I love it when someone writes something I have been thinking, as SI’s Britt Robson does about Joe Dumars. Dumars made a number of smart decisions when he built the Pistons into perennial contenders. But truth be told, he got a little lucky. Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace were the cornerstones of that team. Billups bounced around the NBA before signing with the Pistons in 2002. Wallace was the poster boy for the Jail Blazers before being acquired for pennies on the dollar (Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, a first-round pick and cash) in 2004. Dumars deserves credit for taking a flier on Billups and Wallace when no one else wanted them. But how many lottery picks turned NBA outcasts are out there? The fact is, Detroit’s 2004 title team was an aberration. And yet, as Robson explains, Dumars is inexplicably attempting to build another championship-caliber team without a first-tier superstar:
The Pistons’ remarkable string of six consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances was broken only last season, but the seeds of their demise were sown as far back as the infamous 2003 draft, when Dumars selected Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony. (It would be unfair to add Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who weren’t in the debate as options for the top three picks.)
Yet under the circumstances, even the Darko decision seems more defensible than the moves Dumars has made over the past year. No one should question his need to break apart the venerable quartet — Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Hamilton and Prince — that formed the dependable chassis for that long, successful Pistons run. But for Dumars to flip his most valuable cog and facilitator in Billups to Denver for the most ball-dominant backcourt player of the modern era in Allen Iverson — during the second week of the 2008-09 season, no less — mocked the communal basketball catechism and culture he had minted as both player and front-office executive.
Theoretically, the silver lining was the salary-cap considerations. Iverson’s expiring contract meant that the Pistons could be players during the big-game hunt for free agents in 2010, when LeBron James, Wade and Bosh will be on the market. Instead, Dumars used his cap space on middle-game hunting in 2009, signing shooting guard Ben Gordon to a five-year, $55 million deal and combo forward Charlie Villanueva to a five-year, $35 million contract. Even if the Pistons don’t pick up any contract options in 2010-11 (and one of them is for supposed cornerstone Rodney Stuckey), the deals for Gordon and Villanueva have pushed existing commitments past $50 million next season — close enough to the cap to prohibit adding another star free agent.
Too bad, because the Pistons are still a meaningful player or two away from being a serious, well-rounded contender in the postseason. The beauty of Dumars’ first rebuilding project was the bang he got for his bucks, in terms of both the total talent he reaped and how those skills blended together. By contrast, there aren’t many bargains on the current payroll and the talents of his two big recent additions are clearly redundant with some holdover starters.
To read the full Robson column, click here.