Wednesday, February 24, 2010

With all due respect...

Joe Dumars—the player—will always have a place in my heart. His rainbow jumper and in-your-face defense brought two NBA Championships to Detroit when Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan ruled the world. Those were my formative years as a sports fan so his legacy as an iconic Detroit athlete will certainly stand at the top for me with Barry, Zeke, Stevie Y, and Tram. Joe Dumars—the General Manager—however, has worn out his welcome. I know that sounds harsh and, trust me, it was difficult to write. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the situation. I’m guessing that most Detroit fans agree with me but for the few who don’t, let me ask just one question: what has Joe D done that can even remotely be considered “effective” since February 19, 2004? It’s been over six years since he made the trade for Rasheed Wallace that led to an NBA Championship. It’s also been over six years since anyone has been able to say a good thing about Joe the GM.

Joe deserves credit for assembling a championship roster in a city that by mere mention sends free agents running for cover. He acquired Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton via savvy trades. He stole Chauncey Billups off the free agent market. He scored big by drafting Tayshaun Prince last in the first round and then capped it all off by acquiring Rasheed for essentially nothing at the trade deadline. That finished product won an NBA Championship. It was a brilliant lesson in team building. Like fresh produce, however, NBA teams have shelf lives. If you let produce sit on the counter for too long, it goes bad— really bad. Joe D let his team deteriorate long after it was obvious that it was no longer salvageable. It went rotten and he did nothing to stop it.

I’ve been willing to give Joe D a pass for quite some time. An NBA Championship certainly earns a GM a requisite amount of goodwill. After seeing Joe’s malaise last far too long, I’m willing to define “requisite amount of goodwill” as “six years.” Joe’s inability to move Prince or Hamilton—not just this year but the last few years—has been mindboggling. Those moves should’ve happened three years ago. It became quite clear once the Pistons were bounced by the Heat in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals that he was going to ride his team into the ground even to the detriment of its future. On one hand, remaining loyal to the players that brought you a championship is honorable. However, every GM who has ever tried to milk every last basket out of a championship team without an exit plan has lived to regret it. Joe should know that more than anyone after what happened to the Bad Boys team that he played for.

I’m guessing that Joe thought the rebuilding process was going to be fairly “easy” and thus neglected to put the proper emphasis on it when things were going well. That’s really the only way I can rationalize how horrible he has performed his job. The fact that he shipped off Billups for Iverson in a cap-freeing move gave me cause for optimism. It was a bold move but necessary, in my opinion. I was convinced that it was the first step in Joe’s secret plan to rebuild the Pistons into a championship contender. Instead, he took the money from Iverson’s expiring contract (along with the money that freed up when Rasheed left) and wasted it on two players who are more known for their flaws than their abilities. The acquisitions of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon nearly drained every last ounce of confidence I had in Joe’s ability to turn things around. In fact, “dread” is the perfect word to use to describe my state-of-mind when these moves were announced. However, those moves only “nearly” drained the entirety of my confidence. What happened last week, however, ran my confidence tank completely dry.

Earlier this season, Joe expressed interest in seeing his team “healthy” before making any major moves. The idea being that, despite early-season struggles, maybe the Pistons were actually “good” when healthy. And, of course, maybe if I put a quarter in a slot machine, I’ll win $250,000. If you have watched the Pistons at all this season or even follow the NBA in even a remedial capacity, you would know that Joe’s desire to see his team “healthy” screams incompetence. I don’t know what Joe expects to see from a healthy team that simply glancing at the roster wouldn’t easily reveal. Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey play the same position. One of them has to go. Tayshaun Prince and Charlie Villanueva play the same position. One of them has to go. No amount of “health” is going to change the fact that Prince and Rip are redundant players who essentially create a black hole of $22 million.

That’s something that should be obvious before watching this team play a single minute of basketball. When it comes to actually watching the team play, it becomes even more obvious that major moves need to happen and they need to happen now. Other than an aging Ben Wallace, the Pistons have no defensive post presence. They have nobody who can score in the paint. They have nobody who can take a game over or score easy baskets. Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon combined would make a phenomenal player but individually they are either too flawed or too inexperienced to be counted on to lead a team. The fact that Joe needs to see his team fully healthy before making a move is troubling. You don’t need to be Jerry West to know what the Pistons are lacking and, unfortunately, it’s quite a bit. Remember, he said this earlier in the season when it actually made sense to hold off on moves with the trade deadline still months away.

Here we are 2-3 months later and Joe cited the exact same reason for remaining static at the trade deadline. I’ve been around for quite a few trade deadlines and this was the busiest I can remember. Among the players on the move were Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Martin, Antwan Jamison, and Caron Butler. Players that were reportedly available included Amare Stoudamire, Carlos Boozer, and Chris Bosh. The Pistons have a cash-strapped roster full of non-compatible parts. With so many marquee players up for grabs, this was the perfect time for Joe to make a move. Even if he didn’t want to sell the farm for Amare or Bosh, making a run at McGrady’s $22 million expiring contract would’ve given him a mulligan on last year’s free agent debacles. Camby was a player Joe could’ve targeted at the beginning of the season when it was obvious that the Pistons were lacking acumen in the lane. Joe’s primary objective in 2009-10 should’ve been to unload Prince and Rip by any means necessary. I am fairly certain that something could’ve been done with one of the aforementioned players involving Rip and Prince. Instead, Joe cited his desire to see what his 20-35 team could do when healthy. Thanks to that desire, the Pistons will continue to be a hopeless, rudderless ship destined for oblivion. Joe struck gold ten years ago with a slew of under-the-radar moves. Unfortunately, it’s not ten years ago anymore.

Joe hasn’t done anything in six seasons to help his organization move towards an NBA Championship. Joe’s refusal to move redundant commodities has crippled his franchise. The fact that he actually thinks that his biggest problem is his inability to get his players healthy is infuriating. I don’t see any avenue that gets this team competitive in the next three years. If Joe gets this thing turned around, I’ll gladly print out this post and eat my words. But, I’m not worried in the slightest. Dumars for Governor!


Jeff in Cols said...

I am pretty sure the death of Bill Davidson has a lot to do with Joe's performance in the last year. I agree its time to go now, but I think the direction of the franchise has to come from teh top. Who knows? Maybe Tom Wilson will get back in charge and we can have a return of the dreaded "teal era."

Jake said...


You're probably onto something with BD's death. Still, the Pistons entered the season in a very vulnerable position. If there was ever a time for Joe D to not take a mental vacation for a year, it was this season. As for "teal", maybe that should become a tradition. Whenever the Pistons are horrible, they should be forced to wear the teal jerseys.

Jim said...

Strange how GMs, even the brilliant ones seem to have a shelf life. I still remember when the NBA used to pander to Jerry West because of the bang-up job he did with the Memphis Grizzlies and we all know how many titles they won under his rule. Hopefully in the near future science will allow us to combine West and Dumars together so we can have a GM who drafts well in the first AND second rounds.

In all seriousness though, I have a little conspiracy theory and would like to know what you think: what if Dumars, knowing full well that no marquee free agent would willingly come to a mediocre Detroit team, signed players like Gordon and Villanueva in order to get more pieces to put together a sign-and-trade with a team that's just as bad or worse than us?

By my count, we have a lottery pick this year and a few movable parts left; what do you think is the feasibility of a team like the Raptors getting seriously engaged in sign-and-trade talks this offseason?

Jake said...

Jim, even going back to when Charlie V and Ben Gordon were signed, I've had my fingers crossed that this was all a plan like you suggested. I've given up on that for a few reasons. The market for Gordon and Charlie V was so weak that the Pistons had really no competition in swooping them up. That should've been a sign to Joe, by the way. So, I'm not sure who would want to take on their multi-year contracts in a league that is all about expiring contracts. Who knows. Joe should've known that. Maybe he has a round left in the chamber that nobody knows about. Unfortunately, even if that was his plan in the beginning, he needed Gordon and V to play well to spark interest which hasn't happened. This is just a huge mess.


Powered by Blogger