November 3, 2008 will go down as the day that a new era began in Pistons basketball. After falling short in the Eastern Conference Finals for three years prior, Joe Dumars decided to shake things up to begin a process that is still underway as this article is written.
Hindsight can tell us a lot about right and wrong decisions, but good executives don't have that gift at their disposal when they make big decisions.
While other teams were gearing up to make a run at what was shaping to be (and indeed was) a monstrous free agent class this summer, Dumars made his bet that 2009 would be more to the Pistons liking.
Step One—The Trade
Just as the 2008-09 season was getting underway, Dumars decided that he was not going to win another title with the core group that had made two Finals appearances and brought one trophy home in the previous five years.
He made the call to deal what essentially turned out to be Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson.
Publicly, this was labeled a chance to mix things up and see if Iverson could pair with Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace to make one more run. In reality though, it was a move to unload Billups' contract in a one year rental of Iverson, who was due to become a free agent at the end of the season.
I truly believe that Dumars had no real hope of winning a Championship that year, and that for all intents and purposes he was making room to go shopping the following summer.
We all know how the 2008-09 season went, and Iverson's short tenure in Detroit ended just eight months later along with that of Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess.
Step Two—The 2009 Free Agent Period
On July 1, 2009, Dumars struck quickly, coming to terms with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva on five year deals. This is what the Billups trade essentially brought—two players entering their prime, one for the back-court, one for the front-court. It took a year to get there, but this was the real end result.
Many at the time criticized Dumars for both overpaying for these two players and for not waiting until the summer of 2010 to make a run at the big fish who are currently in the process of negotiating and signing their new deals.
Step Three—The Analysis
So the question begs, should Dumars have waited until now to spend the cap space he essentially gained back in November of 2008?
I think the obvious answer is a resounding no.
Ask yourself this, would the Pistons really have stood a chance to get one of this year's big three? Or would they have been more likely to be picking up the pieces just like the Nets, Knicks, Cavs and Raptors currently are?
Could they have made better pitches to Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire or Rudy Gay? Would it have benefited them to?
Personally, I would rather have Gordon and Charlie V over any one of the above, even after their lackluster 2009-10 campaigns. And I think Dumars would as well.
Even in the best of scenarios, the Pistons would have been lucky to get Carlos Boozer, and would have had trouble finding a second player that would equal what Gordon and Charlie can bring. Now, Dumars has both, as well as the mid-level exception to use at his disposal once the overpriced guys sign.
In the world of the sports fan, it is easy to judge quickly and be critical in the heat of the moment. But with time, we can start to see whether or not a GM really knew what they were doing. I think Dumars has proven that he had a firm grasp of the long view.
And after the rumors of a possible departure to New Jersey in the last few days, I think we're starting to realize we have it pretty good with Joe Dumars at the helm of the Detroit Pistons.
With that in mind, I anxiously look forward to what the future will bring.