Joe Dumars is out after 14 years at the helm of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons. Here is a roundup of local and national reaction to the news.
The signings of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings have been disastrous. There is no way to sugarcoat it. And it will be up to the next executive to pick up the pieces and clean up what has turned into a sizable, expensive mess. Still, there is a path forward led by budding superstar Andre Drummond, young big man Greg Monroe (whose future will be a new GM's first order of business), and quality pieces in Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Dumars believed he had that environment when he actually traded for Iverson, convincing him[s]elf the Pistons were somehow organizationally superior to the rest of the league.
And not only did it cost them Chauncey Billups, Dumars’ miscalculation further eroded the Pistons’ culture. But it didn’t stop him from seeking that superstar.
It was almost as if he believed paying Ben Gordon and Josh Smith like superstars would turn them into ones. Instead, both players – and many others like them – sulked and regressed due to Dumars [repeated unwillingness to challenge players].
Dumars will contend he made moves to appease the owner’s demand for an immediate impact, and it backfired. Frankly, I’ve never bought that excuse. If we acknowledge Gores and his inner circle aren’t basketball people, then I highly doubt they specifically demanded Dumars acquire Smith and Jennings and draft Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The idea was for Gores to stir things up at the Palace, investing millions in renovations and revamping the business side. But basketball was Dumars’ domain, and all perceptions sprout from there. Gores had a major hand in the coaching situation and that was a mistake, although Dumars was allowed to fire Lawrence Frank and hire Maurice Cheeks. When Gores fired Cheeks on Feb. 9 over Dumars’ objections, the regime’s fate was sealed.
Maybe he got lucky when Ben Wallace arrived as a throw-in when Grant Hill left for Orlando, and maybe it will be another 20 years before we see another championship run from a squad built around several very good players instead of a couple of great ones. That’s possible.
That’s also unfair to Dumars. If he deserves blame for constructing the ill-conceived teams that occupied the Palace the past few years — and he does — then he deserves credit for designing a group sturdy enough to force its way into six consecutive conference finals.
Had those teams won a second title, that streak would be thought of differently. As it is, that success left many with a sense there should have been more.
I’d argue the opposite — that they were better than they should have been.
The Pistons were the picture of fiscal and structural stability.
The misses also were historic. Darko Milicic was the NBA's worst draft pick this century, the Chauncey Billups-for-Allen Iverson trade whiffed, bad free agents contracts hurt, and the coaching turnstile was a continuity killer.
Five consecutive years with no playoffs and a 29-52 record this year -- even with his coach fired from under him at 21-29 -- always subjects an expiring-contract executive, coach or player to termination.
The once mighty Pistons have been reduced to irrelevant status in a town they ruled not long ago.
Where Dumars had the Midas touch early in his tenure as a front office executive, he swung and missed with unrelenting consistency lately.
This was like Strike 10…and you’re out. Dumars had plenty of chances. He simply wasn’t getting it done.
But in reflection, this shouldn’t be so much about what went wrong for Dumars at the end as what went right the many years before.
Dumars apparently warned Gores’ group early that you can’t treat an NBA team like a private equity investment — stripped, polished and sold off in five years. It requires a winning culture, an atmosphere that guides personnel. San Antonio has it. For a long time, Boston and the Lakers had it. And yes, Detroit had it.
But you can’t create it from a mansion in L.A., you can’t do it by chasing glitzy names (heaven help us if Isiah Thomas returns to the front office), and you can’t do it by issuing public ultimatums — all of which Gores has done.
And all of which, I’m guessing, is why Dumars has had it. Once you’ve enjoyed a certain professionalism and attitude, it’s tough to adjust — especially to an approach like Gores’. Sometimes, in sports, the tides just change.
The former Bad Boy understood depth, and though he watched an Allen Iverson-led 76ers squad chuck and defend its way to the NBA Finals in 2001, Dumars knew that a Jerry Stackhouse-led Pistons rotation couldn’t do the same in spite of featuring a points-per-game standout. Joe D had sat on the sidelines for a year as a deputy in 2000-01, watching Stackhouse pile up the big stats with little win/loss reward, and by the time the 2001 offseason hit, with Dumars taking the lead role as personnel chief, Joe D seemed primed for a different approach to roster building.
His work during that summer may not come off as flashy or brilliant some 13 years later, but that wasn’t the point. The idea was to utilize previously unutilized aspects of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement to gain an advantage. Dumars plotted with trade exceptions. He took advantage of sign-and-trade rules. He sent expiring contracts to other teams to take on what were considered onerous contracts. He used the midlevel exception expertly. And while names like Corliss Williamson, Jon Barry and Clifford Robinson may not strike you as killer pickups in 2014, they did help turn Dumars’ franchise around.
Beyond that, Dumars paved the way for his resignation by letting his team slip into disarray on an organizational level. Those in charge of basketball operations aren’t merely in responsible for picks and signings, after all, but the very infrastructures of the teams they govern. Dumars’ undoing might have been staved off had he found just one reliable coach in his many tries, or at least stuck with one long enough so that they could lend a steady identity or game plan to a team in desperate need of both. Internal leadership suffers without coaching stability. Player development is a lost cause as what should be one consistent message fades into a flood of conflicting ones. Any capacity to elevate a team beyond the sum of its parts is hindered by the shuffle. The Pistons have been a persistent mess precisely because Dumars has allowed it to be so, whether by his poor choices or chronic impatience.