Ranking Joe Dumars' Worst Moves as Detroit Pistons GM
According to Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News, Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars—a franchise legend who won a pair of championships in 1989 and 1990 manning the Bad Boys’ backcourt with Isiah Thomas—will resign from his post as early as this week.
For many who have suffered through the team’s rudderless mediocrity these past few seasons, Dumars’ resignation was a long time coming.
Indeed, there was a growing sense that Joe D had long since worn out all good will, fostered by a six-year stretch in which the Pistons reached four conference finals and a pair of NBA Finals, bringing home franchise’s third title in 2004.
In an attempt to skirt the period of irrelevance that robbed the Pistons of much of the 1990s, Dumars’ post-renaissance approach was to eschew a slow rebuild in lieu of risky trades and free-agent signings—a strategy that backfired spectacularly.
History will likely be much kinder to Dumars than his recent track record suggests. And rightly so. From Goodwill’s story:
[Stephen A. Smith and Steve Smith] agree, next to Jerry West, there hasn’t been a basketball figure as successful from the playing side to the executive side as Dumars — and he leaves behind an indelible mark on a segment of fans that won’t think of successful basketball in Detroit without him coming to mind.
But we’d be remiss to dismiss the plethora of shortsighted moves that have haunted the Pistons for going on half a decade—the bad gambles that left Detroit in a worse position than had they erred on the side of patience and prudence.
With that, let’s take a solemn, somber stroll through the worst moves of the Joe Dumars era.
10) Trading Brandon Knight for Brandon Jennings
People who claim the “jury’s still out” on the Brandon Knight-Brandon Jennings trade don’t realize the Pistons might've just gotten robbed in broad daylight.
Sure, looking at the numbers, the two are pretty comparable. And that’s exactly the problem: Not only did Dumars give up a point guard who was two years younger, he also threw in sharpshooting Khris Middleton because, I don’t know, for the heck of it, apparently.
Five years from now, this trade could easily be seen as a slight coup for the Pistons. But given how Knight has come into his own, we think this has the potential to be an all-time Dumars blunder.
9) Drafting Mateen Cleaves
As a self-described Michigan State fanatic, I was thrilled when the Pistons selected Cleaves—a National Champion and All-American—with the No. 14 pick in the 2000 Draft. But even I knew it probably wouldn’t work.
And…it didn’t. Career averages: 3.6 points and 1.9 assists on 39 percent shooting over six NBA seasons.
Even in what many consider the worst draft class in league history, the Pistons had a chance to nab Hedo Turkoglu, Quentin Richardson or even fellow Spartan Morris Peterson. Any one of them would’ve been a wiser move.
We get where Dumars was going with that: a pick made as much of out strategy as sentimentality. It just didn’t pan out.
8) Passing on Rajon Rondo
Yes, this actually happened.
Take a lap, Joe.
To be fair, Rondo had yet to ascend to consistent All-Star status. At the same time, if ever there was an opportunity to rebuild your aging contender along lines both sustainable and yet still star-studded, this was it.
Building around a player as unique and weirdly wired as Rondo will never be easy. But considering the pieces the team has now, how fun is it to imagine No. 9 in place of Brandon Jennings? Exactly.
7) Drafting Rodney White
Exactly. We won’t bother listing off all the players the Pistons could’ve had with the No. 9 pick in the 2001 draft, but suffice it to say it is long and sad and will make you stress-eat a bag of Doritos.
White never averaged more than 9 points a game in four NBA seasons, only one of which was actually spent in Detroit.
Given his enticing productivity in just one season at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (18.7 points and 6.5 rebounds), White probably would’ve been snatched up soon thereafter, so Dumars can’t be totally blamed for going out on a wire. Mostly because he’d snap the one he walked on a couple years later.
6) Posting for This Photo
No, not that photo. The one linked below.
Joe might never live this image down, if only because it will remain bathed in internet glory for the next 10,000,000 years.
5) Trading Arron Afflalo
Can you really hammer a guy for bailing on a late bloomer who hadn’t exactly shown otherworldly promise over his first two years? If that player is Arron Afflalo then yes, yes you can.
But as was so often the case with Dumars, it was the nature of the deal, rather than the mere conception thereof, that proved most problematic. To wit: Detroit dealt Afflalo and cash to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for a second-round pick.
Vernon Macklin. Yeah.
Five years later, Afflalo is a borderline All-Star and veteran linchpin on an exciting up-and-coming Orlando Magic team.
4) Trading Chauncey Billups
Calling Detroit’s trade of Chauncey Billups for an aging Allen Averson the basketball version of the Curse of the Bambino might sound a bit hyperbolic, but you know what? Deal with it.
On its face, the move made a more than a modicum of sense: Get rid of Chauncey’s onerous contract (while doing Billups at least a bit of a favor by shipping him to his hometown team, the Denver Nuggets), free of some cap space while using A.I.’s star power to fill the seats during what would hopefully be a brief rebuild.
Instead, the Pistons used said cap space to ultimately orchestrate the equivalent of lighting their house on fire without an insurance policy. But we’ll get to that.
Chauncey's back on the Pistons now, as it turns out, albeit in twilight. But they'll forever kick themselves knowing he probably had more in the tank than even they thought.
3) Coaching Blunders Galore
The Pistons are currently on their ninth head coach since Dumars took control of the team prior to the 2000-01 season. And one of them was Lawrence Frank...I'm sorry. Please stop crying.
If stability is part of your presidential platform—and whether your charge is a basketball team or a country, it probably should be—that’s not a good sign.
What’s more, it doesn’t look like current interim head coach John Loyer—who replaced Maurice Cheeks after just 50 games—is long for the bench, either.
It’s long been the case that an embattled general manager will sack his coach or other front-office personnel to distract from the bigger problem—their own incompetence. Given how Dumars went through coaches like Kleenex even in the team’s glory years, maybe he just had an itchy trigger finger.
2) Drafting Darko Milicic
He’s not No.1! He’s not No.1! Chant it with me now! He’s not No.1! He’s not No.1!
No, Darko Milicic is decidedly not No. 1. Because in the most loaded draft class in history, he probably shouldn't have been No. 50.
Upside is a very real thing. Sometimes—like, say, with Andre Drummond—that upside materializes. But you do not, under any circumstances, opt for upside when the following people are still on the board: A freshman who just led his team to an NCAA title (Carmelo Anthony), a superstar sophomore who can score from anywhere and jump out of the gym (Dwyane Wade) and a low post monster with Hakeem-like footwork and Kareem-like touch (Chris Bosh).
At least Dumars seems to appreciate the gravity of this all-time blunder, as relayed to Branden Savage of MLive.com:
I could give a dissertation on that. After I drafted Darko, from that point on, the amount of background we do on every single player that you see us draft is ridiculous. We do as much or more background than any other team in the NBA because of that. The background on (Milicic) was about 20 percent of what we do now. I look back on it now and realize you didn't know half of the stuff you needed to know.
Drafting Darko will likely go down, for most, as Dumars’ most disastrous decision. And they certainly have case. For my money, though, nothing tops the sheer short-sighted stupidity of our final slide.
1. The Charlie and Ben Show
Worst. Sitcom. Ever.
You’ve heard the term “making a splash,” right? Sports people often use it to describe when a team uses the financial means at its disposal to sign or trade for the kind of big name that—even if it doesn’t yield you a title—at least hints at something resembling effort.
Signing Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon for a combined 10 years, $96 million? That’s front-office performance art.
It’s not exactly clear what, exactly, Dumars saw in these two that even hinted at a nod to Detroit’s halcyon glory—the street-tough attitude that epitomized the team’s three titles as well as its namesake city.
The Pistons are only now recovering from the financial strain wrought by this dual disaster. Sadly, it seems as though the team will be leaving the ICU under someone else’s care and supervision.