Exactly one year ago today, Joe Dumars made his first significant in-season trade since obtaining Rasheed Wallace. He dealt Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye to the Grizzlies, who sent Rudy Gay to the Raptors, and the Raptors sent Jose Calderon to the Pistons.
And on the anniversary of that trade allow me to make a bold request: Do nothing.
Detroit Pistons fans were frustrated for years as management seemed to specialize in doing nothing; in being paralyzed after it was clear the signings of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon were not going to keep the team competitive. But nothing is exactly what Detroit needs right now.
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Frankly, doing nothing right now is also really hard. Doing nothing takes courage. After all, Dumars just spent a combined $78 million on high-priced free agents Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. These moves were supposed to propel the team to the playoffs. Instead, the team finds itself closer to the second-worst record in the NBA than it does to a .500 record.
The easiest thing to do now is to panic and forget about the future. The temptation is to "fix" this broken team by any means necessary. The easiest thing to do is to try and save your job and risk a known gain now for an unknown amount of pain later.
The easiest thing is, of course, to trade Greg Monroe. He's 23; he's about to get really expensive; and the team already has a cornerstone big man waiting in the wings. You could trade Monroe and instantly upgrade the small forward position (Jeff Green, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Evan Turner are names often tossed around) and maybe even get an additional draft pick or two for your troubles.
Detroit Bad Boys' own revken already outlined the logic and illogic of trading Monroe, and I encourage everyone to read it carefully. And if this team was hovering around .500, or a trade could vault them from respectable but inevitable playoff fodder to legitimately dangerous first-round team ready to take the next step, trading Monroe might make some sense.
But this isn't just about trading Monroe. Or building around Smith.
This team is nowhere close to that. None of its moves have worked. Not the signing of a defensive stopper, not the changing of the guard at the point guard position, and not any of its supposed new perimeter offensive threats. The team has been playing like one of the five worst teams in the NBA for the past 90 days, while at other times beating some of the best teams in the NBA. The team doesn't have to tank, and it doesn't have to shift into "win at all costs" mode. It can, simply, let things play out. Play the games, play to win, and see where the franchise is at after the season.
This is not the time to trade Greg Monroe. It's not the time to fire head coach Maurice Cheeks, who, for all his faults, has been put in an impossible position. This is not the time to sell a the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva for a slightly better player with multiple years remaining on their deal. It's not the time to think about attaching draft picks to a package in an effort to jettison Smith or Jennings with their value at an all-time low.
Owner Tom Gores told the team and the community it was time to make the playoffs. All the moves Dumars made since were designed to accomplish that goal. Maybe the team will figure things out and maybe they won't. It is time to find out.
And even though there was a playoff mandate and Dumars spent a lot of money, not even the biggest fans of the offseason moves thought Detroit was building a championship contender. They thought he was building a competitive team that could be a stepping stone to a truly great team built around Andre Drummond. They were adding talent to a team bereft of it. Assets that could be flipped as the team evolved.
And while one could argue about the true value of the assets - whether you're talking about Monroe, Smith or Jennings - the strategy was pretty straightforward. Besides, improvement or not, playoffs or not, Dumars might be spending his final year as president of basketball operations in Detroit. His contract is up after this season and he might step aside or move into a different post in the organization. Whatever comes to pass, his legacy is cemented into the bedrock of the franchise.
He brought two championships to Detroit as a player and another one as an executive. He made the team not only relevant but one of the league's top organizations in the league for nearly a decade on the hardwood and another decade in the front office. The fans love, and will continue to love, what Dumars has meant to Detroit basketball.
Dumars doesn't need to and shouldn't want to make a panic move in an effort to save his job. And the trade one year ago is a case in point as to why. Another piece of that blockbuster trade a year ago was the Toronto Raptors whose general manager was in nearly the same position Dumars finds himself in today.
Bryan Colangelo was looking at years of disappointments and looked to be on the outs in Toronto. He gave the go-ahead to ship out a good young piece in Ed Davis and a quality PG on an expiring contract in Calderon so he could land Gay, a high-priced player who was supposed to be the missing piece that would propel the Raps into the playoffs. Needless to say, it didn't work out in Toronto and Colangelo was let go after the season.
The new GM's first order of business was to try and undo some of the mistakes from the previous regime, including sending out the bloated contracts of Andrea Bargnani and Gay. And the fact that Masai Ujiri was able to not only deal those players but able to get value in return should give Detroit fans hope.
But instead of giving himself or the next regime problems to be solved, Dumars should stay the course. If Dumars isn't back, a new GM should be the one that makes the ultimate decision on whether to retain Monroe for a possible post-rookie max deal or trade him for other pieces. A new GM should decide what kind of future Smith and Jennings have on this team and whether coach Mo Cheeks is the person to get the most out of the talents found on the roster.
Maybe the team, one of the youngest in the NBA, learns to play better together. Maybe they learn how to communicate better on the defensive end. Maybe some of those perimeter threats start actually making perimeter shots. Maybe the starting lineup is shifted so one of the front court players moves to the bench. Or maybe what we're seeing now is the true competitive level of this team and it truly is one of the five worst in the league. Either outcome would be clarifying.
Besides, the odds that anyone is going to give Dumars a Get Out of Jail Free card, taking on Smith or Jennings for an expiring contract, are exceedingly low right now when their value is at an all-time low. And the team really doesn't have a path to truly "tank." The franchise won't be sending out good pieces for nothing and the only trade-able piece that contributes positively on the floor is Stuckey and I'm not sure he moves the "tanking" needle very much.
Dumars, instead, should be focusing on moves being made at the appropriate time - after this disappointing season has played itself out. Thinking truly long-term there is no urgency to deal now. Dumars has already assured reasonable financial flexibility beyond this season. And any decisions that significantly impact both the talent and financial outlook of the franchise going forward should be made after the season, whether Dumars is in charge or his replacement. Now is not the time to make moves with dramatic consequences years down the road. Now is the time to do ... nothing.