Joe Dumars was a guest on Chad Ford's ESPN podcast "The Daily Dish" on Tuesday. DBB reader (and doctored photo contributor) Tim alerted me to the episode, and if you have 15 minutes to spare, it's worth a listen (that's a direct link to the mp3 -- if you want to listen, I recommend right-clicking it and saving it to your computer first).
It starts out with talk about the trade deadline (Joe was willing to take a risk, but no other GM's were), followed by the Chris Webber factor (even Joe didn't realize it'd work out this well), Ben Wallace's reception at the Palace (Joe was surprised by the booing), comparing this year's squad to last year's team (he thinks this year's team is in position for more success) and then the real gem: the Flip Saunders/Minnesota question.
The question is asked right around the 9:38 mark, and I've done my best to transcribe this portion. I've edited out a few superfluous "um's" and "you know's", but this is otherwise verbatim:
Chad Ford: Why do the Minnesota papers keep writing that Flip Saunders is coaching the Gophers next year?
Joe Dumars: Well, I mean, I don't know. [laughter]
Chad Ford: It's like every week there's a story about it.
Joe Dumars: Yeah, every week there's a story there. And you have to know how we are here in Detroit about stuff like that. OK, if, if, you know, we always say, look, we're going to be a good team, we're going to be a good team and we love having Flip here, you know, and he's done a really good job this year, and you know, at the end of the year that's his call, what he wants to do. And I haven't talked to him about it, he hasn't said a word to me about it, I haven't said one word to him about it, because it's not my focus.
But, you know, stuff like that comes up, obviously we've gone through something like that before, so, for us here, to be honest with you Chad, I'm telling you, and you know how John and I, John Hammond and I talk all the time, it's really not a big deal to us. It really isn't. I mean, we sit there and look at it, and say, "Oh, okay, that's the Minnesota stuff that's going on, and, so be it."
Chad Ford: I'm not sure why you'd want to give up a head coaching job with the Pistons to coach the Gophers, but that's just me.
Joe Dumars: [laughter]
I've listened to this a couple of times and I can't make up my mind what he really means in his answer. It almost, almost sounds like he's of the attitude that the Pistons will have a good team with or without Flip Saunders, though that admittedly requires reading between the lines and putting words in his mouth, neither of which is very responsible.
In any case, for such a hot button topic that keeps recurring, I don't understand at all why Flip Saunders hasn't talked about it with anybody except the local media. I mentioned on the FanHouse a couple of weeks ago that University of Minnesota's school president Robert Bruininks told reporters that Saunders is the school's No. 1 candidate. Saunders countered by saying he hasn't talked to anyone in the school ... but why not just place a quick call and say, "quit talking about me, I'm not interested"?
The St. Paul Pioneer-Press quoted Flip's wife Debbie (who lives in Minnesota during the season, mind you) as saying, "I don't ask, and he doesn't tell" when asked about the rumors. I have a hard time believing it's never come up, or if that really is the case, I have a hard time understanding it -- especially since their son Ryan is currently a junior on the Gophers squad.
Flip was recently asked if he's talked to owner Bill Davidson about the rumors, and he said he didn't feel a need to since they weren't true. Whether they're true or not, I'm not sure it really matters anymore -- the Detroit media has done a respectable job ignoring the whispers, but writers in Minnesota keep insisting it's going to happen, even dragging former Gophers coach Dan Monson into the middle of things and getting him to imply that not only will Flip get the job, but that the wheels were set in motion before he was even fired this past November.
That's a serious charge, and as baseless as it may be, you don't think it's worth a five-minute phone call saying, "Hey, Mr. D, forget what you heard because it just ain't true"? Or stopping Joe Dumars in the hallway and say, "It's totally B.S., sorry some hacks are creating a distraction"?
And for that matter, why hasn't Dumars popped his head into Saunders' office and asked, "Hey, anything I need to know?" This isn't just a blip on the radar, this is apparently a recurring topic of a conversation, no matter how brief, between Dumars and Hammond, the team's VP of basketball operations.
A lot of people have dismissed the rumors simply based on the financial aspect, but I don't think that's as much of an issue as people are making it out to be. Consider this: he's set to make at least $9.5 million over the next two years, not including unspecified performance bonuses. From what I understand, even the highest-paid college coaches only make a bit more than $2 million a season (not including shoe money), so even if Minnesota were willing to offer that, that's a difference of at least $5.5 million over two years.
But (and I'm kind of re-hashing what I've said before on the FanHouse) ... if he were to leave Detroit, who's to say that he can't negotiate some kind of buyout? Larry Brown burned all kinds of bridges by openly discussing other job scenarios with the Cavaliers during the playoffs, and he still managed to leave with $7 million as he headed out the door.
For the sake of argument (and I realize this may be a stretch), let's say Flip convinces the team to give him half of his remaining money, or close to $5 million. Now, all of a sudden, the money disparity isn't much of an issue.
He's still leaving some money on the table, but he's also gaining one season to coach his son in college, the ability to live in the same house as his family instead of living alone in Michigan for half of the year and the chance to coach in front of a fan-base that's been fervently begging him to return (Can you imagine the Palace crowd chanting "We want Flip!"? Neither can I.) instead of one that's calling for his head half of the time and understating what he adds to the team the other half.
What's that worth? A million? It sounds like a lot, but that's just a fraction of what Saunders has been earning per year the last several seasons.
Sure, there's the whole "leaving the pro's before winning an NBA title" thing going, but I think that might matter more to fans than it does someone forced to live apart from his family for half of the year. And besides, as much as it pains me to admit it, if the Pistons can't win this year, Saunders has no real reason to think they ever will before his contract is up anyways. I may be in the minority (and I hate admitting what I'm about to say), but I expect a lot of roster turnover this summer if the Pistons fall short of the title, especially if they fail to make the Finals. And with two first-round picks in a loaded draft and Chauncey Billups' future in the air, Dumars will have ample opportunity to completely re-shape the team.
Here's what I think is going down: I think Saunders is seriously considering leaving, and I think he has absolutely no problem lying through his teeth to the media. In his profession, that's not so much a character flaw as a job requirement -- just ask Nick Saban. That said, I don't think Saunders wants to lie to anyone he actually respects or signs his checks, such as Dumars or Davidson; hence, the complete avoidance of the subject. As for Detroit's fans, heck, they never really liked him anyways, and his departure will be quickly forgotten if Dumars makes the ultimate PR move by bringing in Bill Laimbeer to be the new head coach (which, despite the risk, I would completely endorse).
Maybe all of this is making a mountain out of a molehill, but that's my take. If you read this much, I'm sure you have some thoughts of your own -- let's hear them in the comments.