Let's just be clear about one thing. I am not a Joe Dumars hater.
I love and respect the man for not only helping the Detroit Pistons win two titles during my early years, but I also appreciate all he did in building a winner in my senior year of college.
My formative years on this planet have been dramatically influenced by this man.
That being said, I am not 100 percent sure that I can trust him right now.
The Detroit Pistons are about to embark on just their second offseason during the Dumars era in which they have a heap of cash to spend on prospective free agents.
We already know that the NBA draft will be tough sledding for the Pistons since the basketball gods deemed them unworthy of luck during the draft lottery (I knew we were in trouble when ESPN rolled out its karma list and had the Pistons drafting first).
The best they can hope for at this point is that Shabazz Muhammad slips to them with the eighth overall pick.
So it will be up to Dumars to turn this team around quickly through free agency
Here is what I would do to advise Dumars as he sets out to build a winner this summer.
Restore the Defense
Dumars has a lot of pressure on him these days. He has an owner who is antsy, and who can blame him? Tom Gores bought the Pistons for upwards of $300 million and wants to see a return on his investment.
But since Gores took control, the Pistons have become a tough sell to the fans.
Obviously the economy is still struggling in Detroit, but it's been struggling for over a decade. During the last decade, the Pistons were consistently the biggest draw in the NBA. Obviously they were winning back then, but they still were drawing.
The reason the Pistons were so great to watch back then was because they had a story that people could relate to.
They were a team of castoffs and busts that assembled together and found their identity as a tough, defensive-minded group of ballplayers.
Average fans could relate to them and their "going to work" mantra.
One of the biggest reasons for this relationship was the fact that Pistons' fans love defense. They love rough play and they love effort.
But when Dumars finally pulled the plug on his core of title winners, he decided to change his approach.
The league had changed into a more offensive-friendly sport. Dumars thought that his only option since he couldn't beat them was to join them.
So he used his cap space to sign talented yet soft Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon.
Both, obviously, were colossal busts.
So what exactly should Dumars do this summer?
The Pistons need to get back to a tough-minded and defensive-centered approach. They already have an excellent defensive center in Andre Drummond who should be able to anchor the interior for years to come.
But outside of him, this team is short on defensive talent.
Luckily for Detroit, there are a few players that could immediately help the Pistons on the defensive side of the ball.
Corey Brewer is a player that I have been focusing on all year. He is a big, long and athletic freak who loves defense and has steadily improved his long-range shooting.
Tony Allen is another player that should have Pistons fans excited. A fan favorite with the Boston Celtics and now with the Memphis Grizzlies, he is generally considered one of the top perimeter defenders in the league.
He also can jump out of the gym and has a good attitude.
And then there is Josh Smith.
Smith is one of the few max-contract types of players available this summer. He is a fantastic forward who is athletic, strong and is versatile on the offensive side of things.
He also is a stellar defender.
That being said, he will cost way too much money and probably should be avoided by Detroit.
Brewer and Allen are the type of player that the Pistons should be focusing on, but they aren't sexy picks. Smith is the type of player that could get Pistons fans excited, but he is not the right fit.
The Pistons don't want to just win the press conference; they want to win games.
Smith could potentially pair well with Drummond, but at what cost? If they sign him to a big deal, will they still have money available when their other young talent is looking for their extensions?
The answer is probably not.
That's why the Pistons need to focus on one of these two players and sign him to a four-year deal. The Pistons will probably have to overpay a little bit, but they should still each be a good value.
What Dumars needs to remember is that there usually aren't any quick fixes in basketball. Rarely do teams get a transcendent player to just plop in their lap like the Cleveland Cavaliers did with LeBron James, the San Antonio Spurs did with Tim Duncan or the Chicago Bulls did with Michael Jordan.
Instead, he needs to make subtle and smart moves.
Unclear Time Frame
It remains to be seen how much time Dumars has to figure things out.
This past season's attendance was embarrassing—ESPN reports that at 14,782 per game, the Pistons' attendance was third-worst in the league—and that can't be lost on the owner. There is a real possibility that Gores decides to light a fire under Dumars' can and get the process rolling.
He already has been advised by some smart basketball people like Dave Checketts and Phil Jackson.
So how hot is Dumars' seat?
I would imagine that his resume and a perceived fan outcry is the only thing keeping Dumars employed. Gores must believe that Dumars still has the potential to get this thing right.
But how much patience can he have? And if he indeed is pushing Dumars, what could that lead to? If Dumars is being pushed by Gores to win at all costs, you may see the Pistons offer Smith a big deal.
Or perhaps they could go after a restricted free agent.
Personally, I think that Dumars' biggest fear should be spending too much money on a free-agent class that is flawed and end up rudderless—and lost and unemployed to boot.
If Gores is pushing Dumars, there is a real possibility that this summer involves some serious fireworks.
But it all comes down to how far away this team feels it is from playoff contention. Could this current roster be just one or two players away from the playoffs?
Or are they further away than that?
Personally, I think that this team has no shot at winning until they find out what its team philosophy is. Dumars probably is looking to get back to a defense-first mentality since he knows that that can work.
Therefore, it makes sense to improve the depth of the team and the overall team defense. And they can do this through subtle, relatively inexpensive moves.
Trades Are Also an Option
Dumars also needs to realize that the draft and free agency aren't the only avenues available to him.
The Pistons also have the potential to deal one or two of their players.
I have been an open proponent of dealing Greg Monroe. I have questioned whether or not he fits with Detroit's current team dynamic. He isn't athletic, he plays awful low-post defense and he needs to work on his offensive range.
That being said, the fact that three of the four teams remaining in the playoffs have a similar big-man situation bodes well for Detroit.
However, they should at least field phone calls for Moose.
Rodney Stuckey is another player who should be shopped. He is athletic, quick and probably just needs a new environment.
The NBA is quickly running out of shooting guards, so he should have some value on the open market.
If the Pistons can deal Stuckey for either a first-round pick that they can package with their existing pick for a chance to move up or for some young talent, they should count themselves lucky.
The bottom line is that the Pistons need to explore all options; a team this bad really can't be picky about taking phone calls.
This really comes down to how much pressure Dumars is under.
Something tells me something big may be coming down, and the Pistons need to be careful. They could mortgage their future for a chance to win a press conference.
That's why its this writer's belief that the Pistons need to target a defensive wing right away and throw enough money at him to pry him away.
That being said, they can't break the bank. Luckily for the Pistons, they have other options.
But the most important thing is that Dumars avoids dropping a pile of cash on the wrong player. He needs to be smart with his cash, and if the pieces aren't right, he needs to walk away from the table.
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