Joe Dumars is not the 24th worst general manager in the NBA

Mike Prada at SB Nation today unveiled his NBA GM rankings. It’s an interesting exercise — GM terribleness is one of my favorite topics.

Here’s Prada’s evaluation of Joe Dumars, whom he ranked 24th, lower than noted visionaries like Rod Higgins, Chris Wallace and Rick Sund:

It pains me to put Joe Dumars, the architect of the Pistons teams of the 2000s, this low. However, Dumars has been a disaster since the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade. Dumars made the deal to regain salary-cap flexibility to rebuild a team that has run it’s course, but ended up spending that money on Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and a re-signed, declining Rip Hamilton. He’s refused to deal any of his other big-contract players like Tayshaun Prince because he legitimately thinks his team can and should be “competitive” when rebuilding.

That’s the problem, though — you can be “competitive” without major salary obligations to declining players. Dumars, like many of the GMs behind him on this list, fundamentally misunderstands this. I’m not sure why Dumars refuses to take the long-term approach. Sure, their arena is empty, but it seems they have a core of dieharts that are willing to wait around for a long-term rebuilding project. It’s not like Dumars is in a city like Charlotte, where the team desperately needs the revenue from home playoff games.

Therefore, the only explanation for Dumars’ recent issues is that he must believe that, because he built a “star-less” core earlier, he can do it again. Newsflash Joe: you probably can’t. Lightning doesn’t strike in the same spot twice.

It should pain Prada to put him that low on the list. It’s pretty patently ridiculous to put him that low, actually.

The reality is, Dumars’ track record, despite questionable moves the last two years, still holds up really well against most GMs in the league, except for the universally recognized top few guys.

Now, in fairness, Prada isn’t basing his rankings on wins, more so on quality of moves/body of work. He gets some of the positives — Hamilton trade, ‘Sheed trade, Jerebko pick, etc. — and negatives — Darko, Iverson, White, Gordon/Villanueva, but he also leaves out some pretty key arguments in favor of Dumars. Consider the following:

- On the Pistons’ 2004 title team, the unquestioned two best players, Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups, made a combined $10.5 million. Neither of those incredibly reasonable signings are mentioned. Finding undervalued players is a pretty key part of effective GMing and the bad signings of Gordon and Villanueva don’t trump the fact that the initial Wallace and Billups signings, value-wise, are arguably as good as any signing any GM on this list has made. The Pistons are the only title team in the last decade to win a championship without having a max-contract player. Call it luck if you want, but a lot of teams had Wallace and Billups on their rosters prior to the Pistons and missed something. Dumars didn’t miss.

- This line from Prada — “Therefore, the only explanation for Dumars’ recent issues is that he must believe that, because he built a “star-less” core earlier, he can do it again. Newsflash Joe: you probably can’t. Lightning doesn’t strike in the same spot twice.” — is a pretty common argument by the “Joe Dumarz needz to go, LOLz!” crowd. It also doesn’t take into account that Dumars has actually built a 50-win core two times, not just one time.

Check the roster of his first 50-win team in 2002. Now compare that to his last 50 win team in 2008. If you’ll notice, not a single player from that first roster was still on the team in 2008. In a period of six years, not only did Dumars completely rebuild his team, he did so while maintaining a team that won 50 games each of those seasons. There is not another GM in the league who can claim that (hat-tip to Dan Feldman, who tipped me off to that point).

- Re: the list of draft picks. Prada gets a few major finds — Prince, Jerebko, Stuckey — and the busts — Rodney White, Darko — but misses a couple.

Mehmet Okur had two solid seasons in Detroit before leaving as a free agent for Utah and becoming an All-Star. I’d say that’s good value for the second round. And really, although he kind of plateaued, Jason Maxiell has been a rotation player his entire post-rookie career, which is also good value for a 26th pick. Early in his career, Detroit had a pretty talented and crowded frontcourt, so it was impressive that a late pick like Maxiell earned minutes on a contending team. It’s rare that the draft picks of championship contenders crack a rotation, and Maxiell did that.

I won’t insist that Dumars is a top-five GM in the league anymore — his recent moves, combined with a historically bad draft bust, will hurt that legacy. But a man who has overseen a team that has won a title, made the playoffs eight of his 10 years and made the conference finals in six of 10 years is certainly a better GM than, oh, I don’t know, the man who once picked Joe Forte and Kedrick Brown in the first round of the same draft.

Dumars has work to do with his mismatched roster, but unlike many of the people in front of him, Dumars has shown the ability to turn a mismatched roster into a contending team. He’s nowhere near the bottom third of the league’s GMs.

Tags: Ben Wallace Jason Maxiell

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