Aguirre has to join in for Pistons to prosper


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Mark Aguirre came here with a reputation.

A bad one.

But we were accustomed to that; Adrian Dantley came here with a bad reputation, too, and we learned to respect and admire his work ethic. And a lot of us wondered what we were getting in exchange when the Detroit Pistons sent him to Dallas for Aguirre.

But we are trusting. And maybe we are a little slow, too. Or maybe we are just not willing to believe that beneath the cloak of fame we drape around our superstars there often are blotches and blemishes and egos that can't be hidden even by a 10-gallon hat. So for a long time we figured those bad ol' Texas sports writers had picked on Aguirre, given him an undeserved reputation, made him out to be something he was not.

Hey, give us 16 points a game and back-to-back championships and we'll believe anything.

Sunday, though, Aguirre showed a selfish side that makes me think those ol' boys in Texas might have known what they were talking about.

In the third quarter of the Pistons' 101-88 victory over Atlanta -- a moment that should have been joyous for the club and its fans -- coach Chuck Daly jerked Aguirre from the game for failing to rotate to Atlanta's Duane Ferrell as the former Calvert Hall star drove for an uncontested layup.

Aguirre had scored 13 points and the Pistons were in control, but Daly wanted to make a point about playing defense. Aguirre didn't like the point, didn't like being yanked, didn't like the things his coach said to him. So he pouted on the bench.

By the time the Pistons' locker room was opened to the media, Aguirre was gone, but he showed up in the wee hours of yesterday morning at Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital with a slightly strained left thumb. And at yesterday's practice he had the arm bandaged almost to the elbow.

Aguirre called it a "sprained wrist and sprained thumb," hurt sometime during Sunday's victory. He said he had been unable to sleep. He courageously said he would play in tonight's third game of the series, despite the injury.

So it's no big deal. Except in Aguirre's mind.

And it's Aguirre's mind that seems to be the problem at the moment.

Through eight years on the job, Daly's biggest strength probably has been the ability to coax the maximum from his players with a minimum of bruised egos. Yesterday he was right in character.

"I might have overreacted as a coach," Daly said. "All I wanted was defensive rotation . . . but I might have hollered when I shouldn't have."

OK, as a man, he stood up and said he might have made a mistake.

How about Aguirre?

"I talked to coach and he told me he might have got a little hyper about it," Aguirre said. "We're all going to be men about it."

So if "we're all going to be men" here, what was Aguirre's role in the whole thing?

"I know I hadn't done nothing wrong," he said.

But, Mark, don't you have some involvement here?

"Y'all started this," he told the reporters gathered around him. "I ain't got nothing to do with it."

So in other words, what being men meant here is: Chuck Daly apologized to Mark Aguirre, and Aguirre accepted the apology.

And more and more, he is appearing to be the player the Texas media said he was: self-centered, interested only in his numbers and his success.

The playoffs get increasingly difficult now.

There are two games in Atlanta, and if the Pistons get by the Hawks, either the Boston Celtics or the Indiana Pacers lie ahead. And by now nobody is expecting this spring to be a picnic for the Pistons.

But one thing is certain: For the Pistons to have a chance, Aguirre will have to be something we all had assumed he was all along: A team player.

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