This is the first of two articles on the past, present, and future of Joe Dumars and his leadership of the Detroit Pistons.
Let me be clear of one thing before we get to far: I truly believe Joe Dumars is one of the best general managers in sports. Therefore, I undoubtedly have some bias when evaluating his tenure as chief decision maker for the Pistons.
That being said, I felt it was worth taking an objective look at the moves he has made, both for posterity's sake as well as to help forecast where he may take the team in the future.
Another thing worth mentioning is that things haven't been as unsure for the Pistons franchise since they were purchased by Bill Davidson in the mid-'70s.
Their pending sale makes it hard to know what kind of control Dumars will have when the dust settles. However, it is probably safe to assume that the new ownership group will give Dumars a level of basketball autonomy that he has enjoyed in his time in the executive's office.
Also worth noting is the atmosphere that Dumars operates in today. Detroit already was a hard hit city before the recent economic troubles set in. Now, it has become a very difficult place to sell to prospective players. It would be much easier for Dumars to build a winner in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, or many other NBA cities for that matter.
When Dumars took the keys to the car in 2000, his former teammate of five seasons, Grant Hill, had just become a free agent. Hill expressed the desire to head to Orlando, but Dumars managed to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal that secured Hill more money and the Pistons some compensation for his loss.
That compensation came in the form of Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace. Wallace would be the foundational block for the building of what would become a dynasty of sorts for the better part of the coming decade.
This move has undoubtedly helped maintain the Dumars legend throughout the years, but not without reason. Many GMs would have let Hill walk out of sheer spite, doing little to help secure him a better deal. The compensation, at the time of the trade, appeared to be little more than spare parts.
But this is an example of how Dumars' eye for players on the rise is as good as any. In fact, this is the Dumars theme; find a player whose best years are ahead of him... a player who is talented, but who has not been able to maximize that talent up to the point he came to the Pistons.
The summer of 2002 would go down as the greatest reaping of this harvest. In two short months, Dumars would sign Chauncey Billups as a free agent and trade Jerry Stackhouse to the Washington Wizards for Rip Hamilton.
This would be the back-court of the 2004 NBA Champions. As with Wallace, at the time they came to the Pistons, both players were seen as disappointments up to that point in their career.
The acquisition of Rasheed Wallace just before the trade deadline in 2004 would add the final piece to the previously mentioned championship team. Wallace, although talented and statistically accomplished, had yet to be corralled by any prior coach, at least to a point where he would do as much good for his team as bad.
In that way, he fit in quite well with Big Ben, Rip and Mr. Big Shot. These four define the first half of the Dumars Principle—acquire established players whose stock is low, but whose ceiling is high.
The trade of Billups last year ushered in the end of that dynasty, which made two Finals appearances and six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. Dumars has been criticized for that deal, as it brought Allen Iverson to the Pistons which led to a highly tumultuous year.
The logic behind that deal was that the Pistons, as they were composed at that time, did not have what it took to win the title. Rather than try and tinker with the core as it stood, Dumars decided to take a one year gamble on the answer and make his team a player in the 2009 free agent market. Much can be learned about the second half of the Dumars Principle in that deal, and we will reflect on it later as a harbinger for future moves.
As far as the draft is concerned, Dumars has had mixed results. As a general rule, it almost seems that the lower he drafts, the better luck he has had. He has hit on second rounders Mehmet Okur and, more recently, Jonas Jerebko, as well as late first rounders Jason Maxiell and of course Tayshaun Prince.
However, his biggest miss was undoubtedly Darko Milicic, followed by fellow lottery pick Rodney White. Had he gotten a hit with both of those picks, names like Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and/or Richard Jefferson would have started their NBA careers as Pistons. Those are tough mistakes to overlook.
Still, Dumars did manage to ship Milicic (who after all was a pick received in an Otis Thorpe trade for many years earlier) off to Orlando for a pick that would become Rodney Stuckey, a key piece to the current Pistons roster.
Although this may scare Pistons fans who are keenly aware of the potential for the Pistons to have yet another lottery pick in the upcoming draft, they can take solace in the fact that with experience, Dumars should fare better in this range than he has in the past.
So what have we learned about Joe Dumars the General Manager? For one, he has a keen eye for established (already in the league) talent. The Iverson deal opened up the opportunity to sign Ben Gordon, someone Dumars presumably sees quite a bit of himself in.
He can also be fiercely loyal in certain situations, sometimes to a fault. Giving Rip Hamilton a three year extension two full seasons before his current deal expired (yes, he would have been coming off the books at the end of this season) was almost certainly in some way related to the trading of Billups on some emotional level.
That deal will make Rip difficult to trade, whereas he would almost certainly be an ex-Piston today had the extension never been signed.
At the same time, he wisely let Ben Wallace leave for nothing when the numbers got too high. The trading of Billups could be debated, but it did jump start the rebuilding process, something that was going to come sooner or later anyway.
Dumars also seems to spot talent in the draft very well when there is less risk involved. This makes second round picks more valuable to the Pistons than to other teams, as he can take a chance on a prospect without committing to them with a guaranteed contract, as was evidenced by Jerebko in last year's draft.
Next, where the Pistons may be headed as Dumars looks to build his next dynasty.