Sources: Some Pistons AWOL in protest

A number of Detroit Pistons were rumored to be leaving the team around the trade deadline, but not like this.

Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Chris Wilcox missed the team's shootaround Friday morning before that night's game against the Sixers in Philadelphia, and team sources told multiple media outlets that the players were staging a protest.

Sources told the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News that the shootaround boycott was directed at second-year coach John Kuester, who has clashed with players in the past.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Pistons veterans tried to organize a teamwide boycott of Detroit's shootaround before its last game prior to the All-Star break.

But the walkout was called off, sources said, when some Pistons players were told that Kuester was about to be dismissed during All-Star Weekend. Detroit went out that night and scored a 115-109 overtime victory at home over a hot Indiana team.

Before Friday's game in Philadelphia, sources said, similar attempts were made by the same veterans to organize a teamwide no-show at the morning shootaround again, presumably in response to the fact that no trades were made before Thursday's 3 p.m. trade deadline and the fact that Kuester was not let go.

But six Pistons players attended the shootaround in Philly and were the only players Kuester used in the defeat: Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe, DaJuan Summers and Charlie Villanueva.

Two more, Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye, showed up at the end of the shootaround but were held out of the loss to the 76ers, along with Ben Wallace, Hamilton, McGrady, Prince and Wilcox.

Team spokesman Cletus Lewis said that McGrady had a headache, Prince an upset stomach and Hamilton and Wilcox missed the bus from the team hotel.

Stuckey and Daye also missed the bus, but they arrived toward the end of a media session, Lewis said.

Lewis said Wallace was dealing with a family matter, as he has over the past month.

"We'll go with the group that was here," said Kuester about facing the 76ers, according to the Free Press. "We got a number of guys that have a bug, but these guys went through shootaround the way it was supposed to. We have some things, some excuses, not excuses, but absences because of headache and stuff like that.

"We'll go with this group right here because they went through shootaround."

Later in the day, Kuester backed off those comments, saying he expected "everybody to be available."

When told it was suggested the Pistons had other motives for skipping shootaround, Kuester said, "Sometimes perception is different than reality."

Kuester called the personnel situation "an internal matter." The Pistons are home Saturday against Utah and there was no word if the missing players would be available.

"I feel badly for John Kuester," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I think it's a black eye for the league. I know Detroit is in disarray right now at some level. You worry about a coach and, you know, his psyche after something like that happens."

Hamilton was rumored to be headed to New Jersey in a three-team trade with the Nuggets that would have landed Carmelo Anthony in New Jersey. That deal fell through. The Dallas Mavericks reportedly expressed interest in Prince at the deadline but couldn't pull off a trade.

Hamilton is averaging a career-worst 13.3 points per game after going for 17.7 for his 11-year career, the last eight of which came with the Pistons.

Prince has spent his entire eight-year career with Detroit and is having another solid, if unspectacular year, with averages of 14.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

McGrady is in his first year with the Pistons and is averaging only 8.4 points per game. Wilcox is getting only 16.7 minutes per game and averaging 5.6 points.

The most important numbers for the Pistons, however, concern where they are in the standings. Detroit is 21-38, mired in fourth place in the Central and 6½ games behind Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East.

The Pistons didn't make the playoffs last year for the first time in nine years. They won it all in 2003-04.

A team source told the Free Press that it wasn't clear what the next step would be for the Pistons, but he acknowledged that Detroit had just gone through an organized protest.

There have been signs of disharmony almost from the beginning. Kuester benched Stuckey barely a week into the season, although that was only temporary.

Kuester then benched Hamilton on Jan. 12, and he didn't play again until a Feb. 5 game at Milwaukee. Hamilton has missed every game since then. The team has said Hamilton has a groin injury.

The team was unable to trade Hamilton before Thursday's deadline. He's guaranteed $20 million over the next two seasons.

Kuester has juggled the lineup quite a bit this season, trying to find combinations that might help propel the Pistons to a playoff spot, but so far it's been no use. McGrady has been a bright spot, staying healthy and settling in as a point guard, and Monroe is showing promise -- but Detroit has clearly fallen a long way since Hamilton, Prince and Wallace led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title.

Owner Karen Davidson has been trying to sell the team, and that turned into a drawn-out saga after she said she hoped it would be done by the start of the season. On Feb. 11, Davidson confirmed she and investor Tom Gores had a two-week "exclusivity" period for negotiations.

On Friday -- exactly two weeks later -- there was no update from the owner.

Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein and The Associated Press was used in this report.