When the Pistons started to sputter in the playoffs, several players responded with statements that seemed to question Flip Saunders' decision-making ability. Did he lose control of the locker room? Is he in danger of being a part of the team's changes? Joe Dumars answered that question among many when he talked with the media on Monday:
How did you accept the job that Flip did this year?
"I thought he did a good job. Here's the thing that I can say about Flip, let me address that, 'Is Flip okay'? It's a non-issue with Flip's job. He's as safe as anybody here. So that's a non-issue with him, so we can get past that. In terms of the job he did, me and Mr. D. were talking about this the other day, you just assume a coach is going to come in and know every button to push and know every personality. It was a learning process for him more than anybody else here. He's the guy that has to make the call with these guys. I thought this year was a learning process. Flip knew absolutely nothing about these guys, and as the season went on we were still able to manage to win 64 games and have a great regular season with him not really even knowing the personnel. And so I thought it was a learning year for him. And I think, as he and I talked the other day, it'll be so much better next year because now he knows who can't play too many minutes and who needs a little bit more rest, and whatever the situation may be he understands that better now. I was happy with what he did this year knowing that it will be better next year because he understands the personnel better."
Mind you, that's not to say he gave Saunders a free pass -- Dumars did point over several holes he noticed throughout the entire season that he'd like to see addressed in the offseason as well as next year.
What are some of those holes that you were seeing throughout the season?
"Well, I think that we have to add a couple more people. I think when McDyess is your only veteran proven scorer coming off the bench, and gotta put points on the board, that becomes an issue, because if he's not scoring coming off the bench you really don't know where it's going to come from. It may come from someone else, but you really don't know where, and that has to change. We have to get more proven people that we know that can step in and give it to us. And just other stuff, little stuff, people who can break (down) the defense a little bit more, get us easier shots, somehow score more points in the paint. I thought we depended on jump shots way, way too much."
I don't think there's anyone out there right now who will disagree with that last statement -- the team's reliance on jumpshots was a glaring weakness on numerous occasions in the playoffs. But you can't pin that completely on Saunders. He gave the team a bit more freedom to play how they want to play, and that meant that Rasheed Wallace rarely spent an entire game dominating on the blocks like he's capable of doing. When his three-point shots are dropping, he's hailed as "versatile," but when they're not he simply looks "undisciplined." Hopefully Saunders will rein Wallace in a little bit next season to develop a consistent inside-out game.
Dumars went on to reiterate the need for another reliable option off the bench:
Sometimes the ability just to count on your 5 or 6 guys runs out and you need to add to that. We have to rely less on just the top 5 guys, 6 guys carrying everything. That can only go so long. At some point you've got to start adding to that list. And not just periphery guys. No, not just a ninth or tenth guy. A significant guy who's going to be in that mix where when you talk about them, you talk about that guy also. We've relied on this starting 5, top 6 whatever, for a while now. So that has to change too. We can't just rely and say, 'Well the starting 5 will get it done'. At some point you have to change that."
Personally, I'd like for this guy to be a complete slasher, someone who may or may not have a reliable jumpshot but if nothing else knows how to get to the rim. That's what the new NBA is all about -- all of the defensive rule changes on hand-checking rewards players who can take their man off the dribble. When jumpers aren't falling, it'd be nice to bring in that spark off the bench for instant offense.
Dumars was a busy guy on Monday -- he also appeared on WDFN and answered some more interesting questions. Full-Court Press listened in and paraphrased Dumars' responses:
Q. You took responsibility for drafting Darko. What about Carlos Delfino? Is he part of this team's future?
A. Carlos will be a part of this team in the future. He's high on this kid. He thought Carlos should have played more this year and he told Flip that in no uncertain terms. He was disappointed not to see more of him. The open court guy -- the team could have used that at times. He thought they needed him and he's not giving up on Delfino.
I feel almost vindicated by his answer right here, because I've been championing Delfino's cause all season. Dumars stated that he'd like a solid rotation that goes eight deep -- given the current starting five (assuming Ben Wallace stays), plus McDyess and perhaps the slasher-type player I describe above (who could come via trade or free agency), Delfino may find a way to get regular action next year. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Maurice Evans is traded to facilitate this -- Evans is a fine player that produces well in spurts, but I just don't seem him as a solid fit on this team, and his overall ceiling doesn't seem as high as Delfino's. I know he was sought after before signing with the Pistons, so I imagine there are still some teams that would be interested in acquiring him.
[As for that picture, you can buy his "How to Shoot" DVD from Amazon...]