The Pistons stumbled, at least in part, due to a leadership void the past five years.
But I think the story requires an additional chapter. Billups didn’t leave Detroit by accident. President of basketball operations Joe Dumars traded him, believing Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince could rise into leadership roles.
Instead, Hamilton feuded with Michael Curry and sabotaged John Kuester. Prince took Hamilton’s side and created some divisiveness of his own. Unlike most after-the-fact analyses of the Billups-Iverson trade, I’m not here to skewer Dumars. I’m here to defend him.
Dumars exhibited such incredible sportsmanship as a player, the NBA gave him its first sportsmanship award. Then, realizing that wasn’t enough, the league named the sportsmanship trophy after him.
During his playing career, Dumars had 104 different teammates. He shared locker rooms with personalities as wide-ranging as Isiah Thomas, Grant Hill and Dennis Rodman.
As a general manager, even before trading Billups, Dumars worked daily with strong-minded players. He hired strong-minded coaches and he worked for a strong-minded owner. If we can’t trust Dumars to properly value and identify leadership, whom can we trust to do it?
Leadership, chemistry and all those intangibles are important, and I don’t think anyone would deny that. But to what degree can those attributes be controlled by a front office?