For John Kuester, return to Detroit may be a bumpy ride

Los Angeles Times

Mutiny is a volatile but somewhat archaic term, usually only referenced these days in “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

But last year, NBA fans got a new introduction to the word when the Detroit Pistons started crumbling, with reports of a player mutiny taking place against then-Coach John Kuester.

Kuester, now an assistant coach for the Lakers, heads back to the Motor City on Tuesday for the first time since he was fired in June 2011 from a team that, in some instances, openly rebelled against him.


“I’m being honest with you, I wish them nothing but the best,” Kuester said. “Hey, coaches get fired all the time in this league, and what you do is move on.”

He has, but bad vibes (and boos) might reemerge when he reenters The Palace of Auburn Hills, the site of ugly drama during his final days at the helm of an underachieving, dysfunctional squad.

But before the Lakers’ plane even took off in that direction, he was taking a glass-half-full approach in discussing an unwelcome homecoming of sorts, saying, “I try to look back at the good.”

There was, in fact, some of that there. He was with the Pistons as an assistant during their title run in 2003-04, which culminated with a 4-1 NBA Finals series win against the team that’s now paying his bills.

But there was also plenty of bad. In his two seasons as head coach, he compiled a 57-107 record and the Pistons failed to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the mid-'90s.

Then came the end, which hit an awful nadir when seven players missed all or parts of a shoot-around in protest against him. Reports said that some players privately called him “Sean Penn,” referencing the actor’s role as a death row inmate in the film “Dead Man Walking.”

Kuester called the whole ordeal “challenging,” using that word and “stressful” a few times in an answer that he tried his best to frame positively -- the equivalent of applying high-end lipstick to a pig.

“The one thing about every experience I’ve witnessed having been in this league 22 years, you live and you learn,” he said. “And you keep growing as a coach. I’m here, in L.A. and continuing to get better as a coach. That’s what you want to strive for.”

Understandably, the mutiny and his dismissal from Detroit seemed distant to Kuester. As he said, he’s in a new city, with a new team -- one that’s playing well, having won eight of its last 10 overall.

“I’m so excited about where we are right now, with this team, our team, here,” he said.

Undoubtedly, he was also referring to himself.