Voice of Experience

Brian Hill understands exactly the cards Kuester's been handed - and had taken away

Brian Hill understands exactly what John Kuester is going through in his first year as a head coach.
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The only thing stiffer than Tayshaun Prince’s back or the swollen ankles of Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum through the season’s first half was John Kuester’s upper lip. He might have felt like punching hotel mirrors in cities across the NBA, but you couldn’t get the embattled first-year Pistons coach to cave to frustration in his public utterances.

But Brian Hill, with three stints as an NBA head coach, knows exactly how the constancy of injuries has bedeviled Kuester in his first chance at sitting in the first chair after two decades in the NBA as somebody’s assistant – including a turn under Hill in Orlando.

“It’s the most frustrating thing you can go through as a head coach,” Hill said Monday after running the Pistons through practice while Kuester returned home to Richmond, Va., to attend the memorial service for his father, John, who died Feb. 20 at 89. “You plan your season, you look at your pieces and what you think you can do – how you organize a team offensively, what schemes you can use defensively – and all of a sudden that all gets thrown to the wind when you start losing guys.

“Especially when they overlap. You lose a couple guys for five or six weeks and they come back and you lose a couple more guys for two weeks. It’s hard to get any type of continuity or rhythm to your game at either end of the floor. You can only talk about that stuff. There’s really not a whole lot you can do about it. The main thing is you have to stay the course and try to get across the core principles that you want to teach offensively and defensively all year long, regardless of who’s on the floor for you. Whether those guys are starters or go back to being second-unit players, they still have to play the same way.”

Since Will Bynum returned 13 games ago, Kuester has mostly utilized a nine-man rotation with starters Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton in the backcourt and Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Jonas Jerebko up front; and a bench consisting of Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva at the power positions and Ben Gordon and Bynum on the perimeter. Austin Daye has worked himself into spot duty as the 10th man.

But quick starts have often evaporated when the bench has entered late in the first quarter, leading to the likelihood that more tinkering will be done with the combinations of players used.

“That’s been the most disappointing thing about the season so far,” Hill said. “We’re just experimenting now with different playing combinations and trying to get a settled rotation with everybody healthy. These are the things you’d like to be doing in exhibition season and through the month of November rather than in February and March. But that’s the way we have to approach it. We have all our pieces now and we have to continue to get better on a daily basis.”

Even though the four players logging the majority of the bench minutes have all had recent flashes of strong play, especially Maxiell, as a unit they’ve been prone to prolonged defensive lapses and erratic offensive execution. There are no easy answers.

>> Read Part II of 'Voice of Experience'