Part 1: How sunk costs should color an evaluation of Joe Dumars

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

One argument I frequently hear in favor of keeping Dumars is: “Where would the Pistons find a replacement who has built a championship-winning team like Dumars has?”

They wouldn’t find someone, but that’s not the point.

Dumars’ championship is a positive indicator of his skills as a general manager, but the 2004 title also is a sunk cost. It can’t be taken away. It happened in the past. And it has no direct effect on Dumars’ current job.

Again, Dumars deserves to list the 2004 title proudly on his resume. It’s a tremendous accomplishment that speaks strongly to his general-managing bona fides.

But it’s not proof he can do it again. The goal is to find a general manager who can construct the Pistons’ next championship, not its previous championship. Maybe that’s Dumars, and maybe it’s not.

Dumars’ title came so unconventionally that it’s possible that his approach won’t work again.

But other than Wallace, Dumars has shown little aptitude for acquiring a superstar, a nearly necessary step for winning a championship.

Dumars refuses to tank seasons, keeping the Pistons out of the top part of the draft where most superstars are chosen. In free agency, Dumars has signed less-than-max-level players such as Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith. Hopefully, Smith turns out better than Gordon and Villanueva, but he is extremely unlikely to develop into a superstar.

There is some value in going against the grain. Not competing with tanking teams for the best odds at the No. 1 pick and not competing with teams pursuing max-level free agents has allowed Dumars to explore other, underutilized markets.

It’s a difficult approach to manage and, quite arguably, the wrong one for the Pistons.

How much credit does Dumars deserve for building the 2004 championship-winning Pistons? All of it. That’s one of the most meticulously assembled title teams of all time, and Dumars handled every transaction along the way.

But how much should that title influence how the Pistons, objectively, view Dumars now? Only somewhat. The fact that Dumars constructed a championship team is a positive indicator to his abilities, but not a defining one.

Part 2 will run the Free Press next week, and it uses sunk costs to create an argument for Dumars keeping his job.

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Tags: Ben Wallace Dirk Nowitzki Joe Dumars Kevin Garnett Kobe Bryant Tim Duncan Tracy McGrady

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