The Detroit Pistons are certainly a team in transition, but in the weak bottom half of the NBA Eastern Conference, that transition may not take long.
Drafting Brandon Knight and hiring Lawrence Frank were an excellent start, but there's still plenty more work to do.
A real transition for the Pistons will require somewhat of a change in philosophy from Dumars.
Dumars’ fierce loyalty to his players has endeared him to his veterans and helped to make him one of the more well-respected general managers in the NBA, but it’s also led him to his current position, sitting on a roster littered with unhappy, overpaid, and (nearly) untradeable assets.
Yet however motley his crew may be, there are still assets on this team.
The key for Dumars will be to sort out the differences in actual and projected value of each of his assets. No more forcing square pegs into round holes. The Pistons have to build a real team.
Dumars needs to realistically evaluate what level of production he can expect from his veterans. In some cases, they may be able to help the team. In other cases, they may not. These truths certainly won’t go down easy for Dumars, but accepting them is the only way to move his team forward (and keep his job).
So which of Dumars’ assets really do have any value?
And how can he maximize that value to build the best team in Detroit?
Tayshaun Prince’s career as a Detroit Piston has run its course.
It’s tracked along a remarkable arc. Prince has evolved from a stunningly poised youngster to a remarkably consistent stalwart to a embarrassingly petulant malcontent.
To say that Prince has struggled to age gracefully as a Piston would be a dramatic understatement.
Rather than embracing his role as a mentor, Prince’s whiny attitude has poisoned the Pistons' locker room.
This move really isn’t related to Prince’s talent. He’s battled injuries over the past few seasons, but he definitely has at least a little something left in the tank.
I don’t doubt that Prince can accept a role as a bench player and be an effective player on a good team.
That cannot happen in Detroit.
As his first order of business in the 2011 NBA offseason, Joe Dumars needs to wish Tayshaun Prince well with his new team, wherever that may be.
It’s the best thing for both parties. Prince needs a fresh start with a new team. Dumars needs to push his payroll as far underneath the salary cap (whatever it turns out to be) as possible.
Given Prince’s history as a Piston, this is as melancholy a win-win situation as an NBA GM will ever encounter, but as Joe Dumars rebuilds his team, letting Tayshaun Prince walk out the door is absolutely necessary.
Stuckey’s up-and-down nature is well-documented in Detroit. Throughout the first four years of his career, it’s been nearly impossible to predict what Stuckey would contribute on any given night. But however rarely his talent shines through, there’s no debating its existence.
It would have been great to see Stuckey rise above all of the role changes, scheme changes, and coaching changes that he’s experienced during his career, but it’s a lot to expect of a player who’s still just 25 years old.
Yes, Stuckey has been a disappointment, but he’s shown enough promise to warrant another shot.
During the few times that John Kuester let Stuckey off the leash in 2011, he flashed the explosive first step and finishing ability that made him the 15th pick in the draft four years ago.
It remains to be seen what offensive system Lawrence Frank will implement in Detroit, but its worth noting that Devin Harris, whose skill set bears more than a few similarities to Stuckey’s, flourished under Frank’s guidance in New Jersey.
Aside from coaching, Stuckey has always had issues with finding a complementary running mate. Brandon Knight just might be that complement.
Knight can shoot well enough to space the floor for Stuckey and also has the ball-handling and passing skill to facilitate the offense and take pressure off of Stuckey.
Who knows where the salary cap will land post-lockout, but three years and $21 million seems like it would be fair value for both sides.
The Pistons get a player with massive potential at an affordable rate and Stuckey gets some degree of security, but retains the opportunity to return to free-agency at the age of 28.
Stuckey has not been dealt good hand during his first four years as a Piston. At this point in his career, it’s best for both parties shuffle the deck and give it another shot.
The Pistons will no doubt want to retain Jerebko for 2011, but deciding on the terms of his contract will be an interesting negotiation for Joe Dumars.
Jerebko proved in 2009 that he has the skill set to be an excellent asset off the bench. He’s a hard worker, a solid shooter and a ferocious rebounder with the versatility to play (and guard) any position from shooting guard to power forward.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to demonstrate those skills in 2010.
Jerebko’s second year in the league was lost to a catastrophic ankle injury, but however devastating it was to the Pistons in 2010, it may actually pay off in 2011.
There’s certainly risk in signing a player coming off this type of an injury, but Jerebko’s rehab went incredibly well and the Pistons possess a training staff that can substantially decrease the risk of re-injury.
If Arnie Kander can keep Tracy McGrady healthy for a full season, there’s no limit to his healing powers.
Without knowing the specifics of the new NBA’s new labor agreement, it’s no stretch to assume that it will reward teams for locking up productive players to reasonable contracts. Jerebko’s injury will certainly suppress his value on the open market, providing the Pistons with a terrific opportunity to lock him up to a team-friendly deal.
This trade isn’t sexy, but it’s necessary.
The Pistons would give up Richard Hamilton and a lottery-protected 2013 first-round draft pick in return for Mehmet Okur and Raja Bell.
It’s true, Joe Dumars would be trading one overpaid, past-his-prime player for two overpaid, past-their-primes players, but it’s not that simple.
Much like Prince, Hamilton hasn’t outlived his usefulness as an NBA player, but he’s outlived his usefulness as a Piston. In his current physical and mental state, the negative contributions that Hamilton would bring to Detroit would far outweigh any positives that he’s capable of bringing to the table.
Hamilton needs to go somewhere where he’s needed, and given the marginal talents that Utah has started at shooting guard over the past couple of years, the Jazz could use a proven scorer at that position.
Even with rookie Alec Burks coming in to eventually take over as Devin Harris’ running mate in the backcourt, the Jazz are weak on the wing. While Utah may choose to start Burks right out of the gate, there’s no reason that Hamilton couldn’t carve out 30+ minutes per game.
With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap already installed as starters, the Jazz need to ship out Okur to clear space in the frontcourt rotation for promising young bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
The Jazz will have money to spare with Andrei Kirilenko likely headed out of town, and making this move for Hamilton both improves their team in the short term and provides an opportunity for their future stars to develop.
Hamilton’s contract remains an albatross, but the adding a first-round draft pick to the mix and taking back the $6+ million left on Raja Bell’s contract should sweeten the pot enough for the Jazz.
For the Pistons, this trade would be a no-brainer.
Although Dumars would be taking on over $1.5 million in additional salary in 2011, the deal would clear over $9 million off the books in 2012.
Though Okur’s production declined sharply in 2010 and though its unlikely that he’ll return to his 2005-2009 prime, he possesses a skill set that should age well. Seven-footers that can knock down threes at a 35-40 percent clip will always be able to carve out a role in the NBA. There’s no reason that man formerly known as The Turkish Tornado shouldn’t be able to give the Pistons 15-20 minutes per night and kick in nine or so points and seven or so rebounds.
Sure, that’s not exactly full value for the nearly $11 million that Detroit would be paying Okur in the last year of his deal in 2011, but it’s far better than the Pistons' current situation.
Moving Hamilton out of town will go a long way toward alleviating the logjam in the Detroit backcourt, freeing minutes that can be redistributed to Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, and Brandon Knight.
It’s no secret that Dalembert has been overpaid for the entirety of his NBA career, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t still be an effective player. In fact, all of the money that he’s already made might help the Pistons sign him to a more team-friendly contract.
Though Dalembert is far from an All-Star, his reputation as a perennial underachiever isn’t completely deserved. Though he never quite developed into the player that the 76ers hoped he’d be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2001 NBA Draft, he’s matured into an effective NBA big man.
His per-40-minute numbers actually show remarkable consistency throughout his career. Any team that gives Dalembert 30 minutes of action can count on about nine points, 10 rebounds, and one or two blocks per game.
For the Pistons, Dalembert would be a massive upgrade over Chris Wilcox, Jason Maxiell, and Ben Wallace.
Dalembert won’t contribute much offensively, but his skills as shot-blocker and rebounder would match up extremely well with Greg Monroe.
On offense, Dalembert can focus on establishing offensive rebounding position, allowing Monroe to facilitate the Pistons’ offense from the high post. Defensively, Dalembert can take some pressure off of Monroe by splitting the defensive responsibilities against the tougher post players in the league.
Again, post-lockout salary cap situation is still up in the air, but bringing in Dalembert (for a reasonable price) would be an excellent investment of the remainder of the money that was previously spent on Tayshaun Prince, as well as the $3 million that was committed to Chris Wilcox.
If Joe Dumars is able to execute these four moves, the Detroit Pistons projected roster would look like this:
PG: Brandon Knight
SG: Rodney Stuckey
SF: Austin Daye
PF: Greg Monroe
C: Samuel Dalembert
SG: Ben Gordon
SF/PF: Jonas Jerebko
C: Mehmet Okur
PG: Will Bynum
PF: Charlie Villanueva
PF: Jason Maxiell
SG: Terrico White
SF: Kyle Singler
PF: Vernon Macklin
That’s the nucleus of a young team that can immediately compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and eventually bring the Detroit Pistons back to the ranks of the NBA’s elite.