Biggest Action Items for Detroit Pistons' Next General Manager
For the first time in a long time, someone other than Joe Dumars will have the loudest voice inside the Detroit Pistons organization.
Dumars, whose tenure included stints as both a player and an executive, officially vacated his position as President of Basketball Operations the team announced Monday, via Pistons.com. He had spent the last 14 years as Detroit's top executive, a period highlighted by the franchise's NBA championship run in 2004.
There have been some stumbles along the way too. It seemed he saved his worst work for last—although Darko Milicic (drafted second overall by Dumars in 2003) might disagree—and he's now left behind both a storied past and a daunting present for his unnamed replacement to clean up.
"Detroit made the third round of the playoffs or better for six straight seasons, and Joe Dumars was the reason why," Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports wrote. "He’s also the reason why the team hasn’t made the postseason since 2009, and hasn’t fielded a winning team since 2008."
The Pistons will have no shortage of options when it comes to the executive search, but tabbing the right one is only the introduction to the next chapter of Detroit basketball. Playoff hopes and lottery results (29-52 record) have turned this roster into a cluttered mess of win-now veterans and not-quite-ready youngsters.
The next general manager will inherit most of the personnel problems that plagued the Pistons this season. No amount of name power or number-crunching can change that.
This won't be a quick fix. If he can guess right with these five action items, though, the Pistons will be that much closer to realizing their postseason dreams.
Find a Head Coach
If Pistons owner Tom Gores does nothing else for his unnamed decision-maker, he needs to let that person handpick the next head coach. Nothing is more detrimental for a franchise than to have an inherent disconnect between the general manager and the head coach.
With rumors of a possible pursuit of Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo already swirling, via Sam Amick of USA Today, it seems as if the Pistons are getting dangerously close to putting the cart before the horse.
The fact that Izzo's name has gotten some press coverage, apparently much to his chagrin, leads me to believe that Detroit's next coach will come from outside the organization. In other words, I wouldn't look for interim coach John Loyer or (sadly) assistant Rasheed Wallace to get the call.
If Detroit wants a recognizable name to man its sideline, several are available.
Former Memphis Grizzlies frontman Lionel Hollins was mentioned as a possibility to replace Maurice Cheeks after he was fired earlier in the season, sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Given Hollins' ability to scratch two of Detroit's primary itches (defensive accountability and player development), he's still an intriguing option.
George Karl, who guided the Denver Nuggets to an NBA franchise-record 57 wins last season, could fit should the Pistons turn to a more uptempo system. Brothers Stan and Jeff Van Gundy along with Nate McMillan all have NBA experience if that's what the Pistons are after.
The next general manager should have plenty of options to mull before making his decision. Assuming, of course, one isn't mistakenly made before he's brought on board.
Determine the Fate of Greg Monroe
Through no fault of his own, fourth-year big man Greg Monroe spent most of the 2013-14 campaign looking like a square peg pressed into round-hole duty.
The Moose still got loose for 15.1 points and 9.3 rebounds, but he labored to post those numbers (both of which were down from his 2012-13 marks). With the offensive limitations of Andre Drummond and Josh Smith, Monroe encountered clogged lanes and bad defensive matchups on a near nightly basis. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Pistons saw negative net ratings when Monroe shared the floor with either Smith (minus-3.9) or Drummond (minus-6.6).
Those problems could be a thing of the past should the Pistons choose to let Monroe walk as a restricted free agent this summer. Yet, if a potential suitor should offer him "the max or something close to it," the Pistons are expected to match the offer sheet, via NBA.com's David Aldridge.
Again, though, that decision should not be made yet.
The frontcourt feels unworkable, and Monroe might find himself as the odd-man out. Drummond's ceiling is too high for Detroit to move him, and Josh Smith's contract ($13.5 million for the next three seasons) may prove impossible to shed.
At the same time, it would be tough to let a 23-year-old with this much talent walk. Monroe gives away plenty at the defensive end, but he gets just as much at the opposite side.
It might take some creativity to make this group successful—move Smith to the second team?—but perhaps there's a solution that has yet to present itself. Guessing right on Monroe's future would mean a lot for the next executive's present.
Find Something of Substance on Draft Night
This one's a little tricky.
There's no guarantee the Pistons will retain their lottery pick, thanks to the financially motivated trade of Ben Gordon to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012. The Pistons still owe the Bobcats a first-round pick, which carries top-eight protection through 2015. As it stands, Detroit holds the No. 8 pick, but a bad lottery break could strip that from its collection.
Assuming the Pistons aren't unlucky losers in the ping-pong pull, they need to find an impact player from the 2014 draft class.
No, this doesn't need to be a top-shelf prospect like Duke's Jabari Parker or Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. But it has to be someone who can fill a need.
Detroit's record isn't deceptive—there are plenty of areas that need to be addressed.
Fixing a woeful perimeter attack (the Pistons shot 32.0 percent from beyond the arc, 29th in the NBA) should be high on that list. Michigan gunner Nik Stauskas (44.1 career three-point percentage) has declared for the draft, per the Wolverines' official Twitter feed, and the Pistons should keep an eye on the native Canadian.
The sophomore scoring guard would be an obvious lift to Detroit's three-point game, but he's more than a long-range specialist.
"Stauskas has become a pretty dangerous one-on-one scorer, showing the ability to rise and fire over his defender, pull back and separate into a jumper or navigate through traffic and get to the rack," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote.
Stauskas doesn't need to be Detroit's pick, but that player has to be someone capable of making an immediate impact. Provided, of course, there will be a selection to be made.
Scour Free Agency for Wing Help, Depth
Greg Monroe won't be the only free-agent call the next Pistons GM will have to make, although his potential contract extension could limit the team's buying power. The Pistons have $35.1 million on the books for next season ($42.1 million including player and team options), but those figures are subject to change.
Regardless of what happens in-house, the Pistons should still have enough wiggle room to land external help. The level of that help is what remains unclear.
That shouldn't be as big an issue as it sounds. The 2014 free-agent crop isn't particularly strong at the top, although a certain decorated trio from the Miami Heat could greatly increase its star power should they elect to opt out of their current deals.
Chances are, the Pistons might struggle to catch the class' biggest fish even if they're available. Tempering expectations will be a must.
Moving to the second tier, it's possible that someone like Utah Jazz restricted-free-agent-to-be Gordon Hayward could pop up on the Pistons' radar. Tying up funds on an offer sheet is risky, though, particularly for someone who won't necessarily change Detroit's 2014-15 forecast.
Should the Pistons let Monroe go, perhaps they'd be interested in someone like Cleveland Cavaliers forward Luol Deng. "Deng has long been one of the league's better defenders on the wing," Bleacher Report's Bryan Toporek noted, and Detroit could certainly stand to stop the stream of dribble penetration it encountered this season.
The Pistons will have their own free agents to worry about, including spark-plug scorer Rodney Stuckey. The seventh-year guard raked in $8.5 million this season, a price that seems a little stiff for someone who doesn't shoot (career 28.6 three-point percentage) or create for others (2.8 assists per 36 minutes).
If rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the long-term answer on the wing (5.6 points on 38.8 percent shooting), then we're talking about a long road back to relevance.
Settle on an Identity
Andre Drummond is the future face of this franchise. If that statement comes off as the slightest bit staggering, then you've missed the spectacular sophomore season he's compiled.
Beyond the man-child in the middle, though, there are more questions than answers surrounding this team's future.
Drummond, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith seem ready to run, but that can't happen with a plodding 4 like Greg Monroe slowing the tempo. Jennings and Smith were win-now acquisitions, but you wonder if this team might be better off looking further down the line.
"What hasn’t been established through 44 games is a true pecking order," Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News wrote in late January. "Not in the traditional form of 'who’s the No. 1 guy,' but the Pistons don’t know who they are, or who they’re supposed to be."
Nearly three months later, those same questions persist.
The first four items on this checklist can't be independent steps. They're all paint strokes on the same canvas.
That means finding the right coach, figuring out whether Monroe can fit with his system, then adding more pieces to the same puzzle through the draft and free agency. I don't know how many different puzzles popped up over the course of this season, but no amount of piece-mashing could have saved the final image.
The Pistons need a blueprint for this process, one that's ideally in place before the general manager joins the fold. If Gores has a vision, it's imperative that it's communicated throughout the franchise and reflected in each of these moves.
Detroit faces a long road ahead. That journey can't begin until everyone starts moving in the same direction.