The Detroit Pistons are a team that has been hovering in mediocrity for four years.
True, there have been some highlights. The Pistons have gotten lucky over the past three drafts, picking up Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond in the first round and Kyle Singler, Kim English and Khris Middleton in the second round.
Each of these players have shown flashes of solid play, with Drummond and Monroe appearing to be potential future stars.
The front office has avoided taking on costly salaries while making moves that have cleared over $20 million in cap space this offseason.
So Piston fans should be ecstatic about the prospect of having a pile of cash as free agency begins, right?
The last time the Pistons had this type of cash in a weak free-agent class, team president Joe Dumars spent it on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, both of whom never lived up to expectations and are largely considered busts.
Some have argued that the Pistons may play it cool and spend only partial amounts of their cash on free agents and instead will hold out hope that they can be a trading partner for a team looking to avoid the luxury-tax threshold.
But there are reasons to believe that the Pistons will indeed use the bulk of their cap space during this free-agency period and become major players in the weeks to come.
Dumars job security
Very few NBA general managers have enjoyed the type of job security that has been afforded to Dumars.
Now I'm not complaining about this; he is a legendary player who, as Detroit's GM, almost single-handedly rebuilt the Pistons into an NBA champion (2003-04).
But for all the brilliance of the Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace moves, there have been plenty of misses as well—the Darko Milicic, Rodney White and Mateen Cleaves selections, the Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings and the Allen Iverson trade.
Heck, he basically gave away Aron Afflalo for a tin can and some copper wiring.
Dumars is not the worst decision-maker in the league. But he also is not the best. Overall, I think he does deserve a shot at getting this right, but I don't think he should be afforded countless chances. There are limits to a fanbase's patience, and Dumars has pushed the Piston faithful to the end of those limits.
Dumars also doesn't have the benefit of a chummy relationship with ownership. He is not Tom Gores' guy, but rather the predecessor who is giving the new boss the lay of the land. How else can you explain the awkward Phil Jackson experiment this summer in which the legendary coach was brought in to "advise" Dumars and Gores.
It is hard to imagine a much harsher slap in the face this side of an episode of your mom's favorite soap opera.
Gores effectively put Dumars on public notice. Now it is up to him to get the progress meter reading stronger.
That is why it is hard to believe that Dumars is not going to make a major splash in free agency. Obviously he also has potential trades to explore, and who among Piston fans hasn't fantasized about Dumars pulling the trigger on a trade for Rajon Rando?
But that seems like a long shot, especially given Dumars' tenuous job security. He knows that he needs to win now, and those trades may or may not be available so he has to go with the surest thing available to him, free agents.
With few big names likely to take an interest in Detroit, it seems like a pretty sure thing that Dumars is going to offer Josh Smith a max or near-max deal.
Smith is just the type of player that Dumars loves. He was viewed as a borderline problem child with the Atlanta Hawks but is a supremely talented athlete who can play at least two frontcourt positions.
And while Smith certainly would bring some excitement with him, it is hard to see him and Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe forming a complete, well-rounded frontcourt. Sure they would grab nearly every rebound known to man, but Smith and Monroe are not ideal defenders at the 3 and 4 spots.
Besides, Smith is prone to terrible shot selection, and his next contract will likely take him beyond his prime.
Ownership's need to sell seats, win now
It is no secret that Gores wants to win now. He has a lot of energy, and he didn't spend millions of his hard earned cash to support a losing team that is near the bottom of the league in attendance.
This is a proud franchise owned by a billionaire real estate mogul—he didn't earn his money sitting around.
Gores is determined to be a winner, and he will do that with or without Dumars.
The biggest mark against the Pistons during the Gores era is just how empty the Palace of Auburn Hills has been. In a bid to sell tickets, the Pistons have been lining up their halftime performances with washed up hip-hop artists and local celebrities.
Instead of it coming across as ingenious, it rings hollow and desperate. It's like the Pistons are that 44-year-old guy at the club that is scared to go home alone.
Detroit needs to sell seats and win games, and in Dumars' mind this likely means bringing in a name brand. Since he passed on Michigan's Trey Burke in the draft, he now has to turn his attention towards free agency and trades.
More than anything, the Pistons need to start selling tickets or else their owner is going to think better of his investment and retreat to Los Angeles.
Must use 90 percent of salary cap space
Some fans may be wondering aloud why the Pistons don't just stay pat and wait until next year's free-agency period.
While this may seem prudent, it is impossible.
The newest league rules stipulate that teams with cap space must spend at least 90 percent of it on talent. Gone are the days of teams sitting on heaps of cash and waiting to land their dream player. The NBA is trying to save teams from their owners, who in some cases would hoard their money and put out an inferior product on the court.
The Pistons won't have this luxury.
They will need to spend the majority of their $20 million before the season begins, and the easiest way to avoid a stiff luxury tax would be to just commit the salaries to this year's crop of free agents.
Obviously, Dumars could wait on trades, but if your job was dependent on making an impact as quickly as possible, would you wait until the last minute?
The bottom line is that the Pistons are in trouble, and this is going to be the summer that determines whether they move forward with or without Joe Dumars.
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