. Coaching basketball is definitely about X’s and O’s; but, and I’m not sure Kuester knows this yet, it’s also about managing personalities to foster a positive environment.
In high school, I had one coach who prepared for games better than any other high school coach around. He put together full scouting reports, watched more game film than Bill Belichick, and generally put together the best game plan he could. Our team was always prepared to play every game.
Unfortunately, the same coach had no idea how to deal with his players. One time, our star player TJ showed up to the bus right when the bus was supposed to leave. He pulled his car into the parking lot, and the bus was still there waiting to depart. TJ was a little late, sure, but it was only a minute or so. And he wasn’t a player who made a habit of being late, either. It was one of our final games, and he’d never been late before. Or even close to being late.
As TJ parked his car, my coach told the bus driver to leave.
“But coach,” my teammates and I all said. We pointed at TJ approaching the bus from his car, and we continued, ”TJ’s right there.”
“I know. Which means he’s late. He can get a ride to the game.”
“But the game’s 40 minutes away. And the bus is still here, and TJ’s right there. And TJ doesn’t have his own car, and his dad works and won’t be able to bring him all the way to the game. And you’re just being a fucking dickhead right now.”
Okay, so we didn’t call our coach a dickhead — he definitely was one. We left TJ, and TJ had to get a ride from my mom, and my mom had to leave for the game two hours before she planned to. My teammates and I all hated my coach, and we underachieved that year. He knew all about X’s and O’s, but had no idea how to treat his players the right way. He had no idea how to maximize our abilities, no idea how to bring out the best in us.
The next year, while I was playing college ball, the same coach repeatedly called one player a pussy. The team would do a charge drill, where players would take turns taking charges, and the dickhead coach would have the team’s strongest player continually run this “pussy” over. The “pussy” would stand there, and the strong kid — who would receive plenty of scholarship offers to play football in college — would run him over. The dickhead coach would sit there, laughing about it, and tell the football player to run the “pussy” over one more time.
This dickhead coach knew a lot about basketball. But his players sure hated him, and he had no clue how to inspire his team to want to play for him.
Another coach I had, an AAU coach, hardly ever raised his voice. He didn’t run any complicated sets, and we didn’t ever have any scouting reports. We didn’t have three hour practices, and he didn’t whip us into shape with suicide after suicide. But he treated us all with respect, and every player on that AAU team — one through twelve — would have taken a charge from Shaq if our coach told us to. We played harder than any team we played against, and it was mostly because we respected the hell out of my coach and couldn’t fathom letting him down.
Doc Rivers is a lot closer to the AAU coach than to the dickhead coach. He always treats his players with respect, and — one through twelve — the Celtics seem to respond to Rivers’ tactics. Put another way, Rivers is no Kuester. If you fall out of favor with Rivers, I imagine he’ll tell you.
At one Celtics game I covered, Von Wafer told Nate Robinson he had a meeting with Rivers after the game. Wafer, if I’m not mistaken, had received a DNP-CD, and I imagine Rivers scheduled the meeting to explain why. Maybe my imagination’s wrong. Maybe there was another reason Rivers scheduled the meeting. But either way, the point was this: In Boston, the communication lines stay open for players one through twelve.
Of course, it’s easier to tell Von Wafer why he received a DNP-CD than it is to tell an aging star he’s fallen out of favor. But I imagine Rivers would show his players the proper respect under any situation.
And if Rivers no longer coaches the Celtics when the Big Three start to show diminishing returns, and another coach is in charge when the Big Three’s playing time has to be reduced? Well, I only hope the coach handles the situation a lot better than Kuester. After all they’ve done for their franchises, aging stars deserve respect even in the twilights of their careers.