What a long strange trip this has been.
The Detroit Pistons have been one of the league's bigger success stories over the last few decades, winning three titles while many franchises have failed to win one.
The one constant throughout those three titles was one man: Joe Dumars.
Dumars was NBA Finals MVP in 1989, a crucial member of the 1990 squad and the architect of the 2004 edition. Besides the former club owner, the late, great William Davidson and team trainer Mike Abdenour, only Dumars remains with the club.
But things are no longer bright in Motown, and Dumars has seen the shine fade on his once-sterling reputation.
The man who turned the exiting Grant Hill into the soul of the franchise in Ben Wallace and transformed a rag-tag bunch of NBA castoffs into a dominant team that reached six straight Eastern Conference Finals no longer has a strong leg to stand on.
Dumars presided over some amazing moves during the first half of his tenure but has recently seen the bulk of his moves criticized roundly by the majority of fans.
From the Allen Iverson deal to the Arron Afflalo mishap to the disastrous Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings to the now-infamous Josh Smith signing, it is fair to say Dumars is on borrowed time in Detroit.
So just how much longer can Dumars keep his general manager gig?
The writing is on the wall
The Detroit Pistons have been known for their bold coaching moves. This team has changed coaches more than Spinal Tap has changed drummers. They have brought in legends, retreads and incompetent newbies galore. They rarely keep one for longer than two years and just recently failed to keep one employed three-quarters of the season.
And therein lies a genuine indictment of Dumars and the likelihood of continued tenure in Detroit.
When new team owner, Tom Gores, bought the team from the embattled Karen Davidson he seemed determined to bring in a winner.
But lacking the customary basketball acumen, he was forced to lean heavily on Dumars. He was in a tough spot. Dumars still had plenty of folks in the area who viewed him as basketball royalty and would have let lose a firestorm had Gores ditched the icon immediately.
So Gores kept Dumars but reached out to his buddy, Phil Jackson, to advise the Pistons legend on the recent coaching search. Dumars handled the situation well in the press, but it was obvious the Jackson collaboration was not done to ensure job security for Dumars.
But Gores let Dumars hire his man, Maurice Cheeks. He also allowed Dumars to stretch the budget and sign Josh Smith and trade for Brandon Jennings. The message was clear: this team needed to win now or else.
However, the Pistons struggled mightily and continued to have difficulty putting butts in the seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
So not only was this team losing at an alarming rate, but it was no longer a hometown draw. The Pistons, after nearly a decade of leading the league in attendance, are in danger of having the worst home attendance in consecutive years.
Something had to change. This team was no longer playing hard for its coach and it was important Gores laid down the law, as fruitless as such action would likely be.
But the problem was nobody could have made this team a winner. Dumars built this team incorrectly, assembling a group of mismatched parts that was bent on taking poor shots and clogging the middle.
Cheeks was a highly flawed coach who struggled with developing a solid rotation and offensive game plan but very few men could have turned this squad into a winner.
And who's fault is that? Blame the architect.
The mandate going forward
Sadly, this team is truly flawed going forward. They have a soon-to-be free agent in Greg Monroe that will likely cost the Pistons a max deal despite the fact he is ill-suited to play power forward alongside center Andre Drummond.
The Pistons likely won't be able to deal Monroe because most league executives understand Dumars to be a lame-duck general manager that will likely be forced to soldier on towards a seventh or eighth seed in a terrible Eastern Conference just in order for Gores to feel like he is making progress.
Detroit will likely be bounced unceremoniously in a short series and lose its first-round pick to the Charlotte Bobcats as a result of the now-infamous Ben Gordon trade.
But Gores wants his team making the playoffs. So instead of being a seller at the deadline and moving Monroe for a player that could help going forward, the Pistons will double-down on their failed design and overpay to keep Monroe in Detroit.
They then will likely make a minor deal to add a piece that won't help them, perhaps a backup point guard or small forward, and be cursed to walk through the NBA's version of purgatory.
They aren't good enough to be contenders, but not bad enough to get a high lottery pick. Truly no-man's land in the league.
And after another disappointing season, Dumars will likely be let go.
So what are the chances Dumars survives this year? Not good. But the most important question is whether this will have good implications for this team going forward. And the bleak news is the damage has been done and this team is likely a few years away from a meaningful playoff berth, let alone title contention.
How long will Dumars keep his job? The smart money is this will be the final season for the embattled Pistons legend.
But will it matter?
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