This draft is a turning point for the Detroit Pistons franchise. I don’t mean that I expect the player that the Pistons draft to carry the franchise for the next 15 years (although that would be lovely), rather I expect Joe Dumars to begin crafting his post-championship legacy.
Dumars was stalled by the passing of Bill Davidson in 2009, right in the middle of the process of taking apart the aging nucleus of the 2004 champions. That process wasn’t exactly going smoothly, but I’ll cut Joe a little slack knowing that his hands have been tied for the past two years.
Now, the handcuffs are off. Tom Gores will give Dumars the resources he needs to rebuild his team. The question is whether Dumars will go about it the right way.
One of Joe’s greatest strengths may ultimately be his undoing. He hates to lose.
As a player, this characteristic is unequivocally good. No matter what the situation, whether the team is in first place or last place, young or old, there’s always a place for a guy who wants to win above all else.
A general manager’s perspective must extend beyond just winning or losing tomorrow’s game. There’s a point at which the team’s future prosperity supersedes the quest for short-term success.
The Pistons have been at that point for three years.
Over the that time, Dumars seems unable to come to grips where his team is in its life cycle. Whether he knew and simply wasn’t able to act is up for debate, but the irrefutable fact is that Dumars’ actions have not shown a willingness to sacrifice the short term in favor of the long term.
The Pistons need to start making decisions on what this team is going to be over the next 3-5 years. There’s certainly some talent on the roster, but the pieces clearly don’t fit.
Rodney Stuckey seems to be a part of the long-term plan at the one-guard position, Greg Monroe has begun to establish himself up front and Austin Daye has shown excellent potential as a small forward.
Beyond that, there aren’t any clear long-haul starters on this roster. Considering this, it makes sense that the Pistons’ most likely draft prospects would be a guard and a big man.
However, Dumars cannot simply consider value at these positions in a vacuum. He must gauge how they fit in combination with his current assets.
At guard, Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, and Will Bynum will all be expecting to play 15-plus minutes per game for the Pistons in 2011/12. Throw in a healthy Terrico White, and the Pistons backcourt is looking awfully crowded.
I can’t say that any of these players make sense as a long-term starter, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on the roster and expecting minutes.
The most likely guard for the Pistons to draft with the eighth pick in this draft is Kemba Walker. He is a dynamic creator and scorer who has always had tremendous quickness but has recently developed an outside jump shot to balance his offensive game.
He played point guard at UConn, but was more of a scorer than a distributor. Offensively, he is definitely ready to contribute right away. Walker doesn’t have ideal size, but he is a fantastic leader and a fierce competitor.
In short, he’s exactly the type of player that Joe Dumars tends to gravitate toward.
Adding Walker to the mix at guard would certainly be an upgrade in talent, but without a defined position, his addition would only further muddy the waters in the Pistons’ rotation.
We saw last year what can happen to the psyche of a team when veterans don’t know how much they’ll play on a game-to-game basis. A couple of DNP-CDs are all it takes for an established veteran to check out mentally. I can only imagine that the impact of fluctuating minutes would be amplified even more for a rookie.
There’s absolutely a chance that a trade could be made to clear some space, but unless that deal is consummated on or before draft day, the Pistons won’t know for sure if there will be enough minutes to go around. Adding Kemba to the mix without subtracting another guard from the team would be a disaster.
Anyone who’s watched the Pistons over the past couple of years knows that the team already has an overload of shoot-first combo guards. While I think that trading Chauncey Billups back in 2008 was absolutely a risk worth taking, the Pistons have been a rudderless ship ever since Billups left.
They need to establish structure and order within the team. Even more so than an upgrade in talent, the Pistons need to clearly define the roles that each player will play.
This brings us back to the hole at center. Jason Maxeill has been woefully inconsistent, and Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva just don’t have the girth to hang in in the middle. Here, I can confidently say that there is a clear opportunity for a rookie to step in and grab some playing time.
There are plenty of prospects available to fill in next to Greg Monroe (Bismack Biyombo is my personal favorite), but for all of their upside, there is no one who could be expected to contribute on the same level as Kemba Walker in the first couple of years of their career.
Herein lies the decision. Is Dumars willing to (at least partially) wave the white flag on 2011/12 in exchange for a more complete and balanced team moving forward?
The player that Joe Dumars chooses on June 23rd may or may not contribute much to the Pistons cause in 2011/12. But no matter what, Dumars’ choice will define his legacy.