Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘Joe Dumars’ Category

Dumars, Ever The Chessmaster, Uses The NBA As His Board And Pawns

In Allen Iverson, Chris Bosh, Joe Dumars, LeBron James on November 5, 2008 at 3:24 pm

There’s great irony in Joe Dumars’s career as a basketball executive.

As a player, we called him Joe D — probably first coined by broadcaster George Blaha — and the “D” was mainly for defense. Dumars made it into the Hall of Fame not because he could score (even though he could), but because he established a reputation — earned, unlike some others — as being a top-notch defender. It was said that, in his prime, Dumars was the only man who could come close to checking Michael Jordan, one-on-one.

So here’s the irony: Dumars, a perennial candidate for Executive of the Year, is so much on the offense that he’s practically forcing the rest of the league to play defense to his aspirations.

The question is, is there any GM out there who can check Joe Dumars, one-on-one? Or will they have to gang up on him? You can’t stop Dumars — you can only hope to contain him!

Dumars, to hear those in the know report it, looks at the rest of the NBA as a giant chess board, with him controlling even the opposition’s pieces.

Monday’s trade for guard Allen Iverson got people talking, for sure — but most of the talk was what the trade meant in terms of Dumars’s grand plan. And, even scarier for his colleagues, Dumars’s grand plan seems incapable of being foiled, even if everyone can see it coming.

Kind of like Air Jordan in the middle of a flying path to the basket. And even Joe D couldn’t stop that.

Here’s the crux of Dumars’s scheme: if the Iverson trade doesn’t work out the way Dumars hopes, then no harm, no foul. AI becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Dumars has a trove of cash at his disposal, once Iverson’s and Rasheed Wallace’s (potentially) contracts come off the Pistons books. Then, Dumars can perhaps trade for Toronto big man Chris Bosh, who becomes unrestricted in the summer of 2010 — if the Raptors don’t feel they can keep him in their camp one year hence. Or, Dumars can simply wait until 2010 and go for other folks, namely LeBron James, and Bosh again. Or others. The class of ’10 is filled with some of the league’s most marquee players.

Sources say it’s James and Bosh, though, that Dumars is zeroing in on. No, that wasn’t a typo — I didn’t mean to type OR there. James AND Bosh. You heard me.


Dumars (top) is zeroing in on the NBA’s King, it’s said

With a boatload of cash, a winning culture, top drawer talent, depth, and the respected Dumars himself, few other teams will be more attractive than the Pistons to big names available.

James, it’s thought, wants to play in New York. It’s also said that there are days he’d consider playing in Timbuktu or Beirut — because at least those cities aren’t Cleveland.

Dumars absolutely has a path to LeBron James in 2010 — and there might not be a damn thing anyone else can do about it. Such is how Dumars has set himself up.

Of course, a cynic might say that had Dumars drafted Bosh back in 2003 like he could have, then a lot of this maneuvering would have been unnecessary. But it’s not like the Pistons were destroyed by the misstep involving Darko Milicic. They won the championship in Darko’s rookie year, and went back to the Finals the following season. The Pistons have been Final Four participants every season since then.

You can tell that Dumars truly enjoys all this GM stuff. For the competitive, sometimes it’s hard to find anything off the court that scratches that itch. But Dumars clearly has found it: the wheeling and dealing, the front office strategy, the “wins” you get when you negotiate a good contract or make an astute trade, or sign a “diamond in the rough” free agent. There are losses, too, and disappointments. Also part of high stakes competition.

I think that Dumars’s role as team president and GM is merely an extension of his role as a player. He played in a lot of big time games as a Piston. He tasted championship champagne. He experienced deep disappointment. He was surrounded by high profile, sometimes high-maintenance guys. And he competed against the best players in the world.

So it doesn’t matter whether it’s shorts and sneakers, or blazer and khakis. Doesn’t matter whether it’s on the hardwood or in an office. Doesn’t matter whether he’s guarding Jordan or trying to put the moves on a rival GM. It’s all about competition and outwitting and winning the whole enchilada.

It’s all there right now for Dumars; the NBA landscape is shaping up just the way he would like it to. It’s not even relevant whether his intentions are close to the vest or plainly evident. A true chessmaster will put you in checkmate in due time.

And Dumars definitely has his sights set on the King from Cleveland.

Dumars’s "Detroit Raiders" Add Another Misfit; So What Else Is New?

In Joe Dumars, Kwame Brown, Pistons on July 30, 2008 at 2:43 pm

The point guard is a four-time loser in the NBA. The shooting guard was deemed too skinny and frail, and was dumped. The small forward was looked at cross-eyed when drafted. One of the big men was labeled a coach killer and a disruption. The other big man’s knee was so wrecked that few felt he’d ever play another minute in the league.

With the exception of the big man who might be a coach killer and a disruption — because he can be, at times — the above paragraph is no longer an accurate description of the current starting five for the Detroit Pistons. But it was, at one time.

Chauncey Billups, one-time NBA journeyman. Cashiered by the Celtics, then the Raptors, then the Nuggets, then the Timberwolves. Only one of those teams — the Celtics (and only recently) — have won anything of note after Billups’ banishment. Meanwhile, with the Pistons, Billups has appeared in six straight conference finals, two NBA Finals, and won a championship. Not bad for a four-time loser.

Rip Hamilton, skinny and frail, once upon a time. Will never amount to more than a shot-happy, defensive liability. Or so the Washington Wizards thought, when they traded the former University of Connecticut standout to the Pistons in 2002 for the enigmatic Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse has since been bounced over to the Dallas Mavericks, where he still seeks a championship. But Hamilton’s heart was apparently never measured, because since becoming a Piston he’s worked hard to shed all of the negative labels that were whispered about him. He, too, is a six-time conference final participant, along with all those things Billups has accomplished.

Tayshaun Prince, from the University of Kentucky. They play some good basketball down there, in case you didn’t know. But when Joe Dumars drafted Prince in 2002, there were yawns. Except from the Pistons themselves. In his rookie season, Prince rarely got off the bench. The yawners kept yawning. Until the 2003 playoffs, when Prince became coach Rick Carlisle’s secret weapon. He’s been a starter and a major contributor ever since.

Rasheed Wallace, cantankerous center/power forward. A perceived ringleader of Portland’s “Jail Blazers” from several years ago. Judged as being too hard to handle, too much of a loose cannon. A bitch to coach. Often that’s been true. It’s been true in Detroit. But much of it has been half-truths or rumor or simply a tired tale that’s been regurgitated so much that it’s accepted as fact. But yet he remains the loosest of the Piston cannons, regardless.

Antonio McDyess, the tragic figure of the Pistons. Once a leaping, high-scoring forward. A first round draft choice, back in the day. Then, a serious knee injury. Then another. Then a career that appeared to be over, until Dumars came calling in 2004. Since then, some tantalizingly close brushes with greatness as a Piston for McDyess. Now is probably the player that teammates and fans would most like to see as a champion. No one takes losing as hard as McDyess, who joined the Pistons as they basked in their ’04 title.

To all this, and we haven’t even mentioned the young studs waiting in the wings, comes young (still) Kwame Brown, the newest Piston. His resume and NBA experience would seem to fit nicely with the group in Detroit. Former high draft pick — the highest, actually. Another multiple loser — the Pistons being his fourth NBA team, and he’s only 26. Another who Dumars is taking a gamble on.

Brown, as 2001’s first overall pick — at age 19

The Pistons, it might be said, are the Oakland Raiders of basketball. The Raiders, especially in the 1970s and ’80s, were famous for resurrecting careers, a haven to pro football’s old, its misfits, its discards. There was something about putting on the silver and black that acted as a fountain of youth, or in some cases, a portable rehab center.

There are those who already are willing to overlook Brown’s checkered NBA career, mainly because if anyone has kissed the Blarney Stone more often than anyone in the league, it’s Joe Dumars. Same thing with the Raiders. Al Davis would bring in players that, had anyone else in the NFL done so, they would have been laughed at and scorned. But since it was Davis, and since it was the Raiders, then folks simply shrugged and said, “Well, if anyone can get blood from a turnip, it’s Al Davis and the Raiders.”

Dumars hasn’t always rolled seven with those dice. Witness Darko Milicic and Rodney White and Mateen Cleaves and Chris Webber. You play enough craps, you’re gonna lose on occasion. But the Brown “gamble” would appear to be a low-to-medium risk, considering the only thing at stake here is some of Bill Davidson’s money. At 26, Brown could still have the best years of his basketball life in front of him. He’s just a baby, really.

Just another misfit whose career might have needed this.

Sound familiar?

Saunders Never Found True Love In Detroit

In Flip Saunders, Joe Dumars, Pistons, Rasheed Wallace on June 4, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Flip Saunders never truly got entrenched in Detroit. He was the Pistons coach for three seasons, but two things about that: 1) GM Joe Dumars has a fetish for canning coaches after a couple years or so, and 2) you never got the feeling that Saunders was securing his place, about to defy the odds created by item #1 in this paragraph. He won a ton of games — 176 of them in three years — but couldn’t push the Pistons past the NBA’s Final Four.

“When you get to where we were,” Dumars said yesterday at the press conference announcing Saunders’ ziggy, “you never feel like you’re not good enough to get to the Finals. Nobody gets to the conference finals and wonders if they’re good enough to move on.”

Dumars used those words to deflect any heat he might face from firing a coach with a winning percentage of over .700 in Detroit. What Joe D was saying was that the Pistons didn’t luck themselves into these last three Final Fours. Yet they couldn’t take that next step, falling in six games three straight times — kind of like Groundhog Day, only with a different groundhog each time. First, it was the Miami Heat, on their way to an NBA title behind the nearly flawless Dwyane Wade. Then it was the Cleveland Cavaliers, behind the nearly flawless LeBron James. Then it was the Boston Celtics, a team that went from 24 wins to 66, and a team that Dumars chided.

“They got some very good players, and didn’t have to give up much to get them,” Dumars said of the Celtics’ acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett over the summer. “It’s not like they had to give up depth. I would have liked to have done that, too,” he added with a wry grin.

So now Dumars may have just set a record for firing the most coaches with 50+ win seasons than any GM in history. He let Rick Carlisle go in 2003 after two 50-32 campaigns, it being hinted that Rick simply wasn’t all that nice a guy to team employees, and wasn’t all that nice to his bosses, either. Dumars replaced Carlisle quickly with the mercurial Larry Brown, who was shown the door after a title and two Finals appearances and two more 50+ win seasons, largely because owner Bill Davidson found Brown despicable toward the end, with the coach’s wandering eye and career restlessness always taking center stage. Again Dumars acted quickly, and brought in Saunders, a coach with some success in Minnesota but none to speak of in the playoffs.

Ahh, the playoffs. That’s where you can start tracing the fan base’s distrust of Saunders — and maybe even the players’, too. I, for one, wasn’t all that giddy about the Saunders hiring three summers ago, mainly because I looked at the standard being set in Detroit — the team was coming off another Finals appearance — and then I looked at the results Flip was getting in Minnesota (there were a lot of early exits with good teams) and I felt a little squeamish. But I also subscribed to the In Joe We Trust mentality, and figured that Saunders must have something for Dumars to commit four years of Davidson’s dough into him.

Then the Pistons went out and started 35-5 in Flip’s first season, and they looked damn near invincible. The second half was a bit more disjointed, and the team had to scramble to beat the Cavs in seven games in the Elite Eight before being melted by Wade’s Heat.

From there, it was dicey, as far as overall belief and trust in Flip Saunders in Detroit. While I hate to give the sports talk radio jabbermouths too much credit, they and their often misguided callers seemed to unite under one common belief: the Pistons win in the regular season despite of Saunders, but will never get back to the Finals — mainly because of Saunders.

Saunders was, by far, the least embraced coach in Detroit — ranking below even the Lions’ Rod Marinelli, who has largely been judged as more of an innocent bystander than anyone with losing blood on his hands. There wasn’t any sort of true affection for him. We never knew much about him, for starters. We knew he had a kid who played at the University of Minnesota, his alma mater, and that he coached the T-Wolves all those years. And that he narrowly missed being a victim of that bridge collapse — also in Minnesota. Maybe he was just too much Minnesota for our liking. Regardless, there wasn’t any of the lovable gruffness and supposed genius that Tigers fans found so alluring about Jim Leyland. There wasn’t the quiet calm and confidence exuded by Red Wings coach Mike Babcock that hockey fans find reassuring. There wasn’t even the “Aw, shucks/pound the rock” affability projected by Marinelli. With Saunders, he was like the outsider who was just keeping a seat warm until Dumars decided to satisfy his fetish again. No real connection. No real affection. No real empathy about what would ultimately happen to him.

Fair? Probably not.

I think that Flip Saunders became the Pistons coach at a very difficult time in team history. And all his regular season success couldn’t wash away the film that the disappointing playoff endings always left on the organization. He had to win another championship, Saunders did — or at least make it to a Finals or two — to continue to coach here. He was the victim of the expectations built first by Carlisle and then reached by Brown. And in the end, for whatever reason, Saunders simply didn’t have enough moxie to achieve those lofty goals.

There was his relationship with Rasheed Wallace, for one. Sheed is a reminder that coach killers are still a long ways away from becoming extinct in the NBA. They’re alive and well, and Sheed contributed, more than any other player, to the decision Dumars reached regarding Saunders’s status. Ironically, Wallace himself may also be gone — but not before having plunged a knife into Flip’s back. You can’t kill a coach killer, but you can get rid of him. Maybe Wallace will be some other team’s headache.

Dumars spoke — and with some definite agitation — of the final ten minutes of the Pistons’ season, those final, ghoulish minutes against Boston in the fourth quarter of Game 6. The ten minutes that put Saunders in the coffin and lowered him six feet under the daisies. The ten minutes that saw the Pistons turn a 10-point lead and a raucous crowd and an imminent Game 7 into yet another ugly, gut-churning, cold ending to a season. The ten minutes that gave Wallace one more chance to show why he’s one of the least clutch starters in the league, and why the Pistons didn’t have the heart or the guts to beat back the Celtics, even on their home floor, their crowd behind them and their opponents about ready to gag.

The Pistons coughed up two hairballs in the Final Four: Game 3 and the final ten minutes of Game 6 — both at the Palace. They were 58 minutes of basketball that are now the first domino of a summer of change in Auburn Hills. Flip is gone, just as we all suspected he might be. But this isn’t a fire-the-coach, keep-the-players sort of thing. Not even close.

“I’m open for business,” Dumars declared of his personnel plans. “No one is a sacred cow.”

No; they’re four fatted calves — you know who I mean — and at least one of them is about ready to be slaughtered.

Coming To A Basketball Arena Near You: Coach Joe Dumars

In Flip Saunders, Jack McCloskey, Joe Dumars, NBA on March 16, 2008 at 3:24 pm

The Pistons were in the midst of another search for a coach. It was typical, for a franchise that had two winning seasons on its resume in 26 seasons in Detroit.

It was the spring of 1983. General Manager Jack McCloskey was rumored to have interviewed several candidates. A couple, it was whispered, turned him down. One of those rejecters was supposedly the revered Dr. Jack Ramsay, a future Hall of Famer. McCloskey, it was reported, turned to an old friend from his days with the Lakers, Jack McKinney. McKinney, too, said no.

Other names bobbed to the surface. The days dragged on. Then it occurred to me.

Jack McCloskey wants to coach this team himself.

He could have done it, you know. McCloskey was a successful coach in the Ivy League, back when some of the best college basketball in the country was played in the small arenas of Princeton, Brown, and Yale. And Penn, where McCloskey roamed the sidelines in the 1960s. In the NBA, McCloskey coached the woeful Portland Trailblazers, getting fired just before the team drafted Bill Walton. He assisted his friend Jerry West with the Lakers, and did the same thing for McKinney with Indiana.

It was while on the Pacers bench as an assistant that McCloskey was recommended to Pistons owner Bill Davidson as just the basketball man the dysfunctional franchise needed to recover from two years of Dickie Vitale’s destruction. That was in December 1979.

So I was bracing myself for the announcement that I was sure to come, that McCloskey had tired of the coaching search and was going to assume the role himself.

He made a fool of me. He hired Chuck Daly, another former Penn coach. I suppose it was a good decision.

I hit McCloskey with my theory in 1989, the summer after the Pistons’ first-ever championship.

“If I thought it was the best decision for the team, I would have taken the job,” McCloskey told me with a shrug. But no, it wasn’t his intention.

I wonder if Joe Dumars will ultimately show the same restraint.

Flip Saunders is the Pistons coach, but he isn’t where the buck stops when it comes to in-season personnel matters. They do things a little differently in Detroit. Most NBA coaches bristle when it’s suggested that he’s not the one pulling all the strings all the time – during the season. The GM’s role for those teams is to make trades, look at free agents, and sit in a suite somewhere during the games. And keep the pie hole shut when it comes to who should play when, and for how long, and against which teams.

Dumars doesn’t play that.

Frequently he’s consulted, and I wonder how much of it is Saunders consulting Dumars, or Dumars consulting Saunders, if you get my drift.

The coach was talking to the media last week about veteran Lindsey Hunter, idle for over a month and resting – getting ready for the playoffs, when he’ll once again coax energy and ball-hawking defense out of his 37-year-old body.

When, it was asked, will it be time to suit up Hunter and begin blending him back into the rotation, the playoffs about a month away?

“Not sure,” Saunders said. “Gotta talk to Joe (Dumars) about it. See what Joe thinks.”

You can count on one hand how many NBA coaches would be comfortable with such an idea, and have some fingers left over.

Gotta talk to the GM first? See what he thinks?

Hey, if it works for Saunders and the Pistons, then everyone has my blessing. But it’s starting to crystallize now – why Joe Dumars has burned through coaches like a teenager does with his allowance.

Let’s take a look back. Dumars canned Alvin Gentry in 2000, promoting assistant George Irvine. Irvine was gone a little over a year later. Dumars then brought in Rick Carlisle, who lasted two seasons – both 50-win seasons, by the way. Despite leading the Pistons to the conference finals, Carlisle was fired. Larry Brown was hired. Brown flamed out in two seasons, as well – with a championship and a runner-up on his record. Enter Saunders, who’s actually survived into a third season – a record for any man that Dumars has hired.

Dumars, letting another coach go (Carlisle, in 2003)

I wonder how much of this is Dumars being aggressively restless and risk-taking, and how much of it is that he can’t get along with coaches? Or, rather, that they can’t get along with him?

I’m not castigating Dumars here. There’s no crime in running things the way you see fit, especially if the success rate is high. But something tells me that Joe Dumars may not be totally content until he seizes control of the team himself, as coach someday. He already is mega-involved in personnel decisions. Don’t kid yourself here. One of the reasons you see Saunders’s rotation fluctuate and change so often – in an ongoing effort to bring the youngsters Dumars has drafted into the fold – is because Dumars has ideas. And he isn’t shy to flex his muscles with his coach when it comes to those ideas.

Is Flip Saunders a puppet? That’s far too strong of a word. But it’s not inaccurate to describe Dumars as a sort of micro-manager, and those types aren’t ever happy unless they can do things themselves – like coach basketball teams.

Gregg Popovich is maybe going to go into the Hall of Fame one day as a coach, leading the San Antonio Spurs as the team of the 21st century. But Popovich was an accidental coach himself. He was a little-known GM when he fired his coach one day, took the job on an interim basis, and never gave it up.

Saunders will coach the Pistons next year, odds are – barring a total meltdown in the playoffs, i.e. a first or second-round exit. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. And I’ll again brace myself, as I did back in 1983, for the Pistons GM to announce that, guess what, he’s the new coach, too.

McCloskey made a fool of me in ’83. I doubt that Dumars will.

Millen’s Cowardice Has Only One Cure: Winning

In Jimmy Devellano, Joe Dumars, Ken Holland, Matt Millen on February 24, 2008 at 8:00 pm

The short, dumpy, bespectacled man with the un-combed hair and ill-fitting suit stood before the throng of reporters at his introductory press conference and if you thought he was funny-looking, you were in for a treat once he began speaking.

In a squeaky, nerdy voice singed with Canada, he said, “As long as Jimmy Devellano is the general manager of the Detroy-et Red Wings, we will NOT trade a draft choice.”

It was the summer of 1982, and this little pipsqueak of a man was the one entrusted with the future of a hockey franchise teetering on the brink of self-destruction.

Jimmy Devellano. Jimmy D. The first man hired by new Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, taking over after the Norris family era had fizzled out with one playoff appearance in 12 years. Years damaged by “Darkness With Harkness” and curious coaching hires and absurd draft choices. Grotesque re-naming of the team the “Dead Things” by an increasingly fed up media and fan base. A new hockey palace, Joe Louis Arena, that was hemorrhaging ticket-buying peasants.

Devellano’s addition, for my money, was the best bang-for-your-buck executive hire in Detroit sports history. He still works for the Red Wings as an Executive Vice President, and has been a key cog for six Stanley Cup winners: three in Detroit, to go along with the three he helped win with the New York Islanders, when he was a scouting genius. Twenty-six years of faithful service in Detroit ensued when Mike Ilitch, in one fell swoop, put an end to the front office nonsense that had been going on with the Red Wings for over a decade.

After he bought the Tigers in 1992, Ilitch monkeyed around with different GMs and scouting directors and player development people before he finally found his gem in David Dombrowski, hired in 2001. This time, Ilitch righted his own wrongs, instead of cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Bill Davidson, who would work out of offices in Detroit, then Pontiac, then Auburn Hills with the Pistons, was trying like mad to get his arms around a highly-dysfunctional front office after he bought out a syndicate of owners in 1974. He made some bad decisions before a league insider tipped him off to a little-known man sitting on the bench of the Indiana Pacers as an assistant coach.

When Davidson hired Jack McCloskey in December 1979, the Pistons had been reduced to expansion team status. McCloskey’s words. Once, Trader Jack offered his entire roster to the Lakers for Earvin “Magic” Johnson. When I reminded him of this youthful indiscretion a couple summers ago, McCloskey laughed, recalling it fondly and with total recollection.

McCloskey, though, was no fool. He built a championship team from the dregs he was handed when he signed on with the Pistons. And he did it rather rapidly, all things considered. Hiring a coach named Chuck Daly accelerated things a bit.

Davidson would learn more lessons after McCloskey departed, all of them the hard way. Until he handed the Palace keys over to Joe Dumars in 2000.

The Red Wings, Tigers, and Pistons have all graduated from the school of hard knocks. The Lions are still in detention hall.

Matt Millen was no coward on the football field. There really aren’t any of those in the NFL, if you want to know. One does not play professional football if one has any propensity toward fear. Millen was a middle linebacker, the kamikaze of the defense. He learned linebacking from the LB factory of college, otherwise known as Penn State University. Some schools make good doctors, or lawyers, or scientists. Penn State made linebackers. And Millen was one of the best – college and pro. He won pro championships – almost being able to fill all of his fingers on one hand with rings.

Millen does not run the Lions, anymore, with the zeal or reckless abandon that he once used to crush enemy ball carriers. There may not be any cowards on the football field, but there sure are some of them walking around in the management offices of professional sports teams across the country.

Millen is now one such coward.

He held an absurd, brief Q&A session with some Detroit sportswriters at the NFL combines in Indianapolis the other day. The newspapers printed portions of it, and the websites ran it in its entirety. But it had all the substance of a rice cake.

The questioners wanted to know why Millen is increasingly less visible and quiet the deeper he gets into his reign, which is now 112 games old – 81 of those losses.

“I can’t do anything about the perception,” he said. “You can perceive it any way you want. The facts are these: I have 100% confidence in Rod Marinelli. I trust him. I think he’s doing it the right way. I trust his words. So I don’t have to say anything. I think he does a great job with it, and I think it’s good. There’s one voice. Go ahead and speak. I’m very comfortable with him. …”

In other words, I’m going to prop my coach out there to take all the heat, even though he’s working with the chicken feathers I’ve given him, his charge being to make chicken salad out of it.

Millen says we can perceive it any way we want. That’s a fastball down the middle.

Millen is in seclusion most days because he has nothing good to talk about. Simple as that. And losing breeds cowardice among executive types.

When the Tigers were losing 119 games in 2003, Dombrowski didn’t vanish. Dumars of the Pistons and Kenny Holland of the Red Wings have put themselves in the line of fire, answering all the “what happened?” questions in the wake of playoff disappointments. No cowards, they. Winning has made them visible, and by extension, brave. And I can assure you that none of them would go into hiding if things were to ever go south again. They’re not those types of dudes.

Because they’re hard-knock school graduates, you see. They have diplomas, where Matt Millen has been too yellow to earn his.

Unlike McCloskey, Dumars Has To Retool AND Satisfy — All At Once

In Joe Dumars, NBA, Pistons on June 11, 2007 at 12:53 pm

Which of these statements is most true?

a) The Cleveland Cavaliers are finding out the hard way that, in the NBA Finals, these aren’t the Pistons they’re playing.

b) The San Antonio Spurs are finding out, to their delight, that in the NBA Finals these aren’t the Pistons they’re playing.

OK, it’s actually a trick question. They’re BOTH true, and therein lies the enigma wrapped in a riddle that is the summer 2007 edition of the Detroit Pistons.

Watching the Finals, I couldn’t help but think that the Pistons would never have fallen behind by 28 freaking points in the first half, as the Cavs did in Game 2 last night. Yet I also acknowledge that the Pistons, by the end of the Eastern finals, were outclassed by the Cavs and didn’t deserve another trip to the NBA Finals. Weird, huh? But also true.

Again, let me reiterate my point from Friday: there’s no way the Pistons beat the Spurs in a Finals rematch from 2005. Absolutely not. But they sure as heck would have put up more of a fight than the Cavs have for seven of the eight quarters played thus far.

Oh well — too bad, so sad. Water under the bridge, that ship has sailed — all that.

But what does it say about a basketball team in the NBA when both of the above A & B statements can be true — at the same time?

Dumars leads a pit crew; McCloskey operated a garage

This promises to be one of the most intriguing off-seasons the Pistons have experienced since the days of Trader Jack McCloskey, when the grizzled GM was forever burrowed in his laboratory every summer in the 1980s, trying to find the right concoction that would thrust the Pistons into title contention.

A little Dan Roundfield here. Oops, lose the Roundfield and add some Rick Mahorn. Toss in some William Bedford. Wait — ixnay the Bedford — too volatile and I think it’s making the elixir turn sour. Inject some John Salley and Dennis Rodman — two little-known secret ingredients. Too much Kelly Tripucka; get rid of it and give me that Adrian Dantley over there. Hmmm — still not quite right. What say we jettison the Dantley and replace it with Mark Aguirre?


But current team president Joe Dumars doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of time, as McCloskey did, when Jack took a team at expansion-like status in 1979 and used most of a decade to turn it into a serious championship threat. Dumars, stung by some recent personnel decision hiccups, must retool on the fly, attempting to manage that tricky balance between respectability and lottery in the process. He might have to take one step backward, so to speak, to take two steps forward. While McCloskey tinkered, it was largely shrugged off. The Pistons had never been truly good. The Tigers were a division contender every year. And the Red Wings, led by Jacques Demers and their young captain, were beginning to fascinate again during the winter months. So it was easy to smirk and shake your head while McCloskey worked behind the big blue curtain inside the Silverdome.

No such luck for Joe D nowadays. His Pistons are in a pitstop — not on a hoist in a garage, as McCloskey’s Pistons were. Dumars has to change tires, check for backfires, and keep the engine fueled — and he has to do it in 30 seconds, comparatively speaking.

Perhaps never before has the Detroit basketball club been more aptly named than now. Pistons wear out over time, as you know — unless some are replaced.