Just when I think I know what is going on in Joe Dumars' head, he removes his cap and pulls out a surprise.
Notice I did not say rabbit. The phrase "pull a rabbit out of the hat" has come to imply something impressive. And while this draft may prove to be a solid one in years to come, at the end of June in 2009, it is not impressive.
However, it was a surprise, and one that I for one did not see coming.
I was positive, heading into this draft, that Dumars would pass on a project and instead opt to grab an immediate contributor. Perhaps Dumars was planning on this heading into last week's draft. Perhaps Daye, the six foot 11 inch small forward from Gonzaga, was so high on Dumars list that he had not planned on drafting him.
Perhaps he was planning on drafting someone like Tyler Hansbrough or Ty Lawson or another immediate contributor, but quickly reconsidered when the lanky Daye fell to him at 15. We will never know.
One thing we do know, however, is that Daye is not likely going to help Detroit this year.
Don't get me wrong, I don't hate this pick. Daye is tall, athletic and possesses a great jumper. At six foot 11 inches, he should be able to get his shot off against anyone. He also could prove to be an excellent help side defender with his incredible wingspan (Additionally, the marketing that can be done with his name is priceless...I can already hear public address announcer Mason belting out "All Daye!" after a three pointer!).
That being said, Daye is not ready to be an everyday player for the Detroit Pistons in 2009. To call him lean would be like saying Jules from Pulp Fiction was cool—a drastic understatement.
Insert your skinny joke here. My favorite is that "Daye makes Tayshaun Prince look like he's on steroids."
Regardless, if Detroit is planning on competing this year, Daye had better not be a regular contributor. He just isn't physically ready to play at this level. Can you imagine Daye being forced to guard LeBron James? Think Mr. Glass from Unbreakable (I know, two Samuel Jackson references in one article...but in my defense, he is in everything!), it wouldn't be pretty.
So what does this draft tell us about Joe Dumars' plan for this summer?
It tells us that you had better grab an umbrella because Dumars is going to make a big splash.
You may be asking yourself, "what makes you so sure?"
There are many reasons, but I will focus on the monetary and therefore, rational ones.
The city of Detroit is in trouble. In all honesty, the state of Michigan is in trouble. This is nothing new to the people of the great Wolverine State, nor to those following along in other states.
What may not be obvious to those in other states is that Michigan has been in a recession for nearly a decade, so financial troubles are nothing new to Michiganders.
However, the Pistons have managed to withstand those financial straits and against all odds, flourish in a terrible economy. They have been either the best or the second best in the league in attendance in each of the past seven seasons.
They have done this by making the Palace of Auburn Hills an entertaining place to spend an evening.
More so than the environment that he has created, Joe Dumars has built a winner that was built with team players and a commitment to defense. He developed a team that the state identified with, and as a result, loved.
However, near the end of last season, the Palace crowds began to dwindle, and the sellout streak that had reached triple digits came to an end. When Allen Iverson (and the drama that came with him) was acquired, the fans began to jump ship.
By the end of the season, opposing teams were filling the empty seats at the Palace with their fans, culminating with the disgraceful chants of "MVP" that were heaped on James and the hated Cleveland Cavaliers.
As presently constructed, the Pistons are not a playoff team, and therefore, the fans will not show up. Many other teams are in this situation, and are not expected to make wholesale changes to combat this bleak forecast.
However, Detroit and Dumars do not have the luxury of waiting on developing talent and clearing payroll for a run at the superstar free agent class of 2010. Dumars has to put a winner on the court this year, and his job may hang in the balance.
I know, I know, Dumars is a legend around the league as an executive, and if you, the reader, do not regularly follow the Pistons, you may be wondering if this is a typo.
I assure you, it is not a typo. Dumars' job security is not built on the Rock of Gibraltor. He needs to put fans in the seats this year, and avoid a serious drop off in attendance.
Why? Because he has a new boss.
That's right, the man who hired Dumars and loved him like a son, William Davidson, is no longer in charge. This is, of course, because the great Mr. Davidson passed away this year, and left his team to his family.
Davidson loved his Pistons. It was obvious to anyone that has followed the team for the past couple decades. He also loved Dumars for making the team relevant and bankable as a commodity over the last eight years.
His family will not want his legacy to come crashing down in the first year in which it is on their watch.
It is not clear yet whether his family has the same type of passion for the game as the late Mr. Davidson.
Perhaps they will take a longitudinal view of the team and treat it like a long term investment.
Perhaps they will prove to be disinterested bystanders that could care less as long as they still have a robust trust fund.
Personally, I think they will be like most Americans, and will look for immediate results.
More importantly, I think that Dumars is thinking along these lines, and is treating this situation as the defining moment of his career.
Make no mistake about it, Dumars does not need this job. He has a number of businesses around the country and is financially set for life. He also has a family that he loves, and wouldn't mind spending more time with them.
But Dumars isn't doing this job because he needs it...Dumars is doing this job because he loves it. He believes that this is his team, and he wants to continue to run it. Dumars has a love for this franchise that runs deeper than blood. This love for his franchise was ingrained in him by two men: William Davidson and Chuck Daly.
Daly was Joe Dumars' first NBA coach, and helped transform the soft-spoken scorer from a small southern school into an NBA All Star, Finals MVP and U.S. Olympian.
Daly and Davidson were family to Dumars, and they both died this year.
Dumars will be eager to rise to the occasion yet again, and build a winner. And since time is not on his side, he needs to put a winner on the court immediately.
However, since the draft did not possess too many game-changing talents, especially in the front court, Dumars made the best of the situation and drafted based on talent, regardless of whether or not they will contribute.
This could help the Pistons develop a strong foundation of depth, or at the very least, bolster a bench that has proven to be weak over the past few seasons.
Some columnists have said that this draft proves that Dumars is going in a different direction, and wants character players rather than just talented ones. Dumars has said as much, recently stating that never again will he deal with "drama" like he did this past year.
They may be on to something with this thought. Think about what Dumars has done so far in this off season, or more so what he has not done.
He has not agreed to trade one of his remaining players for someone with even a whiff of character issues (see the Rajon Rondo laugher).
He has not gotten involved in the Amar'e Stoudemire sweepstakes, even though he would appear to be a gettable player.
My guess is that Dumars has a very specific plan in mind, and a few specific players that he is targeting.
Obviously, Chicago's Ben Gordon has been discussed, and I'm sure Dumars likes Gordon. Likely, Gordon reminds Dumars of Vinnie Johnson, and sees him as a sixth man extraordinaire.
I could see Gordon ending up in Detroit. But this is not the big move. This is the reason Dumars dealt Amir Johnson to clear additional cap space. Dumars knows he needs at least two good players, and maybe more.
Dumars will definitely make a move on power forward David Lee from New York, and I think Donnie Walsh, the Knicks general manager, knows it. As a result, Walsh drafted power forward Jordan Hill from Arizona. Walsh is gunning for LeBron James next summer, and he does not want to get into a bidding war for Lee.
Lee made $1.7 million this season, but is likely to make upwards of $6 million per season this season on the open market. My guess is that he can be had for about $7.5 million, and I think there is a 50/50 chance he ends up in Detroit.
This alone would be a good move, but Dumars is likely looking for an even bigger fish than Lee.
This brings Utah into the equation. Utah has three big men, Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur that could all be on the open market.
Millsap is an unrestricted free agent, but Utah will likely match any offer for the power forward.
Boozer is contemplating opting out of his contract, but he likely will not make more than his current contract, which will pay him upwards of $12 million this season. Therefore, Boozer likely will stay put.
This brings us to Okur, the former Pistons bench player. Okur is leaning towards opting out of his contract and although he and his agent have stated that they prefer Utah (recently, according to Salt Lake City's Deseret News, Okur told reporters in his native Turkey that he wanted to retire in Utah), the Jazz will likely not be able to afford the contracts of all three big men.
For Detroit, Okur seems like the best fit, especially if Lee can be had as well. Okur will be looking for a raise from his current $8.5 million contract, and Detroit could conceivably offer him a contract starting at $10 million per season.
Depending on what the league sets the salary cap number at this season (and all indications are that it will be a very meager increase, if it increases at all), the Pistons likely will have between $18 and $23 million to spend on free agents this summer. With this kind of scratch, Detroit could sign both Lee and Okur to lucrative, multi-year contracts that could be back-loaded to counter an economy that will likely bounce back in the years to come.
With a starting lineup of Okur, Lee, Prince, Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey, Detroit would instantly be a playoff contender again. Furthermore, they would be built with hard-working, tough players that are good defenders and strong team guys.
Add to that mix a bench composed of primarily of young and hungry players, and you have a recipe for years of contention. If Dumars was somehow able to add Gordon to this mix (admittedly doubtful if they are already spending $17.5 million on Lee and Okur), Detroit instantly turns into a top four team in the east.
This is a team that Detroit, and Michigan in general, would support and come out to see.
The league has become obsessed with superstars, and to the delight of commissioner David Stern, teams are being built around these stars.
However, I believe Dumars learned a very valuable lesson from the failed Iverson experiment; it doesn't matter what the rest of the league and the commissioner likes...they aren't the ones paying Dumars' salary. The only thing that matters is what the fans of Michigan like, and they do not crave stars, they crave workers.
Dumars will be well-served to go back to his roots within the organization and re-build his team the way his mentors Daly and Davidson did when they took a chance on that soft-spoken kid from McNeese State all those years ago.
It may just be the best way to honor those late, great men, and save his job in the process.
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