Joe Dumars’ $20 Million Summer

Hey guys, this is Steve Kays, here making my Life on Dumars debut. I hope you all enjoy my first piece!

As of late, Pistons President Joe Dumars has received a lot of criticism this past season and offseason for the recent moves he’s made for the Pistons, specifically the use of the $20 million in cap space generated by Allen Iverson’s expiring contract to sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Now, it’s fine and all to criticize someone, but you had better have a better plan instead. The critics can’t seem to ever be happy. Let’s say that Chauncey Billups is never traded for Allen Iverson. The Pistons almost assuredly have a much better 2008-2009 season, one that perhaps ends in the Eastern Conference Finals again. But then what? Rasheed Wallace probably still isn’t resigned and Antonio McDyess doesn’t leave as a free agent since he has another year left on his deal. But that’s it. The Pistons can’t change. They’re still old and complacent. Sure, they might pick someone up for the MLE and improve with a draft pick in the 20’s, but that’s it.

Then the critics will say that Dumars should have blown the team up in 2008. You can’t have it both ways. That’s why we’re going to play Devil’s Advocate and assume that Dumars doesn’t sign Gordon and Villanueva right away. What should have he done instead?

There are those that think Dumars should have saved his cap space so he could trade a great player for little to no cost (a la the Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett trades). That’s not the worst idea I’ve heard, but it’s a risky one. But it’s already September and there have been no such lopsided trades for any team so far. If Dumars doesn’t sign Gordon and Villanueva fairly soon then other teams would have. The Cleveland Cavaliers were rumored that they were going to offer Villanueva their MLE ($5+ million contract). If Detroit doesn’t offer more than Villanueva is probably is a Cavalier right now.

So if Dumars doesn’t sign Gordon and Villanueva he had better be getting a really good player in a lopsided trade in return. But what if no good trade proposals are available? Yeah, good idea Kelly.

But okay, let’s say Dumars decides to just sign other players. Out of the other high-profile free agents on the market, who was available that’s better than Gordon and Villanueva? Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz? He was a restricted free agent meaning that the Jazz could match any offer for him, which they did when Portland offered him $32 million over 4 years. David Lee of the New York Knicks? Restricted free agent Lee still hasn’t signed a contract as he’s seeking a five- or six-year deal in the range of $50-60 million. No one is willing to give him that kind of money in these economic times as he’s probably going to sign to take a one-year deal.  Lamar Odom? The LA Lakers had his rights and could have matched any offer for him. He flirted with the Miami Heat before signing a four-year deal worth up to $33 million. Ron Artest? Not to mention the whole Palace Brawl incident, but Artest was set on joining the Lakers since last year’s Finals. Hedo Turkoglu might be the only other free agent that I would have wanted the Pistons to go after, but then again he is 30 years old and despite his playoff heroics, he had a down year statistically.

This isn’t like the summer of 1996 when there’s an all-star, hall of famer type of player on the market such as Shaquille O’Neal. Joe Dumars has signed arguably the best two players on the market. He also signed two other free agents this summer, Chris Wilcox and Ben Wallace. I don’t have any problems with these players since Wilcox is a bargain at $3 million a year for a player who very recently averaged 13 ppg and 7 rpg. And Ben Wallace was signed for the veterans minimum (a little over $1 million), which is very economical for a starter on last season’s best team.

In summary, I’m not sure what the critics were expecting. Perhaps they thoughts the Pistons should have signed LeBron James or something like that. My only complaint about this offseason is the trading of Arron Afflalo for the cap space to sign Wilcox. Also, the decision to extend Rip Hamilton’s contract for so many years and for so much money is looking like a bad decision in light of the signing of Ben Gordon. But whose to say that Hamilton couldn’t soon be traded for an elite big man? Regardless, the critics shouldn’t be so critical of an executive of Dumars’ caliber since he’s led Detroit to seven straight 50 win seasons, six Eastern Conference Finals appearances, and one NBA title.

  • brgulker

    Welcome, and thanks for the post!

    This isn’t like the summer of 1996 when there’s an all-star, hall of famer type of player on the market such as Shaquille O’Neal. Joe Dumars has signed arguably the best two players on the market. He also signed two other free agents this summer, Chris Wilcox and Ben Wallace.

    You make a really good point — this was not the best of Free Agent pools. I also agree with you that breaking up the roster was the right choice (although I can’t help but wonder if we could have packaged Sheed’s expiring deal with one or two of our former younger players — Amir/Afflalo; I don’t think the Billups trade was the ONLY option on the table, and perhaps not the best option)

    But that’s where I think we part ways. Let’s count up what we’ve lost vs. what we’ve gained:

    Chauncey Billups
    Rasheed Wallace
    Antonio McDyess
    Aaron Afflalo (traded for cap space)
    Amir Johnson (traded for cap space)

    Ben Gordon
    Charlie Villanueva
    Chris Wilcox
    Ben Wallace
    (Rookie drafts, far too early to say if they will count as a net gain or loss)

    Personally, I don’t see how the latter outweighs the former (but I also don’t think BG and CV are all that productive, in spite of how many points they score).

    Not to mention the enormous amount of money we have locked up at SG. We extended Rip to a contract that will pay him 12 million (approximately) when he’s 35 years old! Bad, bad contract — and then compounded the mistake by paying another SG an average of over 10 million per season.

    So, if the salary cap shrinks to 53 million — the low end of the NBA prediction — we will have about 40% of our cap invested in two shooting guards. Does that make any sense?

    With respect to alternatives that could have been made:

    Couldn’t Amir’s expiring contract netted more than cap space? And couldn’t the same have been said for AA? And as I mentioned earlier — wouldn’t Sheed’s expiring deal have been attractive to someone?


    IMO, Ramon Sessions was the best value for the money at any guard position this year — not to mention I think he’s got a much higher ceiling that Rodney Stuckey. I’d much rather have him for the MLE price point than Ben Gordon at 58 million over the life of his contract. Not to mention the fact that he also came from Milwaukee, to whom we traded Amir Johnson. I can’t believe that a sign-and-trade could not have been negotiated (Amir+junk for Sessions), which would have still allowed Joe to grab CV and BG, mind you.

    But wouldn’t that make us over-stacked at PG? Sure, but I’d rather have that redundancy in two cheap, young players (competing for the starting spot would have brought out the best in both) Stuckey and Sessions than in BG and Rip (Two veterans who are overpaid and expect big minutes).

    I’d also rather have David Lee than Villanueva. Charlie can put points on the board, and that’s about it; furthermore, he does it very inefficiently. If you look at his eFG% and compare that to other PFs around the league, you’ll see that it’s dreadfully low. Plus, the guy is an atrocious defender by all counts, and he’s an average rebounder. David Lee rebounds the ball very well, can knock down a mind-range jumper, and scores efficiently. Plus, he’s one of the hardest working guys in the league — he’s a prototypical Detroit Bad Boy.

    So there are some alternatives — two restricted Free Agents who could have been had for much less than the two guys we got and are arguably more productive players. Plus, if a sign-and-trade for Amir/Sessions had worked out, we still would have had cap room to play with.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts on the issue, and they lead me to believe that Joe is deserving of all the criticism he’s receiving and all the doubt about the roster he’s constructed that he’s getting.

  • brgulker

    Oh man, miserable html tag fail! My bad!

  • Corey

    I’m with Kays on this one, but brgulker makes some very fine points. Joe D has earned my trust over the years to the point where I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with these signings. We all remember a long time ago now when he made the moves to bring in Chauncey and Rip – both of which had not really made a big name for themselves at that point. There was speculation even back then that you’d get rid of someone like Stackhouse for an unproven guard like Rip, yet look how that resulted. Even the Grant Hill for Ben/Chucky Atkins was thought to be blasphemy. Yet every deal worked out. Maybe Joe won’t strike gold twice, but I will support him at least through the next two seasons to see how this newly constructed team will work out.

    Also, a lot of people are saying too they should have waiting for the 2010 free agent class, but I honestly believe that most of the big names in that class are going to stay put. So I applaud Joe for taking a chance this summer when lousy GMs everywhere are banking on giving up their bank to King James.

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  • Short White Boy

    1.Even if the Pistons kept Chauncey, no way they would’ve made it to the ECF this past season. Orlando, Boston, & Cleveland all were better.
    2.I thought getting rid of Billups was a good move to rebuild. Giving Rip a big contract was not.
    3.Dumars should’ve looked to trade ‘Sheed’s expiring contract. Utah would’ve given up Booze in a second.
    4.I think Sessions would’ve been a better choice than Ben Gordon. I also think they should’ve gone after Marcin Gortat. I do however think that they got Villanueva for a decent price and that he wasn’t a bad signing. Gordon however is a mystery with Rip already there. Maybe Dumars saves it by eventually trading Rip for a big, but since he didn’t have any trade lined up, it’ll just be luck if he finds someone willing to swap a good Big for a swingman rather than a brilliantly executed plan that was carefully figured out at the beginning (‘cuz again if Dumars had thought things out, he shouldn’t’ve re-uped Rip).
    5.If they couldn’t have found any better FAs, then they didn’t need to spend their money now. Just ‘cuz there’s nothing better it doesn’t excuse overpaying for mediocrity. If the Pistons didn’t spend all their money, well maybe they suck this year, get a high lottery pick, plus they then have $ left over next summer to get “leftovers” like a Joe Johnson, who’re better than the top options this summer. Or maybe they go the route of the TrailBlazers or Thunder and slowly build up young talent through the draft. However by signing mediocre players to large contracts, you may get to the playoffs, but you’ll never be great. Dumars got that team together by giving smart cost-effective deals to young up-and-comers. Now he’s paying big $ to players HOPING they’ll make a big, big leap.


  • NBA Kays

    Thanks for the replies guys. I’ll get some responses out soon, but in the meanwhile I want to address Rip vs. Gordon.

    I just don’t think it’s going to work out with both of them here.

    Brgulker is right in that you just can’t have $20+ million invested in 2 SG’s. This isn’t like Denver, where someone like Dahntay Jones can start because of his D but everyone knows that JR Smith is going to finish the games.

    At the end of close games who will be out there? I’d have to imagine that both BG & Rip will be playing. If you sit one of them, that guy won’t be happy. But if you play both that means guys are playing out of position. Rip at SG, Tay at PF, or CV at center are all bad ideas.

    That’s why I’m going to be very surprised if Rip is on the roster in one year.

    Joe D knows that Rip needs to be traded but so does every other GM in the league. It’s just a matter of time before a deal gets done. I’d rather Joe D wait for a good deal for Rip rather than just deal him now for spare parts just because the Pistons have Gordon now.

    Gordon at $58 million over 5 years is a little expensive, but remember that talent is an asset.

  • brgulker

    I agree with everything Alex said. I didn’t mention Gortat, but he’s another guy I would have pursued — even if via sign and trade.

    @ NBA Kays:

    That’s why I’m going to be very surprised if Rip is on the roster in one year.

    I agree; however, every GM in the league knows we need to move Rip. Couple that with his age and huge contract relative to his age, and he becomes a tough guy to move — at least if we think we’re going to get value in return. Which only makes the Aflalo salary dump that much more confusing; we can ‘afford’ to move Rip more cheaply if our SGs are BG backed up by AA. But now, if we move Rip, we have to get a SG back in return … Ugh.

  • NBA Kays

    @ brgulker

    Yeah I completely agree. Rip is going to be very hard to move, but certainly not impossible. If Shaq and his huge contract can be traded, then Rip can too.

    That’s why I was also upset about the AA dump. I figured that if he’s gone then Rip’s here to stay, at least for a while. I really liked AA, but Dumars must have a lot of faith in Deron Washington then. He seems to have more upside than AA, but we’ll see how he does as a rookie.

  • NBA Kays


    Good points about Sessions. It would have been nice to acquire him and now I wonder if it would have been possible.

    As for Lee, I really like him, I do. Seems like a guy that would fit w/ any team. But I don’t like him for $55-60 million. NY’s style of play has boosted his stats. I’d rather have CV at $35 million than Lee at $60 million. And since when can Lee knock down a midrange jumper?

    Regarding the perceived lack of D from Gordon & CV, I’m not buying it. Good defense comes from a good system. Gordon played on a top 5 defensive team in Chicago and didn’t seem to hurt them that badly.

    But you’re right in that the players the Pistons lost outweighs the players they’ve gained. But you got to make changes somewhere right? I’m glad Sheed is gone, CB got complacent, but I will miss Dyess. But the guy is 35 and shouldn’t be asked to play 35+ mins a night anymore.

    But I don’t think you can just compare the players lose & gained this summer and call it a day. It all depends what happens next summer and the summer after as well.

  • NBA Kays

    @Short White Boy

    1. Yeah I agree.
    2. Rip’s contract looks pretty bad at the moment…let’s see if Joe D can’t turn that into something useful.
    3. I don’t think Utah is looking to unload Boozer for nothing. If that were the case he’d probably be traded by now.
    4. I like Marcin Gortat, but as we when Dallas made him an offer of $35 million, Orlando matched.
    5. Good points about spending. But what if all the great FAs resign w/ their teams? Including Joe Johnson? I’d rather Dumars spend his money now on assets than hope for something to good happen next summer. And I wouldn’t call Gordon or CV “mediocre” players.

  • NBA Kays


    Yeah, it’s a lot easier to rebuild on the fly when you have a superstar to start with.
    I’m willing to give him a couple seasons to see what else he has up his sleeve.