Today is the beginning of a new era for the Detroit Pistons, because today is the day that Tom Gores gets to work, the day that Tom Gores puts the wheels of a once proud franchise back in motion.
The Pistons have been stuck in a state of purgatory for the last two seasons, handcuffed by a front office unable to admit and reconcile mistakes that have rendered the team irrelevant -- both on the national scale and among metro Detroit fans.
But as Gores made clear on Thursday, he refuses to live in purgatory. His people are allowed to make mistakes, so long as they fail quickly and adjust course.
"Look, we're going to have missteps," Gores said. "The key is to not sit in your missteps, so if we make a mistake -- and if we're any good we're going to make mistakes -- I want our folks and our leaders to not be afraid. Now I don't want you sitting with that mistake for a long time. I don't want you to get set in whatever decision you made. If it was wrong the next day, change it. And that's a culture that we've got to re-set here in the Pistons organization."
"We're going to adjust, we're going to be fluid, we're going to be fast," he continued. "We're going to try not to make missteps. I'm going to try to deliver on a perfect situation. I'm not sure that I will, but I am sure that if it's not right, I'm going to correct it."
Compare that attitude with this list of Joe Dumars' most recent transactions. Dumars hasn't pulled the trigger on a trade since July 2009 -- and if you disregard three salary dumps (ie, swapping Arron Afflalo/Walter Sharpe, Amir Johnson and Alex Acker for an assortment of cash and second-round picks), he hasn't made a single trade even remotely intended to improve the on-floor product since swapping Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson over two and a half years ago.
After the press conference, Dumars finally admitted to the handcuffs he was forced to wear. "The transition didn't just begin six months ago. This transition was going on for about a year and a half. It makes it tough," Dumars said, according to the Detroit Free Press.
"There was a definite moratorium on doing anything," he continued. "It was just, 'Hold tight until the transition takes place.' And so you sit there and just hold tight. And you watch things go on and you say, 'Under normal circumstances, we would have addressed this in some form of change.' But all you're left to do is talk about it."
"I look forward to being able to address some of the things we've been wanting to do for the past couple years. It's been tough not to be able to get things done. Because it was just at a standstill, a freeze."
Dumars did have some success managing personnel in that span -- namely, stumbling into a pair of productive minimum wage veterans in Ben Wallace and Tracy McGrady, and drafting legitimate building blocks in Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe. But the mistakes far outweigh the wins, both figuratively and literally. The Pistons have spent the past two years suffering for mistakes Dumars made in the summer of 2009 (Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, John Kuester), and it'll likely take a few more years before they come close to reaching their previous heights.
But at least now the recovery has finally started. For the moment, Gores is still convinced Dumars is the man to put the team back on course -- although the trust he's placed in him won't be blind.
"We already told him that, 'We're going to challenge you every single way, whether it's right or wrong, we're going to push you and we're going to push you hard,'" Gores said. "Because our job isn't to agree with Joe. Our job is to challenge Joe, and hopefully that will make the outcome better.
"Joe and I are getting to know each other," he continued. "We agree on core values, and we'll see, we're going to have to fight it out, we have to fight it out. But Joe's ready, and I'm ready."
For a whole slew of highlights from the press conference, keep reading ...
Gores on Kuester: 'I need to provide him the courtesy of a meeting'
From the sounds of it, Gores won't let Kuester dangle much longer. "I haven't had a meeting with Coach Kuester," Gores said. "So I need to provide him the courtesy of that meeting. I know it's been a tough and challenging year. We expect to do that in the next several days, and we're going to lay out our culture and what we expect and we're going to see what happens from there.
"So we'll make that decision rather quickly, but really Coach Kuester deserves the courtesy of a meeting, and until we closed [the deal to officially purchase the team], we really were not allowed to do that. We're going to do that, and we're going to do that fast."
Regardless of what Gores claims, the use of the word "courtesy" and the fact he hasn't bothered to learn how to correctly pronounce Kuester's name -- he pronounced it as if it rhymed with "rooster" -- makes one wonder if any meeting will be a mere formality. Later, in response to a question not specifically about Kuester, Gores again expressed a sense of urgency: "Starting tomorrow ... we're going to go full speed ahead with talking about every single detail, giving everybody every single chance to say why they want to be a part of the Pistons and so on, and we're going to listen and we're going to be very thorough but we'll be fast."
Act fast -- but not too fast
How fast does Gores want to go? When discussing his vision for the team, he revealed that he's already gotten in trouble for going a little too fast: "As far as the team goes, tomorrow Joe and us will be meeting. We've been wanting to meet for awhile. We actually met too early, Mr. Stern kind of slapped us on the hand for meeting too early because we didn't own the team yet, but our vision is we need to go back to those core values that the Pistons are made of. It's hard work, you go to practice, and the winning will come. It's a very simple vision."
Gores also indicated that he moved up the official closing several weeks. "As I said, the NBA didn't want us making any decisions or getting close to them prior to closing. It's part of why we actually accelerated the close -- we were supposed to close on June 30, we accelerated the close to now -- because we felt like we needed to make decisions. The draft is very important."
Gores as The Dark Knight
When asked what type of owner he will be -- hands on like Mark Cuban or hands off like Bill Davidson? -- Gores went all Batman on us ("I'm whatever Gotham needs me to be"):
"First, I'm Tom Gores, I can't be either one of them. And I've learned that you have to be yourself," he said. "I'm willing to be whatever the franchise and the organization needs. If they are going to get inspired by me being next to the bench and next to the players? Great. If they're going to be distracted by me? Then you might see me on the roof.
"I need to be the owner that this team needs, because it's really not about me, it's about what they need. And I'm not sure exactly what that's going to be, I have to let that evolve, I have to let that develop. And I'm a team player myself, I need to play the role, and maybe from year to year that'll change, to the extent that the team needs some juice, maybe I will be right there. And so I'm going to do whatever I have to do and our team will do whatever they have to do."
Not spinning off entertainment venues
Gore did his best on several occasions to allay any fears fans may have regarding a private equity firm acquiring Palace Sports & Entertainment and spinning off pieces of the organization. "This is not a situation where the team is separate from the organization, we're one piece," he said. "And I think that's one of the things we have to drive home. We're one piece, and the team is a piece, the organization is a piece -- we have a concert center, we have a stadium, we're one piece here."
He later reiterated that stance when discussing the appeal of the concert venues. "While I think most of the rest of the world focused just on the sports team and the Pistons -- and that's the lure -- we have great businesses in these concert venues. DTE has been one of the most successful venues in the country, in the whole world, in the way it's performed. So that's no small asset in itself. And Meadowbrook is a little smaller. Those were very important assets and the integration of those are very, very important.
"I'm hoping to bring -- we're part of Motown here, right? -- we've got to bring music alive, I think it needs to be alive in this stadium, and we will. I happen to have the benefit of growing up here but also living in Los Angeles, and having some good things we can bring from LA, we'll try to bring a little bit of that in, too. So that was a very important part of how we felt the value of this asset stood out."
After hearing Gores discuss the entertainment side of PS&E several times, I'm not convinced he would have done this deal had it not included those venues. He lives in Los Angeles, so he sees the money that companies like AEG rake in with integrated experiences like LA Live, a vibrant district anchored by STAPLES Center, Nokia Theatre, hotels, movie theaters, etc. Now, that's obviously impossible to replicate the way things are currently constructed in and around Auburn Hills, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he tries to change the sea of parking lots surrounding the Palace into something more. Maybe I'm off base, but I don't think so.
In any case, Gores continued: "We have no plans to spin any of that off. As I said just a minute ago, it's a very important part of the business, actually it's a very exciting part of the business. The integration that could happen between those two businesses -- we literally do have an entertainment business. I think we want people in Detroit watching the team, going to DTE, knowing that they could have a full experience."
(See what I'm saying?)
'There's no winning at all costs'
One of the funnier moments of the press conference came when Detroit radio personality Mike Stone asked Gores, "If you had to pick one, what's more important: Winning an NBA championship or making money?" Instead of simply answering with a quip, Gores' somewhat rambling answer may have tipped his hand on just how analytical and frugal he intends to be:
"They go together," he said. "They go together. It's a good question by the way. They go together and I want to win together. And it really is back to, if I won a championship and it wasn't great for the community, then I would feel that I wasn't right. And if I won a championship and it wasn't right to my partners and my people, then I wouldn't feel that's right. It really is an integrated decision, and I mean that genuinely.
"There's no winning at all costs. We want to win correctly, we want to win right, and I want us to be proud to be walking around. Do you want to win and not be proud? No. I don't want to do that. So it really is kind of an integrated thing."
Later, Gores expounded on the "there's no winning at all costs" idea, explaining what he would spend money on:
"It's not about the money, it's about the value," he said. "You have to feel like you're getting the value. So if we're bringing value in, then of course we'll spend the money. But are we going to frivolously spend the money to say we did, we're not being very responsible to you. So we need to understand that there's a value that's comes in with spending the money.
"Those two things go together. So many [ask], 'Do you want to spend money or not?', and of course, you have to, but you have to get the value. So we're going to be hard, and Joe and I, we're beginning these conversations, which is, 'Hey, if you're on board, and we're paying, then we expect value, and that means full value. Be out there with the community, deliver the shots you've got to deliver, practice hard as heck,' and that's going to be a lot of our motto with a lot of the people we bring on. You can't show up based on your resume, you have to show up on the court, you have to practice, you have to practice hard.
"So it's not about the money, it's really about the value, and we're prepared to spend it if we feel the value is there."
'I don't think we're that far'
When asked how far he thought the Pistons were from contending, Gores took a predictably optimistic stance. "I don't think we're that far," he said. "And again, it's something that Joe and us, we're going to talk about, and tomorrow will be the first day of doing that. But I actually think we have a good base.
"We're going to get back to instilling the culture that we believe in. I know we had a very challenging season, but there's a core there, there's a core there. And there's pieces that have to get added, without a doubt -- I'm not going to tell you we're going to figure it out with what we have -- but we're going to analyze that and bring it together. But I think we've got some -- look, we made a great draft pick last year, I think that's a great base, and we've got to make sure we do that again and bring the pieces together."
When discussing the organization as a whole, he later added, "This should be the best-run sports franchise, entertainment franchise in the world. We just have to set our standards high and be unique. We have to be unique. What's unique about us, we have music fans, we have sports fans, we have a lot to offer and I think as long as we're ourselves, we'll deliver on that."