First of all, I am a die hard Detroit Pistons fan and have been since I really began watching basketball as a sport during the not-so-successful Grant Hill to the Jerry Stackhouse days of '98-'02. While there was not much to cheer about, my adoration of the franchise began through the constant media exposure of Grant Hill being in Sprite commercials during the late 90's. Subsequently, I began playing with the Pistons in NBA video games and a preferred team was then defined for me. I was quickly rewarded for my newfound allegiance to the franchise in the immediate years that followed with an incredible run (i.e. 6 straight conference finals appearances and a championship to gloat). The results of which were conceived through the remarkable efforts by a group of players that would allow me to distinguish and cherish my two favourite basketball players of all-time, Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups.
None of the successes would have been possible if the Pistons players were not positioned together and motivated to play in the city of Detroit by a former player so revered that, immediately upon retirement from the only franchise he had ever known, he was converted to the executive role of GM and President of Basketball Operations. He was a man the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan, once considered to be his best and most challenging opposing defender. That holdover legend from the "Bad Boy" era and continuing overseer of the Detroit Pistons franchise is none other than Joe Dumars.
However, a lot has happened to the franchise in the most recent years that have certainly marked a transitional period and an end to an era. The franchise began a downward spiral from greatness to mediocrity to absolute failure. Over the past few years I have held realistic expectations of where the team is headed since the glory run of the last decade. A lot of the blame is justifiably exacted on the GM. The drafting of Darko Milic in '03 did not hurt the franchise in the immediate short-term as the team won the Larry O'Brien trophy the following season. As pure speculation, the team probably would not have gotten Rasheed Wallace that year if Joey D had drafted anyone else with that pick. Nonetheless, the affects of that draft blunder are sorely felt now. In hindsight it would have been nice to have had Dwyane Wade for 10 years or even Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. Hell, even any of the big men taken such as C. Kaman, D. West, K. Perkins, or B. Diaw would have been better than Milicic. Then again, I do recall the hype surrounding Milic. It's just an unfortunate circumstance that the Pistons were the franchise to make the wrong choice.
Also, it was not just that single mistake that has plagued the most recent memory of the once-great franchise. Some other mishaps by Dumars that have damaged the placement of the franchise amongst the league hierarchy included one horrible trade in particular and several knuckle-headed signings that set us back a few years (i.e. the trade that included the captain, "team soul-holder" C. Billups for the washed-up, selfish, "pay-cheque grubbing" A. Iverson to the mega signings of lazy C. Villaneuva and "lights-out as a sixth man only" B. Gordon). The latter of which resulted in a dump-off trade that will probably cost the organization its first round pick this year or, most likely, next year to the Bobcats (top 14 lottery protected in 2013; top 8 protected in 2014).
I digress, however, as I believe Dumars has done an immense amount of more good for the franchise than bad and that he has learned from his recent mistakes. As a player, Joey D was a legend for the franchise that understood the necessary efforts and the specific role required to make the team a winner. As a GM, he orchestrated an incredible run just a few years ago that truly defined my life-long fandom of the franchise. And now in the present I believe he still holds a similar level of competency in developing this team as a winner (albeit, now with less assets or counterparts than what he was accustomed to in the past).
The team is now guided by a new ownership in billionaire Tom Gores and perhaps a new sense of purpose. The team is still currently mired in a rebuilding stage with the hopes of escaping and improving to the realistic expectations of becoming moderately successful in the near future, rather than the distant future (definition of moderate success should be considered as being a .500 team or making the playoffs). I don't believe that Lawrence Frank is the answer at the head coaching position and nor do I think that he will be given any form of extension. But he should continue executing an adequate job in his tenure, if only temporarily, until the team begins to perform with greater consistency and proves it can win more games. I think he may be just serving as the role of a safety crutch through which Joey D can lean on and remove once the team's potential for success is more evident and secure. At that time someone more qualified or deserving of the position could takeover.
As for Dumars himself, he seems to have a firm understanding on the best way to lead the Pistons franchise through the current transitional period. He looks to have temporarily forgone the notion of landing the big free agent in order to rebuild through the draft. With the help of luck in the ability to draft key players, Dumars' last three first-round picks (Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond) have shown flashes of brilliance and, hopefully, as they mature and continue to learn their abilities and roles as players both on and off the court, they will develop from rebuilding-blocks into star leaders. With a probable mid to low lottery pick heading the Pistons way again this year (provided it is not conveyed to the Charlotte Bobcats), it is up to Joey D to again make the most of his options and continue the upward momentum of the franchise's rebuilding process. There is still much work to be done.
Possible avenues to explore are via trade and, of course, free agency. While it would be nice if the Pistons could land a coveted star such as Rudy Gay or Josh Smith by way of trade (in Smith's circumstance, possibly through free agency at the end of the year), the more likely option would be to not absorb/sign a major long-term contract, but instead fill key roles that might require giving up less in order to gain what is needed.
For example, I have read some articles regarding the rumours surrounding the possibilities of the Pistons facilitating a third-party role in the Raptors-Grizzlies trade. The trade would potentially see R. Gay land in Toronto and possibly some form of role player such as Jose Calderon going to Detroit. While the rumours are founded on pure speculation, this is the kind of trade that Joey D should be looking to execute. As a native from Canada, I've had many a years and opportunity to watch Calderon develop. Offensively, he is probably a top 10-15 true PG that executes court vision and takes care of the ball very well (consistently finishes in the top 5 assist to turnover ratio); he utilizes the athleticism of his teammates very exceptionally (great at reading and judging their speed and leaping ability towards the basket); and he can hit opens shots (whether it's an open jumper, 3-pointer, or free-throw). However, his glaring weakness is his absolute inability to defend (definitely one of the worst PG defenders in the league).
But a trade for a player like Calderon represents the philosophy that Joey D should continue to utilize. Through a correct amount of mental addition through subtraction, he can figure out the movement of pieces that will most likely result in the team winning more games for years to come. The point is by taking advantage of a team like Toronto's desperation to land a perceived star, or any other franchise's for that matter, Dumars can actively become involved in certain transactions that may even provide low-risk/high-reward outcomes. The Pistons do have attractive pieces of their own to utilize as trade bait (i.e. the expiring contracts of Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell, or Austin Daye; even Rodney Stuckey or Tayshaun Prince offer some value to a certain extent). While no rash decisions should ever be made, there are many options for the Pistons organization to explore via trade or free agency that would best put the team in a position for sustained success.
As a fan, I have waited patiently for the past few seasons to see some sort of positive outcome derive from the mess that was apparent just a short time ago. I realize it could be a lot worst and like any business within an organizational structure, a cycle of highs and lows will occur. But the Pistons organization has built such a favourable pattern of achievement in the last three decades that I have come to enjoy high expectations. I really think those expectations will be realized in the next few seasons. I think Joe Dumars will be the guiding hand through which any shared successes will be founded. I think the model for that success will be based on not chasing the pieces everyone wants, but instead finding the pieces that the franchise needs.
A patient fan,