As expected, Dumars stepped down from his post on Monday, ending what is still arguably the best tenure in team history. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News reported early this month Dumars had been planning to step down amid increased criticism of the team's performance. From a technical standpoint, the Pistons and Dumars are going to allow his contract, which ends after the 2013-14 season, to expire.
The team confirmed the news Monday on its Twitter account, though Dumars will stay on for now as a team advisor:
Pistons owner Tom Gores spoke about Dumars' resignation and what he means to the franchise in a statement on the team website:
Joe Dumars is a great champion who has meant so much to this franchise and this community. We are turning the page with great respect for what he has accomplished not only as a player and a front office executive, but as a person who has represented this team and the NBA with extraordinary dignity.
The Pistons are 29-52 and have missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season. While they weren't expected to compete for a championship, Dumars' role in constructing his latest ill-fitting roster ultimately led to his departure.
Smith was an awkward fit from the outset, creating spacing havoc in the middle with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. The presence of the two bigs also brought out the worst in Smith, whose penchant for jacking bad, long-range jumpers was exacerbated by his newfound role as a full-time small forward. Jennings was at the time seen as a minimal-cost, calculated risk, but he turned in arguably the worst season of his young career in 2013-14.
Beyond Jennings and Smith's individual performances is what they represented: another wild misuse of cap space from Dumars.
The 50-year-old executive, who spent his entire Hall of Fame career in Detroit before moving into the front office, has a recent history littered with bad long-term deals. Contracts doled out to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva were busts from Day 1, while signing franchise stalwart Richard Hamilton to a huge contract extension mucked up the books at a time when the Pistons were going through an obvious transition.
Couple those with Dumars acquiring a post-prime Allen Iverson, drafting Darko Milicic and exhibiting a fundamental inability to find an adequate coach after firing Flip Saunders, and there are myriad reasons to look back on his tenure with frustration.
Of course, that would be entirely unfair.
For the first half of Dumars' tenure, it's hard to argue there was any better executive in the sport. Dumars plucked Ben Wallace from obscurity, saved Rasheed Wallace's career and helped foster the environment in which Chauncey Billups would become one of the game's best-known leaders. Hamilton was acquired in a deal for Jerry Stackhouse, who at the time was one of the sport's most prolific scorers.
The first few years of Dumars' run were unassailable. He gave Rick Carlisle, now among the league's most successful veteran coaches, his first shot on the bench. When Carlisle's voice didn't push the team over the edge, Dumars dumped him in favor of Larry Brown, a controversial move that led to the Pistons upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.
“It wasn’t the flashy guys, (it was) the Ben Wallaces Rip Hamiltons and Rasheed Wallace," NBA TV analyst Steve Smith told Goodwill. "No one gets every draft pick right and I think he embodied Detroit basketball. If you look at the run he’s had, other than the San Antonio Spurs, I don’t know who’s had a better run since Joe took over.”
That Detroit core would go to six straight conference finals together before the Billups-for-Iverson trade began its disbanding. That was, ultimately, the beginning of the end for Dumars. He also spoke about the decision to step aside:
It’s time to turn the page on a wonderful chapter and begin writing a new one. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great people throughout the last 29 years as both a player and executive, and I’m proud of our accomplishments. Tom Gores and ownership is committed to winning and they will continue to move the franchise forward.
Detroit's next move in the interim is unclear. Gores has a close relationship with Phil Jackson—Jackson offered advice during the team's coaching search last summer—but any chance of him coming to the Pistons evaporated when he joined the Knicks as president. Gores isn't the type who is afraid to spend to win, and Dumars didn't leave the cupboard entirely bare.
Drummond may be the best young center in basketball, while Monroe is a brilliant throwback to the back-to-the-basket days of the sport. Should they find a coach who can come up with a way for them to coexist defensively, there are few more promising young frontcourts in the league.
Still, Smith's contract is an untradeable albatross and Monroe is about to hit restricted free agency. The first order of business for the man who replaces Dumars will be figuring out how high the team is willing to go in matching a potential Monroe offer sheet. It's likely he'll command well into the eight-figure range per season. Should the Pistons choose to renounce Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Villanueva, they could have something close to max cap room.
They're still at least a year or two away from serious contention regardless. The core here is just too jumbled and repetitive to expect much to change, barring a miracle Smith trade. Ultimately, that, more than any other reason, is why Dumars is stepping down from his post.
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