Joe Dumars’ triumphant return puts focus on what’s next, especially for Brandon Knight

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"One day it might hit me. I might get in a position where it’s time for me to win one more (championship)," Prince said. "To go to a contender-type team. I might go to Joe that day and say ‘it’s time for me to move on’ and play that route but now is not the time."

-Tayshaun Prince earlier this month

"I’ve got the question [from NBA teams], ‘Am I a true point guard?’ " Knight said. "And obviously my answer is yes. I think I was able to prove that this past season as I developed into a guy who can facilitate and run a team."

-Brandon Knight in June 2011

***

Two weeks ago, more brazenly than ever, Tayshaun Prince was dictating the terms of his status in Detroit. Yesterday, he left The Palace “shocked” after the Pistons traded him and Austin Daye to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jose Calderon.

After years of failed experiments – Allen Iverson as game-changing scorer on a balanced team, Rodney Stuckey as point guard, John Kuester as head coach, Charlie Villanueva and Daye as revolutionary stretch fours, Prince as team leader – Joe Dumars restored faith in his ability as general manager with a forceful reminder that he can make the cold decisions necessary to build a successful team.

In one fell swoop, Dumars upgraded the current roster and improved the salary structure. All it took was trading a player he’s clearly fond of, a move many thought Dumars was incapable of making. Now, who knows Dumars’ limits? After this great trade, he has the momentum – and mandate – to make more changes.

The Pistons have a new rotation to set and more cap room to use this summer. This trade is not an end, but it provides the means for greater solutions.

There’s a hole to fill at small forward and the means to acquire a more traditional shooting guard this summer, but the biggest question comes at point guard. Is this trade at all an acknowledgement that Brandon Knight might not be the point guard of the future in Detroit?

Knight, to date, has failed to become a starting-caliber NBA point guard in what might be another of Dumars’ misguided experiments. Does Dumars want to move Knight to shooting guard? Does Dumars want to make Knight a backup? Does Dumars want to trade Knight? Is Dumars even considering any of those plans?

I’ll get back to those questions, but first, I want to address three things I feel confident this trade will accomplish:

Cure a culture of complacency

The trade is a much-needed shakeup that immediately restores faith in Dumars, whose approval rating had definitely fallen below 50 percent. Any spike in support is definitely fleeting, the temporary joy of a recent move.

But let’s not ruin this moment. We haven’t had many like it lately.

It’s been nearly four years since the Pistons made a good trade, nearly seven years since they made a good trade that acquired a valuable asset and nearly nine years since they made a good trade that acquire a valuable player.

Last good trades:

  • Feb. 16, 2009 – Alex Acker and a second-round pick for a second-round pick
  • Feb. 21, 2008 – Primoz Brezec for Juan Dixon
  • Dec. 14, 2007 – Nazr Mohammed for Primoz Brezec and Walter Herrmann
  • June 28, 2006 – Maurice Evans for Cheikh Samb
  • Feb. 15, 2006 – Darko Milicic and Carlos Arroyo for Kelvin Cato and a first-round pick (Rodney Stuckey)
  • Oct. 31, 2005 – Ronald Dupree for a second-round pick
  • Feb. 19, 2004 – Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter and two first-round picks for Rasheed Wallace and Mike James

I’m convinced that if every current NBA general manager were assigned a random different team, trading would occur at a frenzied pace. But in reality, over time, GMs shed players they don’t want and accumulate players they want, which leads to stagnancy. The effect is two-fold. One, GMs are shopping players they like. Two, GMs are negotiating for players their counterparts like.

The effect is especially true for someone like Dumars, who’s had a dozen years to craft the Pistons in his image. Dumars rushed to re-sign Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko after the lockout showed how much he’d believed in the roster he’d assembled – as if Kuester were the only problem.

But this trade shows Dumars is moving on, and if he sees progress the rest of this season, that could propel more changes. Stuckey (trade), Villanueva (amnesty or trade), Jason Maxiell (free agency) and Will Bynum (free agency) could all be on their way out within the next six months, and in all likelihood, that would be for the better.

Promote Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe

Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are the future, and Prince – due to both his style of play and lengthy contract – poisoned progress. Calderon is the antidote.

Calderon is a pass-first point guard who will run pick-and-rolls with Drummond and Monroe and throw proper entry passes to Monroe in the post. At 31, Calderon is a defensive liability, but hopefully that will mean more playing time for Detroit’s best shot blocker, Drummond.

Unlike the Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette trade, this isn’t only about the expiring contract the Pistons are acquiring. This is more like the Allen Iverson trade – except Detroit didn’t trade an MVP candidate, didn’t blow up a winning team and didn’t acquire a malcontent – in that the Pistons are getting a player they believe can help now before a long-term decision must be made in the summer.

The rest of the season will serve as an audition for, not necessarily Calderon specifically, but a traditional point guard. If these Pistons, especially Drummond and Monroe, click with someone like Calderon, acquiring a traditional point guard should become a priority. Maybe that means drafting Trey Burke. Maybe that means re-signing Calderon. There will be time to evaluate.

And if Calderon’s style doesn’t make a difference with this group? The Pistons can let him walk and try again for a player who better complements Drummond and Monroe.

Put Tayshaun Prince in a better place

When the Pistons re-signed Prince, I wrote the decision was largely driven by Dumars’ desire to keep a player he was comfortable with on a personal and professional level, and I stand by that. But I also wrote it was possible Dumars, in addition to hanging onto a prized player a bit longer, gave himself a chance to reverse course later:

Acquiring good players is difficult, and teams rarely (and usually wisely) allow good players just to walk away. Keeping a good player for fair cost makes even more sense.

If Prince continues to produce at a high level, the Pistons could decide on him from a position of power later – trading him if they want to rebuild or keeping him if he’s helping the team win. Right now, Prince, had the upper hand, because he could use 30 teams for leverage against each other.

That turned out to be the case. Once Dumars had the leverage, he traded Prince, but he also did Prince a favor.

The Grizzlies are a great fit for Prince. They emphasize defense, play at a slow pace, have major minutes available for Prince – and win. Prince hasn’t won a playoff game in five seasons, and he deserves for that to change.

I’m rooting for Prince in Memphis, and I’ll be watching their playoff games closely.

The Unknown: Brandon Knight

Knight clearly believes he’s a point guard, but Prince seemed to believe he could decide if and when the Pistons trade him.

Dumars gave Prince a chance to prove his viability with this rebuilding Pistons team, but it never really meshed. I suspect Dumars will continue to give Knight a chance at point guard, but the big question is, for how long?

Knight is only 21 years old, and there’s plenty of time for him develop the court vision he’s been lacking. But, if Calderon plays well this season, how long can the Pistons wait on Knight?

Fairly or unfairly, Knight’s timer to learn the point guard position should accelerate, because Calderon’s expiring contract will necessitate a quicker decision.

I suspect we’ll see Knight play both point guard and shooting guard the rest of this season, getting minutes with and without Calderon, in an effort to collect as much information as possible. If Knight is the point guard of the future, the Pistons must determine that before re-signing Calderon or drafting a younger version. If Knight is the shooting guard of the future, the Pistons must determine that before investing in another one this summer. If Knight is neither, that would be helpful to know, too.

If, at some point, it comes to telling Knight he’s not the point guard anymore, that won’t be easy. I’m sure it would leave Knight shocked.

But now, more than ever, I trust Dumars is willing and able to make that call.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Austin Daye Brandon Knight Charlie Villanueva Greg Monroe John Kuester Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince

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