Before delving into our future, it might be worth exploring our past. In particular, it is worth exploring what has made Joe Dumars so successful in reshaping the Piston franchise.
If there is one hallmark of Dumars’ management genius, it is his aversion to bad contracts. Virtually every Piston player of this decade has been an outstanding value for the money. In instances where this was not so, Dumars has acted decisively. He even unloaded Jerry Stackhouse at the looming threat of a bad contract on the horizon.
In order to avoid overpaying players, Dumars has executed two fundamental strategies:
The first is to locate bargain big men. In a world where stiffs like Jerome James and Tim Thomas can earn $6M per year, and mediocrities like Sam Dalembert get paid like stars, Joe D. has made out like a bandit. The Wallaces, McDyess, Amir, Maxiell, and a host of late-career defensive stoppers have manned the Detroit paint on the cheap. This has allowed Dumars to splurge on the guard/wing positions, which see a higher return on investment.
In order to accomplish this, Dumars has employed what I would call the management style of a patient risk taker. Remember when the Pistons went to the EC Finals with Cliff Robinson? Dumars could have justified throwing six years at Andrew DeClercq in a desperate attempt to get "over the top". Instead, he signed Elden Campbell to a modest short-term deal, and trusted Mehmet Okur to step up. When the opportunity came to get Rasheed Wallace, Dumars got the green light and pounced.
Dumars has shown a remarkable ability not to hyperventilate (aren’t we glad we’re not paying Ben Wallace $14.5 million this year?) in tough situations. Even this season’s massive deal to bring Allen Iverson aboard could hardly be described as a panic move.
The latter move, in fact, is the very reason there is a part two to this little analysis. Joe Dumars has options, and the Pistons have an imminent future beyond our existing roster. Anyone interested in reading this article is aware that there is a free agent bonanza, so I won’t bore you with the details.
Now, some housecleaning. As I see it, we are building on a core of Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, Jason Maxiell and Tayshaun Prince. This makes a lot of sense since all four players are in different stages of their career. One might consider Amir Johnson part of that core as well, which adds fifth strata. Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess are unlikely to figure prominently due to their age, and Arron Afflalo has yet to demonstrate that he is a bankable future asset.
Of course, the unexpected can happen, but I think we can largely agree on the above, yah? With that in mind, I can conceive of three positive directions we could go from a roster standpoint. Here are they:
1. The win-now approach.
Iverson’s $21 million expiring contract affords the opportunity to make a big splash on the free agent market. It also provides remarkable flexibility to tweak the current roster. At present, I stand by my contention that this roster is not going to compete for the championship.
By the same token, the Pistons are good enough that the right change of personnel could re-open the wonder for even this season. Would the Knicks consider a Kwame for David Lee trade? Sheed and a bad contract? Would Utah part with Carlos Boozer if they are in the doldrums at the trade deadline?
That’s just an example, and late offers are almost sure to stream in as teams abandon hope for 2009. Even teams like the Blazers will be looking to move assets to position themselves. Dumars should be ready (and flexible enough) to bite on these kinds of offers if they can get us back into championship form. Who knows, AI and Sheed could be part of a mini-run that keeps Detroit on top of the Eastern Conference.
2. The stutter-step approach.
Wherein Dumars watches the season play out, and makes a gradual step toward rebuilding. If David Lee is still a target, a Kwame-Amir-2010 Pick package might be enough to convince the Knicks to think sign and trade. Such a maneuver would allow the Pistons to upgrade a position AND have room for a 2010 signing.
But David Lee isn’t the only prize out there. Zydrunas Ilgauskas has an early termination option, and you have to know he’ll take it in hopes of scoring one last deal. Acquiring Big Z wouldn’t be as absurd as it sounds. Big Z may be 33, but his odometer says 30, thanks to some early foot injuries. And, of course, the signing would cripple the Cavs. At worst, we’d jack up the asking price.
Finally, there has been much discussion about Carlos Boozer. While I still think he’s Heat bound, Dumars can feel free to put forward the best possible case, knowing that he can always fall back on ...
3. Doubling-down on 2010.
The most dangerous game. Remember 2000? Remember Antonio Davis for the max? While the prospect of an abundance of free agents in 2010 is certainly tantalizing, the Pistons have a relatively short shopping list. Basically, if the Pistons have the full max to spend at this juncture, they are almost sure to look for a big man.
Further, Detroit will be faced with the prospect of finding a player to compliment Amir (also a free agent) and Maxiell. Otherwise, we are left with an even longer shopping list. Worse, we will have to find money for Tayshaun Prince, who is almost certainly on a number of teams’ shopping lists. Making a move in 2009 gives us more flexibility for trades, etc ...
Yadda, yadda ... Caveat, caveat. Let’s get to the Christmas presents ...
In the next post.