The Bad Boys. The Hall of Fame. Rasheed Wallace. Darko Milicic. All of these things come up when discussing the president of the Detroit Pistons, Joe Dumars. The man from tiny McNeese State is one who brought the Pistons to glory three times, and the same man who ended the run of six straight Eastern Conference finals through bad draft picks, bad trades, and bad signings.
League executives have reported to ESPN that Dumars is set to resign before the end date on his contract, June 1st. The move isn’t all that surprising, as the Pistons haven’t had a winning season since 2007-2008. The ownership torch has passed from William Davidson to the less sympathetic Tom Gores, a man who wants his sports teams to win now. Gores was willing to pressure Dumars to fire coaches, and it’s obvious he feels it is a time for change at the top of the organization.
But the last six years aren’t even close to indicative of Dumars’ time with the Pistons. Joe Dumars should be remembered as a winner, one who just had a few bad years towards the end.
Dumars never played for another team after being drafted by the Pistons 18th overall in the 1985 draft. Dumars averaged 16 points a game for his career, adding in 4.5 assists as well. The man was not only a scorer, but Michael Jordan said Dumars was the toughest defender he ever faced.
The Hall of Famer was also the only Piston who was respected outside of Michigan, called the “one good soul on the Bad Boys” by noted Celtics homer and Grantland senior editor Bill Simmons. He even had a sportsmanship trophy named after him after winning the inaugural award. He parlayed his sportsmanship into leadership, helping guide Dream Team II to the FIBA World Championship in Toronto.
Dumars retired from the Pistons in 1999, and his #4 was sent to the rafters. Anxious to stay involved with the Pistons and the Detroit community, Dumars would take over as President of Basketball Operations just a year later.
Dumars in his early years was a master of finding pieces essential to a contender. Like the Bad Boys, he wanted an identity built around hard-nosed defense. Some of his notable moves included turning oft-injured Grant Hill into the man who would become known as Big Ben Wallace. He then would pick an overlooked Kentucky Wildcat in the 2002 draft, Tayshaun Prince. Then Dumars made the unpopular choice of sending fan-favorite Jerry Stackhouse to Washington for sharp-shooting Richard Hamilton. Dumars would also turn to free agency to sign Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups. Following these moves, the Pistons went on to post two of their seven consecutive 50-win seasons in 2002 and 2003.
The 2004 draft is one where people point to one of Dumars’ worst mistakes, taking Darko Milicic with the second overall pick, passing on Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Milicic would never pan out, but any other player drafted that year would have screwed up the Pistons’ chemistry. Prince wouldn’t have developed because he would have played behind Anthony or Wade. Drafting another player meant the Pistons would not have won in 2004, but how many titles they could have won beyond that is the question. It remains one of the great NBA what-ifs.
Yet there were still a few things to be tweaked. Dumars brought in legendary coach Larry Brown, and traded for the volatile Rasheed Wallace. The rest was history, as the Pistons would go on to beat the Lakers in the Finals, in what many called “the first five game sweep ever.” The Pistons nearly got to the mountain top the following year, only to lose to the San Antonio Spurs in seven games. The Pistons wouldn’t reach the Finals again, but they would continue to reach at least the Eastern Conference Finals.
The year when things took a turn for the worse was 2008-2009, when Dumars sent Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. The President was thinking for the future of his team, as Iverson had a massive expiring contract that would allow new players to be signed. Wanting to duplicate the success of Rasheed Wallace and Hamilton, Dumars signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to big contracts. The problem was that neither player could scratch the surface of what the former had accomplished.
The Pistons drifted into mediocrity, always good enough to not get a good pick in the draft, but usually missing the playoffs. It was a sad decline for a franchise that saw huge success in the 2000s, and the final blow was dealt in 2013. The last remaining member of the 2004 team, Tayshaun Prince, was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Dumars has had some draft success recently, mostly with big men. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are offensive and defensive monsters, and they will serve important roles as stars or trade chips in the future. So Dumars’ draft record didn’t sink him, so it was probably this year’s signings. Dumars inked Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith to big contracts, and so far the results have been unspectacular. The two players, while good in their own right, have failed to mesh with the team. The Pistons will miss the playoffs yet again this year.
Yet I encourage Pistons fans to look back on the good times with Joe Dumars. The Bad Boys, the 2004 team, and all the good he did the organization. It was time for a change, and we can wish him well in future endeavors while hoping the Pistons get a new general manager capable of taking the team back to the top.