It has become increasingly apparent that this will be the last year that Joe Dumars will serve as the President of Basketball Operations for the Detroit Pistons and I must admit that saddens me. This seems like an odd reaction considering the numerous failed free agent signings, the botched trades, and the train wreck of a team that we have put out on the floor the past several seasons. I suppose I mostly feel saddened because Joe Dumars is a genuinely great guy and someone who represented one of the last remaining pieces of what was a successful brand of Piston basketball for so many years. So as Joe leaves Detroit, likely does any remaining franchise credibility.
Looking out into the future, is it fair to be terrified by the prospects of the decade ahead with Tom Gores as the owner? I feel like I have heard Gores name more in the last 3 years than I ever heard Davidson’s name over 20 years of watching Piston basketball. I understand Gores is a successful businessman and his skills probably translate nicely as it pertains to the daily operations of an NBA franchise. However sports are unlike most businesses. The player / personnel component of basketball should almost be treated like a separate business and that business is not one that Tom Gores is well prepared for. The truly great owners hire great personnel guys and then get the hell out of the way. I follow a lot of NBA basketball and I can’t even tell you who the owner of the San Antonio Spurs is. Doesn’t that mean something?
Over the past 3 years, there have been media rumblings that Gores was the main driver behind the hiring of Lawrence Frank and ultimately, the firing of Lawrence Frank. Gores sought outside council from Phil Jackson prior to the Maurice Cheeks experiment and now it has become clear that Gores was behind the Cheeks firing after just 50 games. Gores mandated that the team make a playoff run this year. In many businesses, pressure from ownership sometimes results in greater effort and focus from team members. In the NBA, pressure from ownership results in General Manager’s prioritizing short term improvement over a long range approach to team building, even if the long range approach is in the best interest of the team. I have just a few hypothetical questions here. If Dumars didn’t feel that his days could be numbered as result of not making the playoffs, would he reconsider the Ben Gordon trade to Charlotte? That trade effectively cost them a top 10-12 draft pick in one of the deepest drafts in years in exchange for shaving one year off his rebuilding effort? Or would Joe have considered drafting Trey Burke instead of KCP and waiting for him to develop as a PG instead of trading for a more developed Brandon Jennings at twice the salary of the rookie contract wage that would be paid to Trey Burke? As I evaluate it today, Trey Burke looks like the better long term investment. Or perhaps without the playoff mandate, Dumars even considers rolling over cap money from this summer to next once he realizes that Josh Smith is the only remaining impact free agent on the market, but he doesn’t mesh with our roster. Nobody can know and truthfully, I can’t defend Joe’s moves anymore. But even as Dumars goes, the fact remains that when Gores is inserting himself into the personnel side of the business, he also has to take responsibility for the franchises failures. It is a heck of a lot easier to replace a bad GM than it is a bad owner. Unless Gores changes his approach to ownership, I think he will have a difficult time attracting the elite GM /Personnel / Coaching talent to Detroit….as if the weather wasn’t going to make that difficult enough in the first place.
Here’s to hoping for a spike in franchise values across the NBA leading to Gores selling off the franchise to the Ilitch family…..a man can dream.