Joe Dumars and the Thirteen Months

Much as has been the case for the past half decade, there’s been a recent spate of commentary about Joe Dumars. Some maintain that, despite a bad stretch, the Pistons are lucky to have him, and these folks seem to have full confidence that the Pistons will return as an elite contender.

The other side of the coin argues that he was great for a few years, but has been awful ever since and needs to go ASAP.

In rehashing all of this the other day, I came to realize that Joe’s story is far more condensed and dramatic than I had thought. In essence, it seems that he was possibly the worst General Manager in the history of professional sports for a Thirteen Month period, but that the Joe D of these bleak days is barely recongizeable in his record before or since.

As of June 9th, 2008, Joe Dumars was unquestionably one the most successful front office folks in professional sports. Over the course of eight seasons, he had taken a moribund organization and turned it into an NBA champion, and came fairly close to rings on five other occasions. Over those first eight years, nearly everything he did was a screaming success. During those eight seasons, his very worst moves were as follows—three lottery picks that didn’t pan out (but all of which were traded for future first round picks, two of them lottery selections), and a handful of arguably defensible calls (hiring a coach who averaged 55 wins over three seasons, not signing a past-prime Ben Wallace to an insane contract, and not quite doing enough to get a very good team all the way to the top.) In other words, he wasn’t perfect, but the few mistakes he made were debatable and/or understandable and/or fixed. And the good transactions? You know the list (and they are below), but I’d argue that there are a dozen that are individually more feathers in his cap than the single worst during this time was a black eye for him. (Nod to Joseph Heller and Colonel Cathcart…) I’m not sure that any GM in NBA history had a run quite like this.

Conveniently, let’s leap ahead to Joe’s record since July 14, 2009. By no means is it brilliant or without flaws. But since that day, I have a hard time assigning the dreaded "irredeemingly awful" tag to any other than re-signing Tayshaun Prince. Yeah, the overall lack of movement when this was clearly a bad team constituted an ongoing error of omission, but only the Prince contract looks like an aggressively bad move. Some would have preferred to get rid of Stuckey, but I’m not one of them, and I liked his re-signing. Some are predicting that Knight and Drummond will prove to be bad picks. Maybe. But that particular future is unwritten and, at very least, many sources considered both of these picks "steals". Since that time, Joe’s brought back Ben Wallace, drafted Greg Monroe, and (finally) hired a real head coach. If neither Drummond nor Knight end up being serious assets, he’s been kinda weak and should be gone after another season or two. If either turns out to be really good, he’s done pretty well since the end of the ugliness. If both end up being top 15 at their possessions or better, he’s done really well. If Kim English ends up being what Alflalo is (only playing in Detroit) or he makes a move even a fraction as good as the long litany he made a decade ago, this is at least a second round of the playoffs team and Joe D is back to being a very good GM.

But, man…what the fuck happened from June 10, 2008 – July 13, 2009? I was well aware of the list of mishaps, but hadn’t quite grasped how condensed they were or how divergent from anything else Joe Dumars has done before or since. Brace yourself, but he’s a chronological repetition of the list of horrors:

June 10 2008--Named Michael Curry head coach.

June 28 2008—Drafted Walter Sharpe, Trent Plaisted, and Deron Washington.

November 3 2008—Signed Rip Hamilton to a 14 year/$743 million contact

November 3 2008--Description: Chauncey Billups, forward Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.

June 23 2009—gave Amir Johnson to the Bucks

June 25 2009—drafted Austin Daye #15, Wrong DuJuan #33, Chase Buddinger #44 (great if he’d kept him)

July 8 2009--Description: Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to combined 42 year/$3.2 billion contracts

July 9 2009—named John Kuester coachDescription:

July 13 2009—gave Arron Alflalo to the Denver Nuggets for a plateful of Chicken (Mc) NuggetsDescription:

Here we see 14 personnel moves in this Thirteen Month period, all of which turned out somewhere between badly and horrifically. Were there a few unbad moves? Yeah, but drafting Jonas Jerebko #39 and signing Will (MF) Bynum are ALL that could be considered productive in any way, shape, or form.

Let’s put in another way: Joe Dumars traded Chauncey Billups, Amir Johnson, and Arron Alflalo, crippled the franchise by signing Ben Rip, Gordon, and CV, wasted six draft picks, and signed two bad coaches…and in return he got Jonas Jerebko and Will (MF) Bynum. With the exception of the Prince re-signing I can’t see anything he’s done in the three years since The Horror ended that would rank on the bottom ten of that list. And it’s not just that we haven’t had time to judge some of the more recent moves as failures. Nearly move made during the Thirteen Months appeared to be a grievous error within a very short period of time.

In short, the eight year reigning best GM in the NBA suddenly became possibly the worst GM in professional sports history for thirteen months and then stopped being that.

For those who continue to love Joe Dumars and have faith—given his exemplary record over a long period of time, you make perfect sense.

For those who want his head on a stick ASAP—given one of the worst (and avoidable) stretches of professional incompetence known to the sporting world in recent memory, it’s understandable that you have no faith in the guy.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Joe Dumars became professionally mentally ill during this time period. It’s not simply that he made a few bad moves or hurt the franchise. Too many of these moves were beyond "wrong"—they were the deluded spasms of a guy who suddenly believed that he alone "knew" all sorts of things that nearly anyone else paying attention would have instantly dismissed. This Thirteen Months was the NBA equivalent of deciding that Kwame Killpatrick was a prophet.

Below is a year-by-year account of Joe Dumars, 2000 – 2012. I left out many transactions that seem not particularly good or bad, and am sure that I’ve missed some itens of note. And my analysis is limited to lack of recall about salary cap and other matters that were relevant at the time; I’d greatly appreciated those with more knowledge adding some nuance. And the "grades" are even more arbitrary than those I assign on a regular basis to fifteen year olds for the knowledge they display of the Ottoman Empire.

2000 – 2001


Traded Grant Hill for Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace

Traded Jerome Williams and Eric Montross for Corliss Williamson and a future 1st Round Draft Pick


Drafted Mateen Cleaves #14

Team Record: 32 - 50

Cleaves was an awful first round pick. But getting Ben Wallace for Grant Hill was a franchise-changer. Had this happened in the days of DBB, I suspect Joe would have been threatened with lynching at the time, but coming into a situation where he was forced to trade the team’s only real asset and pulling one of the truly great players of the decade was a feat. I gotta wonder if Dumars thought Ben Wallace was just the best he could do or if he had a real inkling as to how great Ben would be. Getting Williamson and a first rounder for a couple of so-so big men was also impressive. This was the old Joe—five trades in his first year as a GM. This team lost ten more games that the one he inherited had, but the pieces were in place.

Season GM Grade: B+

Cumulative GM Grade: B+

2001 – 2002


Hired Rick Carlisle as coach

Unloaded Mateen Cleaves for a future first round draft pick and Jon Barry

Picked up Clifford Robinson on the cheap

Drafted Mehmet Okur with #38


Drafted Rodney White with #9

Team Record: 50 – 32; advanced to second round of the playoffs

Joe was now 0 for 2 on first round picks. But Carlisle was a budding star and Robinson and Okur played roles in bringing the Pistons toward a championship. Quickly cut bait on the Cleaves mistake and turned it into an asset.

Season GM Grade: A-

Cumulative GM Grade: A-

2002 – 2003


Drafted Tayshaun Prince #23

Signed free agent Chauncey Billups

Traded Jerry Stackhouse for Richard Hamilton

Somehow dumped Rodney White for a future first round draft pick


None. At all.

Team Record: 50 – 32; advanced to conference finals

Good god—Prince, Billups, and Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse and a late first round pick? By this point, Joe had to be in the discussion for the game’s best GM. The team was looking like a long-term contender and possibly a piece or two away from winning a championship.

Season GM Grade: A+

Cumulative GM Grade: A

2003 – 2004


Hired Larry Brown as coach

Signed Elden Campbell

Traded Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, and a first round draft pick for Rasheed Wallace and Mike James


Fired Rick Carlisle

Drafted Darko Milicic #2

Team Record: 54 – 28; won the NBA Championship

I think we all like Carlisle more than Brown. But the switch worked. Championships are so hard to come by and any GM should pretty much sell his soul for even a realistic shot at one. Joe got one and most GMs never do. Perhaps Carlisle might have gone on to a decade of Popovich-like production and the coaching switch cost the team another title or two? Can’t know that. ‘Sheed, of course, put the Pistons over the top. It may seem strange to grade the championship season out as a mere A, but Darko was one of the all-time busts. I’ve never blamed Joe for this, though. Many other GMs would have done the same and this was a team that could afford to swing for the fences. Hell, *if* Darko had been as advertised, this could have been a dynasty.

Season GM Grade: A

Cumulative GM Grade: A

2004 – 2005


Signed Antonio McDyess as a free agent


Maybe Darko was just a bum. But many of us feel like Larry Brown destroyed what character Darko had and Joe didn’t step in. But this may not be a fair criticism.

Team Record: 54 – 28; lost NBA Finals in seven games

So close to a repeat. Joe tinkered (Carlos Arroyo, Derek Coleman), but mostly stood pat, thinking he had enough. He almost did. In retrospect, perhaps he failed to pick up that one little piece that would have gotten them by the Spurs, but criticizing Joe for this is essentially expecting him to be omniscient. By June of 2005, Joe Dumars was a candidate for best General Manager in all of professional sports.

Season GM Grade: A

Cumulative GM Grade: A

2005 – 2006


Drafted Jason Maxiell #26 and Amir Johnson #56

Traded Darko for a future first round pick


Fired Larry Brown and hired Flip Saunders as coach

Team Record: 64 – 18; lost in the conference finals

This team was a juggernaut during the regular season, but flamed out unexpectedly before D. Wade and the Heat. This was the first of three consecutive seasons in which the Pistons were on the cusp of playing in the Finals, but went out in incredibly frustrating fashion. Was Saunders incapable of coaching a team at the highest level? Did Joe—who had made so many bold moves in his first half dozen seasons—become complacent or afraid to make a mistake? Still, it was a very good season, the future looked bright, and for the third time he turned a lousy first round pick into a future chance to get it right.

Season GM Grade: A-

Cumulative GM Grade: A

2006 – 2007


Signed Chris Webber as a free agent


Did not re-sign Ben Wallace.

Dumars didn’t do much wrong this year. He just didn’t do enough. Webber was a smart pick up in January, but he collapsed come playoff time. This team probably should not have lost to the LeBrons, but they did. Obviously, not having Wallace was a killer. At the same time, the Bulls horribly overpaid for him and he was really never an elite level player again. If Flip Saunders was the reason that Ben left (and the reason this team fell apart against a lesser opponent in the Conference Finals two years in a row), perhaps Joe’s greatest failing was that he either didn’t replace Saunders or didn’t step into the locker room to calm the waters. Still, he had his team again within spitting distance of the Finals for the fifth year in a row. As frustrating as the end was, Dumars was still arguably the game’s best.

Team Record: 53 – 29; lost in the conference finals

Season GM Grade: B+

Cumulative GM Grade: A

2007 – 2008


Drafted Rodney Stuckey #15 and Arron Alflalo #27

Dumped Nazr Mohammed once it was clear that he wasn’t the answer


Signed Nazr Mohammed as a free agent

Seemed to think that Walter Hermann and Jarvis Hayes were all the team needed to get over the hump

Team Record: 59 – 23; lost in the Conference Finals

I recall this being a particularly infuriating team to watch. I love Chauncey like the rest of us, but his "flip the switch" shtik was starting to grate. After seeming to pout and give up against the Cavs the year before, ‘Sheed was usually the worst player on the court at any given time in the Celtics series. Still, Joe got great value in the draft (something easy to forget because of the polarizing nature of Stuckey’s tenure and the unfathomable Alflalo jettisoning). This team still won nearly 60 games and lost a tough series to the eventual champion. But by season’s end there was a sense that the window had closed. In 2000, Joe took an awful franchise and turned it into a contender within two seasons. Surely, we had faith that he could rebuild on the fly?

Season GM Grade: B-

Cumulative GM Grade: A-

2008 – 2009


Signed Will Bynum as a free agent?


Hired Michael Curry as coach

Drafted Walter Sharpe, Trent Plaisted, and Deron Washington

Re-signed Richard Hamilton to a 19 year/$680 million contract

Traded Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson

Oversaw a comically unprofessional franchise that was arguably the least likeable team in the NBA that year.

Team Record: 39 – 43; humiliated by Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs

In Joe’s first eight seasons, his worst moves were three poor lottery picks (that he turned into later lottery picks), an inability to sign Ben Wallace to an inflated contract, and not being able to cut ties with a coach who averaged 55 wins over three seasons. Balanced against these three fairly minor transgressions—all of which were justifiable and perhaps even the "right" way to go—Joe Dumars had pulled off one trade and free agent coup after another, created one of the most unique NBA championship teams in the past four decades, brought six consecutive teams to the conference finals, and was probably the finest GM in all of professional sports. And suddenly, he descends into a Thirteen Month morass of complete and utter incompetence in which he made move after move which looked awful at the time and somehow proved to be far worse than expected. Part One of JDIAFI saw the hiring of the NBA’s worst coach, a miserable draft that seemed driven by an inner sense that he was a genius, and a trade that instantly destroyed the franchise. And Joe had only begun.

Season GM Grade: F-

Cumulative GM Grade: B

2009 – 2010


Drafted Jonas Jerebko #39

Signed Ben Wallace


Gave away Amir Johnson

Drafted Austin Daye #15 and The Wrong DuJuan #35

Gave away a patented Joe D late draft pick steal (Chase Buddinger, who was later swapped for a first rounder)

Signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva for $379 billion over sixty-three years

Hired John Keuster as coach

Gave away Arron Alflalo

Team Record: 27 – 55

Could anyone really have seen this coming? From June of 2008 – July of 2009, the NBA’s best GM, who had essentially not made a major misfire in his first eight seasons, made a dozen flat out awful calls and almost instantly turned the NBA’s most consistent model of excellence into one of the worst. Amidst this holocaust, Joe’s only mitigating successes were finding a likeable role player in the second round (JJ) and getting some useful minutes out of a hard-working scrapper (WMFB), and taking a flyer on Ben Wallace—and none of these moves could have had any significant impact on the team. The juxtaposition between Joe Dumars’ first eight years and the Thirteen Months chronicled here is absolutely mind-boggling. Most remarkable is that not a single one of these terrible moves could be chalked up to bad luck (such as devastating injuries), nor could Joe be excused for simply doing what many other GMs would have done. (Nearly every one of these transactions—with the exception of 2nd round draft picks, which are crap shoots—looked questionable at best when they were made.)

At this point, I no longer know how to assign Joe a cumulative grade. If these past two years of Fs were "50’s", then we are still looking at a "B" GM by 2010. But the teacher in me is looking at a couple of zeroes here. In short, the best in the game suddenly became so unrelentingly bad as to defy understanding. If Joe had "gradually lost his touch", none of this would be so perplexing. It’s more as if his soul had been taken over by an alien, and an alien endowed with supernatural powers to destroy a basketball team.

Season GM Grade: F-

Cumulative GM Grade: ?

2010 – 2011


Drafted Greg Monroe #7

Fired John Keuster


To Be Determined

Team Record: 30 - 52

By all accounts, Greg Monroe was a great pick and he’ll likely be anything from a really good player to a star for the next decade. Getting rid of Keuster was an obvious move, following a second year of bad basketball and a player mutiny. I just can’t put the McGrady signing in the Highlights category. Yeah, he outplayed expectations, but did little to improve the team and was one of the worst offenders in terms of creating a divisive locker room. Outside of making the right call with the lottery pick, Dumars did absolutely nothing to improve the franchise. But at least he avoided the incoherent, debilitating blunders of his thirteen month foray into the land of the criminally inept. The grading has to stop now—an appearance in the playoffs in 2013 and further improvement in 13-14 would indicate that Joe has emerged from the abyss. A couple more 30 win seasons and these past couple of years would be seen as continued (if less egregious) failures.

Season GM Grade: INC.

Cumulative GM Grade: ?

2011 – 2013


Drafted Brandon Knight #8 and Kyle Singler #33 in 2011?

Hired Lawrence Frank?

Re-signed Rodney Stuckey?

Drafted Andre Drummond #9 and Kim English #44 in 2012?

Got out of Ben Gordon’s contract?

Signed that huge, athletic Eastern European for a couple million?


Drafted Brandon Knight #8 and Kyle Singler #33?

Re-signed Tayshaun Prince for 11 years/$300 million

Drafted Khris Middleton #39 in 2012?

Team Record: 25 – 41 (2011 – 2012)

Again, we can all have our predictions about how the recent draft picks and signings will pan out. Personally, I’m in the middle on Knight. I felt like Drummond was a chance worth taking and have the same crush on Kim English that most of you seem to. (I don’t really know a thing about Middleton, but taking a recently injured guy coming off a bad season when there was some potential star caliber still available strikes me as disturbingly "Walter Sharpe-ish" of Joe.) I was okay with the Stuckey signing—he still brings a lot to the table and he’s still young. When I first read of the Prince signing, I assumed that I had stumbled upon The Onion’s sports page and think it ranks up there with any of Joe’s worst moves from the Thirteen Months. Even if Middleton is more than he appears at a glance, I am stunned that Joe seems ready to put Drummond and Monroe in the front court and sees no reason to have anyone on the roster who might be good at passing the ball to them. But this is all speculation.

At very least, I agree with another poster who said that this coming season is the first in since Chauncey’s departure in which something good happening seems to be at least a possibility. If Drummond and/or Knight end up being good; if Stuckey puts it together for a full season; if one or two of Joe’s recent or future incidental pick ups ends up looking like shades of 2002, then Joe Dumars would likely be looked upon as an A-/B+ General Manager for roughly 155 out of 168 months.

And this would make the Thirteen Months of F- work all the more incomprehensible.

FanPosts are user-created posts from the Detroit Bad Boys community and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all fans or the staff at DBB. The DBB staff reserves the right at any time to edit the contents of FanPosts as they reasonably see fit.

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