3-on-3: Judging Joe Dumars

Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, Patrick and I will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic.

For each 3-on-3, we’ll be joined by a guest contributor. Today, that’s Mike Payne of Detroit Bad Boys.

Please add your responses in the comment.

1. How much responsibility does Joe Dumars bear for the Pistons’ run from 2002-08?

Dan Feldman: Essentially all of it. When Dumars took over, the Pistons had just lost Grant Hill and had to start over. Dumars meticulously added piece after piece until the Pistons were good enough to win a championship. He didn’t get lucky in the lottery, and he didn’t have an owner willing to pay the luxury tax. Dumars built the Pistons through shrewd moves and nothing else.

Patrick Hayes: Dumars gets most of the credit. He built arguably the most cohesive starting five in recent NBA history, he hired two great coaches in Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown and he’s one of only a handful of GMs working today who can claim a title. Can I nitpick and say that he should’ve tweaked the core at some point to try and make another run? Can I complain about never developing a competent bench during that stretch? Sure. But when you have a team that will make boatloads of money every year with guaranteed deep playoff runs, I understand why he got a little gun shy about messing with things too much.

Mike Payne: Nearly all of it. When building the Going to Work Pistons, Joe Dumars flourished under the “do less with more” constraints of Bill Davidson’s ownership philosophy. The Dumars / John Hammond duo shared a chemistry that yielded a greater value than the sum of is parts. Luck factored into the equation as well, but less-so than teams that have built championships with #1 picks. At the end of the day, it was Dumars who built that team from the ground up and he absolutely deserves the credit. If any of that credit is shared, Davidson and Hammond both get an assist on Joe’s amazing four point play.

2. How much responsibility does Joe Dumars bear for the Pistons’ run from 2009-present?

Dan Feldman: If you want to pin responsibility on a specific person, Dumars is the guy. But sometimes circumstance beyond an individual’s control play a part. Years of contending had kept the Pistons out of the lottery, making it more difficult to acquire talent. I obviously wish Dumars had kept Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson and Carlos Delfino – but without lottery picks and an owner willing to pay the luxury tax, Dumars’ margin of error was slim. Then, Bill Davidson died – another circumstance that limited Dumars further. Giving so much money to Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva was Dumars’ fault, and it hurt him. But circumstance exasperated his problems.

Patrick Hayes: You get the credit, you get the blame. There were certainly complicating factors with the death of William Davidson, but by far the most important factor in the decline had to do with Dumars’ own bad personnel decisions. He handed out abhorrently bad contracts, he whiffed on his top two picks in a deep 2009 draft, he gave up too soon on two solid young players and got little return for Amir Johnson and Arron Afflalo in trades and he hired two terrible coaches. Whether the sale of the team handcuffed his ability to fix those mistakes or not, the Pistons were clearly in the state they were in because Dumars made a series of really indefensibly bad moves.

Mike Payne: Every ounce of it.  The blame game in the mean time has been laughable. First it was Michael Curry’s fault. Then it was the injuries in 2009-10. Last season it was John Kuester and Karen Davidson.  Since late 2008, Joe Dumars has executed a maddening string of bad moves in free agency, trades and the draft, moves that reflect a complete reversal in philosophy (or a total lack thereof). If there has been any saving grace in Detroit since the Billups trade, it was when the Golden State Warriors drafted Ekpe Udoh in 2010. Sure, I know Joe deserves credit for picking Monroe, but the same kind of credit the Denver Nuggets get for drafting Carmelo Anthony in 2003 when Milicic was off the board.

3. Is Joe Dumars capable of fixing the Pistons?

Dan Feldman: I’m not sure, but I’m definitely willing to take the chance that he is.

Patrick Hayes: I dunno. When Tom Gores made the decision to retain Dumars and add a statistical analysis element to his front office staff, I was on board with that. I liked the Lawrence Frank hire. Things were going OK. Then, Dumars re-signed Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons clearly need to bottom out and have a shot at a top of the lottery pick. Bringing back a limited veteran like Prince, for four years no less, is exactly the type of move that ensures the Pistons might not be able to get bad enough to strike it rich with a high lottery pick and get good again. My confidence since that signing has undoubtedly wavered. But Gores had access to all of the mistakes of the past, and he’s paying for all of the bad signings out of his own pocket now. Knowing that, he still made the decision to wipe the slate clean and let Dumars attempt to rebuild this thing, so I think he has to give him at least another year to make significant progress.

Mike Payne: Absolutely, unequivocally not. Even before this season began, the Pistons were a few steps away from rebuilding. To rebuild, you need to first deconstruct the existing foundation. The Pistons were tasked with getting rid of some of the dead weight under Hamilton, Villanueva, Gordon and Maxiell — and when the opportunity finally came to begin that, Dumars took one step forward and two steps back. Gores allows Dumars to buy-out Richard Hamilton, but then Dumars extends a 31-year-old Tayshaun Prince and tosses $24M at Rodney Stuckey when the ~$3M qualifying offer was the price tag. That’s not rebuilding, it’s a further investment in players who are average or worse at their respective positions — not to mention who openly feuded with their coach last season. It’s buffoonery.

Something apparently happened to Joe Dumars after the signing of Antonio McDyess. Since then, his perspective on his own roster, his trades, his free agent signings and most of his drafts have led this team from the top of the Eastern Conference toward its basement. He’s given up solid young talent for nothing. He’s spent millions and millions of dollars on deeply flawed inbound free agents, and he’s spent millions and millions of dollars to extend rapidly aging vets. He’s completely abandoned the value of positionality and the virtue of defense. He’s still doing this today, having shown no awareness of his mistakes.

Is Joe Dumars capable of fixing the Pistons? No. But some fans will still point to an 8-year-old championship to somehow justify him, all the while blaming everyone else for the Pistons woes.

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