The man rumoured to be toxic didn't ooze much negativity as he warmed up at the Air Canada Centre Friday night.
Richard "Rip" Hamilton, the veteran Detroit Pistons shooting guard embroiled in drama with his head coach and a pawn in the latest Carmelo Anthony trade rumour, joked with Pistons staff. He demanded, "One more set!" after firing off a couple dozen jump shots. He sweated so much, his trainer fetched him another shirt.
The routine seemed optimistic, actually, considering the three-time NBA all-star hadn't played a single second in the Pistons' previous loss on Wednesday - a decision he complained Pistons head coach John Kuester hadn't warned him about. His teammate, Tayshaun Prince, called Kuester's move "buffoonery." So much for team cohesion.
In any case, the Pistons' ongoing personnel drama provided a little behind-the-scenes intrigue for an otherwise uninspired matchup against the Toronto Raptors, who lost 101-95.
Toronto, now 13-26 and hoping to halt a two-game losing skid, kick off a tough five-game road trip starting with the Washington Wizards in back-to-back action on Saturday night.
Defensive woes continued to thwart the Raptors on Friday. Despite strong shooting and superior rebounding in the first half (Andrea Bargnani led the team on offence with 16 points), Toronto trailed by as many as 16 points. Detroit sank 60 per cent of their shots, led by point guard Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva with 16 each.
There would be no miraculous comeback like the one Toronto pulled off in Detroit on Dec. 11 - despite Bargnani's game-high 31 points and nine rebounds, and a last-ditch surge to bring the score to within six.
Sophomore shooting guard DeMar DeRozan struggled, finishing with just 15 points on 6 for 11 shooting. Tracy McGrady led the Pistons with 22 points.
Just before half-time, Raptors shooting guard Leandro Barbosa suffered a strained right hamstring, limped off the court and was carried into the locker room. He will remain in Toronto for the beginning of the Raptors' upcoming road trip, and could miss the entire week. (Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans and Peja Stojakovic also will not travel). More back spasms meant Weems missed playing in his 13th straight game since Dec. 17. And although Amir Johnson's sore back made his status a game-time decision, he started and delivered seven points and 10 rebounds.
So did Hamilton play?
No, and Toronto fans should be grateful. After starting 21 straight games, Hamilton didn't play during a Pistons victory against New Orleans on Dec. 19 (an upset stomach was given as the reason). He came off the bench in Detroit's next game against Toronto - scoring a season-high 35 points and hitting a career-high six 3-pointers in a 22-point blowout win.
Kuester said Friday his strategy is simply to try and turn around Detroit's 13-26 record. "We're trying to search for a group of five guys playing at a high level to give us a chance to win."
Quote of the day
"Veteran guys see young guys come in and go: Those guys are getting minutes. They're going to the future I'm getting phased out. That's all part of this business. It's really difficult sometimes to coach guys and find different ways to motivate them. Guys have had success, championships before and then now they find their careers winding down a little." - Jay Triano after being asked if he could empathize with Kuester.
(He also said: "I'm not dealing with any personality issues. My guys are great guys.")