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Is Joe Dumars fit to run the Pistons?

So Chris McCosky has a feel-good article about Joe D's tenure as Pistons President in today's Detroit News. In the article, McCosky (as well as various NBA types, such as David Stern, Mike Fratello, and Greg Anthony) praises the personnel moves that built today's team and the planning and forethought that have set the Pistons up to sustain their current success. Here's a portion:

But the deck appeared stacked against him when he took over basketball operations the summer of 2000. The team had just been swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Miami, and was operating under interim coach George Irvine.

Grant Hill, the team's franchise player, was a free agent. Less than two months after Dumars took over, Hill informed him he was going to Orlando.

On the Pistons payroll at the time were the albatross-like contracts of Lindsey Hunter (owed $13 million at the time), Loy Vaught ($15 million), Christian Laettner ($6 million), Jud Buechler ($12 million) and Eric Montross ($10 million).

Somehow that summer, from that tablet, Dumars began forging the foundation of a championship team.

These are the stories we've all grown accustomed to hearing about Joe D--how he built the Pistons from the ground up; how he used his championship experience to assemble a cast of cast-offs to form the ultimate team. But this wasn't always the perception of Joe.

At the conclusion of the 2001 season, where the Pistons finished 30-52 with an overmatched roster full of expiring contracts (Billy Owens, Dana Barros, Joe Smith, Corliss Williamson, et al), frustration was mounting. As a recap of the season, McCosky published an article that must still keep him up nights given the Pistons subsequent run of success. This story about Joe was nothing like those mentioned above. The article actually questioned whether Joe D was capable of running the Pistons. Check out this quote from the article (and compare it to the one above):

Dumars' reputation also has taken a hit across the league. The perception, fair or not, is that Dumars is in over his head and that he isn't willing to put in the time necessary to run a professional organization.

The perception around the league, fair or not, is that, while his contemporary Michael Jordan is running the Washington Wizards like an executive, Dumars is running the Pistons like a player.

The perception around the league, fair or not, is that the Pistons' organization, once a model of efficiency, has become a sad joke.

Wow--that Jordan line? Classic.

Look, the point of this posting is not to trash McCosky; he does a decent job covering the Pistons beat for the News. The point I am trying to make is this: Joe Dumars is damn near infallible. Seriously. That's not to say that there haven't been lucky breaks (remember, Joe D wanted desperatedly to sign Tim Thomas as a free agent) or mistakes (Joe freely admits that Rodney White and Mateen Cleeves were poor first rounders), but in spite of some slight missteps, the team's ascent over the past five years has been unparalleled. Knee-jerk reactions to transactions (such as cutting bait with Rodney White, or the firing of Carlisle and then Brown) usually end up sounding as foolish as McCosky does here.

So as Pistons fans enjoy one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, keep in mind that we are also approaching two extremely important offseasons where free agent decisions will need to be made regarding Ben (in summer '06) and Chauncey (in summer '07). While unlikely, decisions in one or both cases could upset the Piston faithful. But let's remember not to lose our cool too quickly. Joe D has a pretty good track record of choosing the correct avenue when faced with a crossroads; he'll do what's right for this team. And you'll just end up looking silly.

Joe D's reconstruction company [Detroit News]

[Read the full text of Chris McCosky's 2001 article after the jump (below).]

The Detroit News

April 22, 2001

Dumars, Pistons on edge of cliff
Team president achieved goal of clearing deck; can he save ship from sinking?

Chris McCosky

AUBURN HILLS -- Forget this season. Take Jerry Stackhouse's 29.75 scoring average, his 2,380 points and his 57-point night and stick them in the record books.

Take Ben Wallace's history-making trifecta -- he led the Pistons in rebounds, blocks and steals and became the first to get more than 1,000 rebounds (1,052), 100 blocks (186) and 100 steals (107) in a season -- and stick it into the book.

And throw away everything else. Because that, in essence, is all the 2000-2001 Pistons season was about, a throwaway.

Team president Joe Dumars hired a throwaway coaching staff and brought in a bunch of throwaway veterans in the last year of their contracts.

They are gone now -- George Irvine, Mo McHone, Mike Sanders, Dave Twardzik, Billy Owens, Dana Barros, Joe Smith, Corliss Williamson, Kornel David, Brian Cardinal. Despite their hard work, exemplary work in some cases, and their loyalty, they've been tossed to the curb.

Some -- Smith, Williamson, Barros and Cardinal -- might be reclaimed.

But, although it took enduring a 30-52 season, Dumars achieved his goal. The deck has been cleared.

Well, almost.

After he was fired, Irvine and Dumars talked for nearly 90 minutes. One of the major topics of discussion was Stackhouse. Irvine told Dumars that he didn't think the Pistons could win with Stackhouse and that he should consider trading him this summer.

Dumars has thought the same thing himself and very nearly traded Stackhouse last summer.

For all his talent, for all his competitiveness, Stackhouse is a difficult piece to fit into a team puzzle. Because of his talent, his ego and his fiery temperament, Stackhouse's personality controlled the team. His moods and demands were at times overbearing and had a negative effect on the team's performance.

His teammates were actually intimidated by him. They deferred and catered to his whims. It led to the Pistons being a one-man band.

The coaches bemoaned Stackhouse's poor practice habits and their adverse effect on the rest of team all year.

Dumars and Irvine have concerns that Stackhouse will never be able to taper his game to blend in with a more talent-rich team. Players across the league share the same concern, including some the Pistons might be interested in acquiring.

So, here is what Dumars has on his plate. He has to hire a coach. He might have to trade his franchise player for the second straight summer. And he has the critical task of putting a lottery pick and $16 million of cap space to good use.

Dumars and the Pistons are not standing at a crossroads, they are standing on the edge of a cliff.

He cannot afford to make any missteps, for the organization's sake and for his own.

The honeymoon is over for Dumars. He is on shaky ground with owner Bill Davidson, who was not pleased with the hiring of Brendan Suhr (since reassigned) nor with the Dumars' initial decision to re-hire Irvine last summer.

Dumars' reputation also has taken a hit across the league. The perception, fair or not, is that Dumars is in over his head and that he isn't willing to put in the time necessary to run a professional organization.

The perception around the league, fair or not, is that, while his contemporary Michael Jordan is running the Washington Wizards like an executive, Dumars is running the Pistons like a player.

The perception around the league, fair or not, is that the Pistons' organization, once a model of efficiency, has become a sad joke.

Dumars went to two road games all season. For the most part, he relied heavily on the reports from his top assistants -- first Suhr and then George David, the assistant director of player personnel, who two years ago was the team's video coordinator.

Suhr turned out to be a disaster. He was critical of Irvine from the beginning of training camp and never hid the fact that he wanted to coach the team. In fact, in the middle of the season, he was telling people in the organization that Irvine would be fired at the All-Star break and he would be taking over.

Davidson, when he got wind of that, told Dumars that under no circumstance would Suhr ever coach this team.

A month later, Suhr was reassigned.

Irvine and Twardzik, veterans who have spent years in the administrative end of the NBA as well as on the bench, were perplexed by Dumars' ivory-tower management style.

"You would think," Twardzik said, toward the end of the season, "that Joe would at least come over and say hello to the coaches once in a while."

Dumars did not confer with the coaching staff on any personnel decisions. Irvine was one of the last people to find out that Jerome Williams had been traded. Irvine didn't even have a voice in the most basic roster decisions, like whom to put on the injured list.

All season he wanted to have Cardinal active, instead of nonproducers such as John Wallace or Owens. Dumars refused.

Irvine, in fact, incurred Dumars' wrath for not playing free agent Torraye Braggs. Suhr signed Braggs to a guaranteed contract over the summer even though Braggs had no NBA experience and no other teams were interested in him.

Braggs, who was eventually released, never learned the plays. He never even learned the basic drill work the team went through in training camp.

Yet, Irvine was accused of playing Cardinal over Braggs because he and Cardinal shared the same agent.

Irvine also has been criticized for not spending enough time tutoring rookie Mateen Cleaves. This is another perception that was passed along to Dumars by either Suhr or David, or both, that had no basis in truth.

The truth is, Twardzik took on Cleaves as his personal mission. He worked with him before and after every practice and counseled him through every game. If Cleaves didn't hear any answers to his questions, it was because he wasn't listening.

Another example of the Pistons' loose management style was the Joe Smith episode. Although Dumars did a great job recruiting and landing Smith, the Pistons never put Smith through a full medical test. Suhr told Dumars that they took the medical reports from Minnesota. The Pistons' medical staff was enraged. There were no medical reports. If there had been something wrong with Smith, the Pistons' medical staff would have been held liable.

So into this soap opera-like environment, Dumars will attempt to bring in a new coach and attract premium free agents.

Good luck.

What coach worth his salt will want to take on a five-year commitment knowing that he will have no voice in personnel decisions? You take away a coach's voice on personnel decisions, you take away the one hammer he has over the players.

You will have a repeat of this season, where the John Wallace's and Mateen Cleaves' of the team will run complaining to George David or to Dumars whenever their minutes go down.

And what premier free agent will want to put his roots down with an organization whose foundation is so flimsy?

This is the cliff's edge Dumars finds himself on. He's thrown away one season. Can he afford to waste another?