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The top 10 Pistons disasters of the past 10 years

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons - East QF Game 5 Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Steve wrote this piece for the 10-year anniversary of the Chauncey Billups trade, then went on vacation and the system ate the scheduling. Couple days late, still great. Enjoy.

On November 3, 2008, a date which will live in infamy, the Detroit Pistons traded Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. The franchise hasn’t been the same since.

In the decade that has followed, the Pistons have seen six coaches and more than 80 different players revolve through their doors. They’ve changed ownership and arenas. They went from six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances to zero playoff wins. They’ve gone 331-481 (including the two first round sweeps), good for a 41 percent winning percentage and an average of 33 wins per year (accounting for the lockout shortened 2011-12 season).

It’s been a tough decade for Pistons fans. And it all started 10 years ago today.

So let’s take a sad walk down memory lane to take a look at some of the most infamous moves that have defined the decade.

10. Dumping Kris Middleton

The Pistons missing out on Middleton was the consequence of Joe Dumars’ inability to field a balanced roster in the years after the Billups trade.

The 2012-13 Pistons saw Middleton, Kyle Singler, Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko, and Kim English all fighting for the same minutes.

While it looks incredible in hindsight, Singler was the winner of that melee for minutes. But it was reasonable at the time. Singler was a reliable three point threat who could fill minutes at both wing positions. And he got off to a good start, shooting 38 percent from three through January. He was an older rookie, a bit more polished, didn’t make a ton of mistakes.

But even with an injury to Maggette, Daye and Jerebko being benched, English not being very good, Prince getting traded, Middleton still didn’t get any time. He was injured when the Pistons drafted him and missed the preseason, so somewhat naturally got the last look of that ridiculous logjam. He finished the season with just 475 minutes, about the same as English.

After being traded to Milwaukee the next year, he played all 82 games at 30 minutes per game. He shot 41 percent from three. He continued to improve from there.

Last year in his sixth season, he averaged 20 points per game on 57.7 percent true shooting percentage, five rebounds, four assists, and 1.5 seals. The list of guys that share that line with Middleton are all impressive names. James Harden, Giannis, Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, and DeMarcus Cousins. LeBron James didn’t make the cut (only 1.4 steals).

Middleton has developed into one of the most underrated players in the league and plays under one of the best value contracts. He’s exactly the type of player that the team needed, who quietly has become the best out of all of those young players the team accumulated through the years.

Great job in liking him. Awful job in never giving him a shot.

Still, it’s not completely indefensible. The Pistons had just gone all-in on some sort of weird strategy that put Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond all in the starting lineup at the same time. They needed a point guard to bring that all together. Brandon Knight wasn’t that point guard. Brandon Jennings...maybe? And if a second rounder who couldn’t get on the court is what it takes to swing a Knight for Jennings upgrade, it usually shouldn’t stop a team.

The problem was more one of roster construction than the dumping itself.

9. Drafting Austin Daye and Brandon Knight

It’s interesting the draft miscues that get Pistons fans riled up, Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard in particular. Neither of those two players were bad draft picks. Both had excellent college careers, with Johnson showing excellent two-way potential and Kennard being one of the best scorers in the country.

But both Knight and Daye (heh) showed dubious credentials as prospects.

Austin Daye entered the 2009 draft after his sophomore year having accomplished virtually nothing at Gonzaga. A sophomore who is averaging just 12 points per game is pretty shrug-worthy. Even if his three point shooting percentages were over 40 percent, it was still just one make per game. And his mental red flags were always there. He was an upside pick who gave little reason to believe he’d ever reach that upside.

The 2009 draft class was one loaded with point guards. But between Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, Dumars was convinced he was set at the position. Which left Pistons coaches with little option other than forcing Stuckey at point guard...even if he wasn’t very good at the position. Detroit had their pick of guys who would develop into starting caliber point guards. Guys like Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, and Darren Collison. Instead they languished at point guard, trying to make Stuckey work at the position for the next two seasons until drafting Brandon Knight. Who was also a flop.

Knight was looked at as a value pick, and at the time he was considered a potential top five pick. But that was based more on his predecessor point guards who were coached by John Calipari rather than his own credentials as a prospect. The three previous one-and-dones coached by Calipari were John Wall, Tyreke Evans, and Derrick Rose. Knight benefited greatly from the association. But since Wall, Calipari’s perception as a point guard guru wore off, producing Knight, the Harrison twins, and Marquis Teague. Unfortunately, the Pistons were the ones to buy in on Calipari point guards too late.

In reality, Knight wasn’t a very good point guard. He was a solid scorer, sure. He could shoot, had some nice athletic traits. But he had a weak handle and wasn’t much for creating for his teammates. A point guard who can’t pass or dribble isn’t likely to compare with Wall or Rose. Knight was just more of a combo guard than an actual point guard - ironic since Dumars had just been burnt by investing so heavily in Stuckey, another failed point guard prospect who was actually more of a combo guard.

And in buying on Knight, they missed out on Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. Which has always been puzzling. The Pistons took a pretty bad point guard prospect and missed on Kawhi, but took a pretty good shooting guard and missed on Donovan Mitchell (who, yes, had a good rookie year, but still. Kawhi.). Yet it’s the latter that works Pistons fans into a froth.

Perhaps the most damning though was the consequence these flops made on the point guard position. The misevaluation of Stuckey, Daye, and Knight meant that Pistons spent a solid five years with a dumpster fire at point guard.

Ok. So far we have dumping a guy that eventually became one of the most underrated players in the league and missing on a MVP contender. This post is gonna fucking hurt.

8. Rip Hamilton’s extension

On the day the Pistons announced the Chauncey BIllups trade, they also announced a three year, $34 million extension for Rip Hamilton. While also bringing in another shooting guard in Allen Iverson. It was destined to end badly.

But the most crippling part of the decision was that $34 million was an awful lot of money back then! With the salary cap’s meteoric rise over the past few seasons, teams are better able to get away with gaffe’s like that. Even Jon Leuer’s $41 million doesn’t look great, but eh, you can survive it. Rip’s was much more of a hamper.

At the time Rip’s contract represented 18.4 percent of the salary cap, compared to 11 percent it would currently at. That’s a pretty big difference when you’re talking about a roster of 12 active players.

The bigger issue was the scouting problem. Re-upping on Rip rather than Chauncey showed a poor ability to assess where the Going to Work crew’s value came from. Chauncey was one of the most underrated point guards of his era. Rip could score, he was unique with his off the ball movement and mid-range game. But at the end of the day, he was just a guy.

And a shooting guard who was reliant on his point guard hitting him cutting off the screen, Rip’s value suffered as the Pistons went the route of less point guard-y point guards. He would never again be as effective of a player as he was in his years with Billups.

But perhaps the worst part of the extension was the logjam it created throughout his contract. Let’s extend our shooting guard, then trade for a shooting guard. That’ll end well! Even better, let’s try to make our new franchise shooting guard prospect into a point guard!

Then Iverson spends his final two months as a Piston faking a back injury. So the Pistons followed that up by signing another shooting guard for the largest contract in franchise history at the time. Point 2009 me to the nearest cliff please.

Rip ended up waived in the final season of his extension, the Pistons had to toss in a first round pick to get out of a year of Gordon’s contract, Stuckey ended up as a mediocre player.

And the basis of it all was poor player valuation on the part of Joe Dumars. The player to invest in wasn’t Rip Hamilton. It was Chauncey Billups. And if the goal was to make a splash in free agency, they could have still exactly done that by just letting Rip walk rather than spending Chauncey’s money on Rip.

7. 2016 spending spree

With the new collective bargaining agreement, the NBA salary cap was set to make a huge jump - an increase of more than $30 million over two seasons. So front offices around the league acted like college freshmen with their first credit card.

The Pistons weren’t as irresponsible as some teams. The Trail Blazers spent a cool $350 million on Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, and extending C.J. McCollum. The Knicks handed $72 million to Joakim Noah. The Lakers gave Luol Deng, Jordan Clarkson, and Timofey Mozgov $186 million.

Things got wild.

So the Pistons’ problems pale in comparison to all that. But still, they would have been much better off sitting that summer out. It started innocuously enough. They signed Ish Smith to $18 million over three years, to shore up a backup point guard spot that had been a weakness for the two seasons prior. Ok.

After the debacle of a trade then non-trade for Donatas Montiejunas, the Pistons scratched their itch for a stretchy big man by signing Jon Leuer for $41 million. That’s some big money for a guy without too much of a track record.

A couple of moderate overpays for backup players can tighten up the balance sheet, but it wouldn’t have been too big of a deal. But the front office couldn’t pass up the chance to let some extra money go unused, signing Boban Marjanovic for $21 million even though they had an excellent backup center already in place in Aron Baynes.

The logic was that Baynes had a player option for the following season so he’d opt out since played himself into a bigger payday. So Boban they’d already be set for a future backup center with Boban.

Well the first part of that played out correctly, but the rest of it was just a mess. Since teams went so nuts the previous summer, after opting out of his $6.5 million deal Baynes found himself with few offers. He actually wound up signing with the Celtics for a one-year deal worth less than that player option.

And despite prolific production in limited time, Boban could never earn Stan Van Gundy’s trust and lost the backup center job to Eric Moreland - who was making four times less than Boban.

So, Ish was a reasonable signing. But Leuer and Boban were bad ones. Ideally you’d like to get a backup point guard for less than $6 million, but that’s not terrible. But you can definitely get players as useful as Boban and Leuer for cheaper. In fact, the same front office that signed them did find as useful players than them for cheaper.

While Leuer was out last season with a balky ankle, Anthony Tolliver was terrific while filling the role for just $3.3 million. During the spending spree of 2016, the Kings signed AT for $16 million over two years, but even that would have been preferred over Leuer’s deal.

Overpaying for role players became a hallmark of the Jeff Bower/Stan Van Gundy regime. Some worked out (Aron Baynes), some were ok (Jodie Meeks, Ish Smith), but too many were just overpays for traits that could have been gotten for far cheaper (Leuer, Boban, Langston Galloway).

You don’t want to be constantly shopping from the bargain bin, but you also don’t want to go paying double what you need to pay to fill a role. Especially because the strategy goes in conflict with the move of stretching Josh Smith’s contract. If you’re going to stretch Smith while overpaying role players, you’re going to be constantly sniffing the luxury tax.

The result is that, without a major trade, the Pistons are over the cap until at least 2020.

6. Retaining Joe Dumars

We all wanted Joe Dumars to stay Jod. In Jod We Trust.

Somehow, for whatever reason, Jod lost his Midas touch. We hoped it wasn’t true, we denied it as long as we could, we looked on every bright side. But by 2013 it was clear.

The constant coaching turnover, targeting Rodney Stuckey as a franchise player, overpaying for crummy players, the weird roster balance. For six years, he was this franchise’s biggest problem. Combo guards and long, smooth players who can really stroke it, Dumars turned himself into a punchline.

He took the team from a 59-win roster that had made five straight Eastern Conference Finals to four straight seasons of 30 wins or fewer. And each of those seasons, Dumars thought he had assembled a competitive squad. By the time the franchise parted ways with him in 2014, Dumars was voted the worst GM in the league (which, to be honest, is kind of a mean thing to vote on, right?).

Waiting one season too long on parting ways with Dumars led to a number of problems. Lawrence Frank coached Andre Drummond better than any coach has since. He was fired for Dumars’ lousy rosters. But of course the biggest issue was waiting one year too long gave Dumars the chance for his Hail Mary: Josh Smith.

Smith was just the culmination of everything Dumars had been doing wrong ever since trading away Chauncey Billups. While he drafted reasonably well, he did a poor job in putting his players in a position to succeed, was awful in the free agent market, had a poor sense of how good his rosters were, and always looked to reload rather than rebuild.

Whenever going into the criticisms of Dumars’ tenure, it’s always requires the obligatory line about his role in three NBA Championships and his brilliant job in assembling the Going to Work crew. Both definitely true. But his subsequent failures set the franchise up for a decade of failure.

5. Andre Drummond’s post up experiment

If you’ve been around DBB for any period of time at all, yeah, you knew this would be here when you saw my name on the byline.

In Andre Drummond’s first two seasons, he showed the potential to be a top 10 player in the league. Instead, he’s only just maybe a top 10 center.

Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Nikola Jokic are all clearly ahead of him as better centers. And anyone paying attention would also have DeAndre Jordan, Clint Capela, and Steven Adams ahead of him as well.

It’s a shame. It shouldn’t be the case.

In those first two seasons, Drummond had the best rebounding percentage in the league by two full percentage points, had the second highest steal percentage of any big man, the seventh highest block percentage, and was 24th in the league in true shooting percentage despite only shooting 40 percent from the free throw line.

In season three, Drummond took an extra three shot attempts per 36 minutes that resulted in an increase of just one point per 36. His true shooting percentage dropped nearly 10 percentage points. It’s the largest TS plummet that I’ve been able to find in the league’s history.

From 2014 until they ended the post up experiment in 2017, Andre Drummond was the most inefficient chucker in the league. No player took as many shots as Drummond while posting a lower true shooting percentage. To go from a 60 percent true shooting percentage to that is an incredible fall.

Drummond grew increasingly disinterested defensively as well. His defended field goal percentage continued to rise from a respectable 47.6 percent in 2014-15 to 51.6 percent by 2016-17. That was one of the worst marks in the league for a starting center, as was his abysmal defensive rating. He posted a net rating of -6.3 that season. His failures on the defensive end were beyond just the numbers - I wrote a long breakdown of his issues at the time.

Last year was a definite bounce-back for Drummond as he abandoned the post up game and refocused somewhat on the defensive end. But he has yet to return to the form he showed in those first two seasons. While still an elite rebounder, he’s mostly just an average contributor to the team’s offensive and defensive efforts.

Back in 2014 I predicted a breakout season for Andre Drummond - so long as he avoided the back-to-the-basket game. Between what we visioned for him back then and what he’s become, it’s a wide gulf. And it all started with the post ups.

4. Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon signing

These signings were all part of the bigger strategy for Dumars, one that never worked out. It was a way to get younger while also staying competitive. Not a terrible idea, but never correctly executed.

Part of the idea of trading Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson was that Iverson was an expiring contract, so the team would get some expanded salary cap space. Billups had just signed a four-year, $46 million extension the previous season, so that would get the team out from under those dollars in theory (even though Billups easily surpassed the value of his contract - and they pissed a nice chunk of that potential cap space away by extending Rip Hamilton, who did not surpass the value of his contract).

Even the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva made sense in a way. A guy coming off a 20-point-per-game season who was theoretically just entering his prime and had never shot under 40 percent from three point range, that type of guy makes sense to target. But not if you just spent $34 million on a shooting guard.

And Charlie Villanueva was lucky in that he just happened to barely predate the analytics movement. A 24 year old who posted 16 points per game and could shoot from three, what’s not to like (You asked, before true shooting percentage was a thing)?

So while neither was egregiously terrible, the result was terrible. It was a nice combination of bad roster building and bad scouting. That makes for a 30 or fewer-win team. Oh, and plus the management of it all.

They went into the re-loading process with basically just a 22-year-old Jonas Jerebko and 23-year-old Rodney Stuckey. They could have also had a 22-year-old Amir Johnson and a 24-year-old Arron Afflalo.

Ugh. It was so close.

Stuckey, Gordon, Afflalo, Prince, Jason Maxiell, Jerebko, Villanueva, Amir, that’s a rotation that could make some sense. If you’ve got a guy around to orchestrate it. A guy like Chauncey Billups.

So much comes back to this.

3. Three year trade-less streak

Following the death of the franchise’s second owner, Bill Davidson, the Pistons went into a state of paralysis. They fell under the ownership his widow, Karen Davidson. She clearly had no interest in owning a NBA team. Which resulted in a really weird period.

On July 13, 2009 the Pistons traded away Afflalo, Walter Sharpe, and some dough for a future second round pick. Sigh. Ok. They traded away Spellcheck for nothing. It would be nearly three years before they made another trade - which was to dump the final year of Ben Gordon’s contract along with a first round pick in order to free up the cap space to sign Josh Smith. Sigh. Ok.

But three years without making a trade is incredible. Especially for a team that went 82-150 over that stretch. The team lacked talent and left a major form of acquiring talent completely unused.By comparison, over the past three seasons the Pistons have made 11 trades.

Pistons owner Bill Davidson passed away on March 13, 2009 and the rumbles were that Karen Davidson had handcuffed Dumars against making moves. It’s an obviously sexist trope, making the widow of the beloved owner the uncaring villain. Hell, it was the plot of the movie Major League.

The rumors of Karen Davidson being responsible for Dumars’ lack of trades came from former Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp, suggesting that Davidson vetoed Dumars’ attempts to trade Hamilton for Carlos Boozer and hiring Avery Johnson to a rich contract as coach. Dumars publicly said little on the matter, but seemed to verify Davidson as the scapegoat after the sale to Tom Gores by saying “Sense of freedom — that’s a good term. Listen, you do these jobs and you have to throw yourself into them completely 100 percent. You can’t do these jobs with any level of success if you’re 50 percent, 60 percent of what you can and can’t do.”

The Boozer trade was almost certainly bullshit. The Pistons had already paid Villanueva big money to play power forward and the Jazz weren’t looking to add major salary in return for Boozer. He eventually was traded in a salary dump to the Bulls. And the issue with Johnson was years, not dollars. He was still being paid by the Mavs after being fired there and Dumars had already established his coaching carousel.

So it’s worth noting in retrospect that throwing Karen Davidson under the bus was remarkably uncool. The rumbles were loud enough that she was loudly booed during Dennis Rodman’s jersey retirement in 2011 - while Dumars notably was cheered. And Dumars was well known for his willingness to leak items to the media. He was fined $500,000 for leaking stories to Adrian Wojnarowski, the third largest fine that the league had ever handed out up to that point. He had cozy relationships throughout the media world, which led to plenty of praising articles about him and a willingness to spin stories to his advantage. All while keeping him looking like the good guy.

Davidson was simply a scapegoat.

Almost certainly, it didn’t play out like how Dumars suggested. The tradeless streak lasted for another year after Gores bought the team from Davidson.

The blame certainly laid with Dumars. He could have traded salary off for picks in an early form of The Process if he was getting pressure to cut costs. But instead year after year just passed along with a roster that couldn’t compete for the playoffs or yield a top pick with no attempts to improve the personnel.

The most notable chance? A vintage Woj bomb, that Dumars hung up on an offer of Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Stuckey. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie at the time put it perfectly:

What would Detroit have gotten? Sweet, sweet relief.

Relief (in the form of Ray Allen’s expiring contract) from an awful extension Dumars handed to Hamilton last fall. Relief from the second half of a massive two years owed to Prince, a fine player who is probably worth half of what he’s owed. And a huge upgrade from Stuckey to Rondo, even if Rondo is looking for a contract extension this summer, as opposed to next.

Best? Assuming the Pistons submit to a rebuilding process, no easy decision, this would ensure that Detroit had, possibly, around $37 million in cap space for the summer of 2010 before Rondo’s extension takes hold. That’s including a pair of first round contracts to take to both this summer and next, and with a conservative estimate regarding the NBA’s payroll structure for semi-famous offseason.

This is a direction you have to head toward. You’re rebuilding. Deal with it. Deal, aware of it.

Many of us bristled at the idea. At DBB we called it a laughable lowball. But Rondo went on to make four straight All Star appearances after that offer, four more than Stuckey would ever see.

But what if? The Pistons could have flipped Allen for more youth. Rondo might have been the guy needed to pull all of that young talent together. The Pistons went on to win 27 games that year. It couldn’t have been any worse. Well, I guess it could have been, but at least it wouldn’t have been being accidentally awful.

It’s also worth noting that this rejection fully debunks the idea that Karen Davidson cutting costs was responsible for Dumars’ trade apathy. If she were truly pinching the pursestrings as tightly as suggested, that’s a trade she would have surely forced through.

2. Josh Smith signing

Instead of actually writing anything for this section, I’ll just redirect you to Mike Payne’s writeup from the week after the signing. Covers everything that needs to be said about it and was delivered at the time.

1. The Chauncey Billups trade

Make no mistake, everybody is in play right now,” said Joe Dumars, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations. “There are no sacred cows here. You lose that sacred cow status when you lose three straight years.”

“I think this team became way too content and did not show up with a sense of urgency to get it done,” Dumars said at a news conference. “I can’t sugarcoat it. It is what it is.”

“The idea you can make yourself bad and make yourself good again, that’s a farce,” he said. “I have no interest in completely ripping the team down. Will I look to make significant changes? Yeah, you’re damn right I will.”

“We’re going to talk to people this week. This will not be a long, drawn-out process,” Dumars said. “The next coach is going to be handed a good team. You worry more when you don’t have the players to compete at the level you need them to.”

From June 4, 2008. Five months later, Dumars would follow through on those big words.

He was talking about a 59 win team that had just lost in six to a Celtics team that would go on to win the Finals.

When Dumars fired Flip Saunders, he said:

“The last 10 minutes of Game 6 was a microcosm of the last three years for me,” Dumars said. “We’re good enough, right there, we didn’t get it done.”

During Flip Saunders’ three seasons coaching the Pistons, they had a net rating in the top five for each. So perhaps the problem was postseason success? Well. They advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of those three seasons and, again, had a net rating in the top four during each of those postseasons.

Perhaps Dumars built his Going to Work success on the eye test and making gut calls. But that same approached doomed him. Using any quantifiable method, Saunders’ tenure was a resounding success. Dumars criticized his team for not having enough urgency for winning a championship. In reality, Dumars had taken for granted how difficult it is to build a team that good.

Should the Going to Work squad have been torn down? Well, it’s certainly reasonable to start prepping for the future. With Billups crossing the 30 year old milestone and Hamilton and Prince soon to follow, what comes next was worth considering. And it’s never good to let emotional ties prevent improving the team.

But it’s also important not to make a move simply because you’ve got a lot of feelings going on. And that’s what Dumars did.

In the 2007-08 season, Chauncey Billups averaged 17 points per game on 62 percent true shooting percentage, 6.8 assists with 2.1 turnovers, and had 13.5 win shares with .257 win shares per 48 minutes. Second on the team in win shares was Rip with 7.7.

Look up the number of players who have ever had a season like that. Actually, I’ll do it for you.

Billups was a legitimate top ten player in the NBA. Dumars simply didn’t realize it.

Folks bemoan the increase of analytics into the NBA. Those who do are usually just really bad at it. The nice thing about analytics is that it allows one to question what they’re seeing with their eyes - just like the eye test is nice to use as a cross reference with analytics that seem surprising.

Dumars was always behind on the analytics movement.

That same failure could be used to blame the mis-evaluation of Rodney Stuckey. Part of what made Billups replaceable was because they had already found his replacement in Stuckey. In a guy who had just finished his rookie year averaging 7.6 points per game on 48.4 percent true shooting percentage along with a couple of assists and rebounds.

Stuckey shined in the playoffs though, right? He went 5-6 in a first round game against the 76ers. He dropped 19 points in Game Three of the second round against the Magic. Had 17 points, four assists, and four steals in the ECF.

But averaged out, those playoff games looked nearly identical to his season numbers. Still, that summer Stuckey played with Team USA and earned comparisons to Dwayne Wade.

Stuckey was in no way equipped to fill the shoes of a player like Billups. Especially in his second NBA season.

The on-court results were predictably disastrous. Stuckey had an OK sophomore season, but it was clear that the hopes of stardom were misplaced. Hamilton bristled at coming off the bench. Iverson disappeared in March with a “back injury” that was conveniently timed with a planned move to the bench. AI had failed stops the following season in Memphis and a Philly, but the trade essentially led to the end of his career.

No one was happy and they put that mess in the hands of Michael Curry, a first time head coach with only one year of experience as an assistant.

Where Dumars had success as a general manager was by figuring out where value could be exploited. He did so through trades in building the Going to Work crew. Rather than going back to the same well, he looked forward to what he saw as the next area of opportunity: free agency.

Dumars had success as a general manager by exploiting value. He caught Chauncey Billups on the cheap as a free agent. Got Ben Wallace tossed into a sign and trade for Grant Hill. Landed Rasheed Wallace for a couple of picks in the upcoming draft (one of which, ICYMI, turned into Josh Smith).

Dumars looked at the summer of 2008 that saw Baron Davis move to the Clippers, that saw Elton Brand bolt to the 76ers, and Corey Maggette head to the Warriors. So perhaps it looked like free agency could be the new way to quickly land elite talent.

By the time the free agency market cleared up, 2009 would be a lean one. Names like Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Andre Miller, and Anderson Varejao were the top players available at their position. Gross. Especially when you dismantled a dynasty to get there.

It was a cascade of bad decision making.

In the end, the Billups set the stage for everything that would follow over the next decade. The fall of Dumars, his resistance to the analytics movement, his inability to assess the quality of his roster and subsequent scapegoating of his coaches. The team’s inability to stabilize the point guard situation. Overspending in free agency.

It left the Pistons depleted of their top talent. It left the roster imbalanced. The locker room fractured.

The ripples of that disastrous trade are felt on almost every other point in this list. It’s been the ghost that has haunted the franchise for the past 10 years, as again and again it refuses to rebuild while placing false hope in prospective saviors.

Or, as Tyrion Lannister put it: