Pistons roundtable: Joe Dumars’ culpability for the state of the Pistons

PistonPowered’s annual roundtable is back for the third year, and I’m very excited to announce the panel:

I’ll post one topic per day until Friday. Let’s jump right to our first question.

How much blame does Joe Dumars deserve for the state of the Pistons?

Dave Hogg

I think Dumars has to take most of the blame. I know the ownership situation has tied his hands in terms of fixing the roster, but he put the roster together in the first place. The 2004 championship nucleus needed to change, but trading Billups destroyed the group’s chemistry, and Dumars wrecked the cap situation with the bizarre extension for Hamilton and the signings of Gordon and
Villanueva. Without those moves, he wouldn’t have been in the position of trying to give away a first-round pick just to get Hamilton off the roster.

He’s also the one that put together this year’s oddball roster, which has enough wings to satisfy Buffalo, but no point guard and a group of undersized post players. And, of course, he hired Michael Curry, fired Michael Curry, announced he needed a coach with experience and then hired John Kuester. I’m telling you right now, that was not a phenomenal move.

Dumars is one of the league’s better GMs at finding value outside of the lottery – San Antonio might be the only team with a better record – and I don’t think anyone is complaining about Greg Monroe. That skill has let him put together a young group that might be the nucleus of the next good roster, but he’s going to have to get them a respected coach and a balanced roster.

Dave Pemberton

Dumars certainly has his share of blame. Free agents acquisitions Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva have been huge disappointments, the Richard Hamilton extension was ill-advised and the hiring of John Kuester has been a failure. The difference between now and the past is Dumars doesn’t have the power to correct those mistakes. The ownership situation has left his hands tied. The Pistons have not made a trade since July 3, 2009, by far the longest current stretch in the NBA. Standing pat has never been Dumars’ style, especially with the current mess going on. He certainly deserves some of the blame, but shouldn’t be judged by what has transpired since the team went for sale.

Jamie Samuelsen

If you have to create a list of the people most responsible for this mess, Joe would be on top. It’s his roster and it’s his culture. Sure, his hands have been tied since Karen Davidson put the Pistons up for sale last year. But that doesn’t excuse the ridiculously big contracts he gave to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. And it doesn’t excuse some of the draft picks that have left the Pistons woefully thin down low.

But the culture is the larger issue with this team. It’s a players’ league, and the players are always going to have more power than coaches. But that usually works for established stars, not young players without a track record in this league. I don’t care if John Kuester is the worst coach in NBA history – he’s still the coach. And because no coach has ever been given any power (or long term contract) here in Detroit, you have a scenario where guys can just rebel against the coach, refuse to listen to him, yell at him in practice and boycott shoot-arounds. Veterans like Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Tracy McGrady should be embarrassed for their role in all this. But ultimately, the Pistons (led by Dumars) let them feel this way by constantly pushing aside coaches who didn’t meet the players’ approval.

Justin Rogers

There’s no way to assign a percentage of blame, but Dumars certainly deserves a fair share.  He’s undoubtedly had restrictions with the ownership situation, but his decisions to trade Chauncey Billups, re-sign Hamilton, sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and hire John Kuester have all fallen flat. 

On the other hand, Dumars has done well in the draft. He has gotten solid value in Stuckey, Daye, Jerebko and Monroe.  He also hit with Afflalo, but unfortunately traded him away to sign Gordon. Questioning that decision is hindsight at its finest.

Perhaps the worst thing that’s happened was how public Richard Hamilton and John Kuester’s feud became.  I respect Dumars for trying to keep organizational conflicts in house, but it reached a point where it has become a lose-lose situation.  He couldn’t fire the coach because it would validate Hamilton and the other players’ behavior, and it’s felt pretty clear for some time that the players aren’t willing to play their hardest as long as Kuester is manning the ship.

Good general managers miss, and sometimes they miss badly.  Dumars track record should afford him the opportunity to fix this organization. But if the Pistons are still floundering in two years, they have to go in a different direction.

Mike Payne

How much blame?  All of it.  I imagine some of my colleagues will point to the ownership situation and its restriction of Joe’s trade flexibility.  Sure, a new owner and a new budget could have given Joe the flexibility to make trades – but these would have served only to fix Joe’s mistakes long before adding any real value.  Joe made this mess, but people are quick to blame ownership for not giving him a mop.

This season, fans and the media alike have often pointed their fingers at Karen Davidson for the Pistons woes.  Last season, injuries were blamed.  The season before that, it was Michael Curry and the dreaded Allen Iverson.  Before that, it was all Flip’s fault.  Joe created this culture, he designed this roster and he hired this coaching staff.  The result is a team with one of the darkest futures in the league, one fraught with ugly contracts, extra-positional under-performers and one saving grace – Greg Monroe.  It is difficult even to argue that Cleveland has it worse, as they have a much better salary profile and the best chance at a No. 1 pick this summer.  Personally, I’ll be happy when this team sells.  I’ll be happier when a new GM is running the show.

Brian Packey

He should shoulder at least 85 percent of the blame. The last bag is probably a mix between the players and coach(es) not performing and the sale of the team (handcuffing Dumars, bringing negative energy, etc.) Dumars hired the coach(es), he signed/traded for the players and, as a result, he has to be held predominantly responsible for the team’s not-very-fun fall from grace, the same way he was praised for the team he built that went on to six straight Eastern Conference Finals and won a title.

Those glory years spoiled many fans into hasty denigration of one of the franchise’s most storied names. However, there’s no denying that Dumars has been really bad at his job the past few years. A sale of the team might be a perfect opportunity for ownership to go with a fresh name under the GM title, and should that happen, I’ll support it 100-percent.

Kevin Sawyer

Essentially, he owns all of it. GMs are off the hook when they are cleaning up messes left by the prior regime.  They are generally given a pass when major injuries happen, or players bring guns to card games. You can make a case when free agent signings and draft picks drastically under-perform reasonable expectations.

Detroit’s predicament is the product of three crucial decisions. The first was to trade Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson, the second to sign Rip Hamiton to an extension, and the third to sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva with the money freed up by the Billups trade. In essence, he traded Chauncey Billups (the team’s best player) and Antonio McDyess (arguably the team’s second best player) and an expiring contract for Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

Dumars has always been an excellent businessman, but a middling (at best) evaluator of talent. He had the team in a position to rebuild while contending, and he blew it by inexcusably underestimating Chauncey’s abilities.

Consider that he has had a dose of good fortune. Ben Wallace returned to play for the veteran’s minimum. Jonas Jerebko was a revelation. Will Bynum re-signed at an affordable rate. Greg Monroe has exceeded even the most generous expectations.

This is on Joe.

Natalie Sitto

He deserves some but not all the blame. He gets somewhat of a pass because he truly hasn’t been able to do his job with the ownership issues and the pending sale of the team.

He was the man who hired John Kuester and Michael Curry, he was the man who stacked the team with guards, he was the who that didn’t get a quality big man in the offseason to help on the defensive end, he was the man who spent all that money on Ben Gordon and Charlie V, he was the man who saddled the team with contracts that are difficult to move.  He was the man who let the Rip/Kuester thing fester into the mutiny. Most importantly he was the man who traded Chauncey Billups, the move that made all the dominos fall in Detroit.

Ben Gulker

Much more than he’s received. Losing breeds dysfunction, and Joe Dumars has assembled a losing roster. Thus, the majority of the responsibility for the current state of the Pistons is Dumars’.

Last summer I argued that the disappointing 2009-2010 campaign can’t really be blamed on injuries. At the beginning of this season, I argued that the best-case scenario for this team would still mean a losing season. I’ve also argued that shuffling the rotation won’t change that very much because key rotation pieces like Gordon and Villanueva simply aren’t that productive.

In my view, this group of players just don’t do enough of what it takes to win, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Pistons keep losing, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the players aren’t happy. I think it’s more than fair to hold the architect of such a roster accountable for his handiwork.

Maybe he can’t overhaul the roster because his hands are tied by the ownership situation. Then again, maybe not. I’m not sure the fans will ever know with certainty. What we do know, however, is that Dumars assembled this roster before ownership was a concern. Excusing him for not being able to clean up his own mess isn’t a very convincing argument to me.

Steve Kays

Joe Dumars probably deserves less blame than he’s receiving. Obviously he’s made some mistakes: undervaluing Chauncey Billups, overvaluing Rodney Stuckey, extending Rip Hamilton, signing Ben Gordon, dumping Arron Afflalo, hiring inexperienced coaches, and so on.

But some things have been beyond his control: late owner Bill Davidson passing away, which threw the franchise into chaos, both Tayshaun Prince and Hamilton getting injured, and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva severely underperforming as Pistons.

The real question is how much has the pending sale of the team crippled his ability to run the team. We just don’t know the degree to which Dumars’ hands are tied. It’s surely a factor since management hasn’t made a trade since July 2009 (the longest stretch in the league by far).

There is no doubt that Dumars deserves a lot of blame. After all, he’s the one who traded Billups to sign Gordon and Villanueva. His questionable decisions combined with the sale of the team are the main reasons why the Pistons are slated to win less than 30 games again.

Jakob Eich

I have learned to start with a positive, so let me start like this, I think Joe Dumars is a great GM, and he is the right man for the job. He struck out a couple of times recently (Villanueva’s and Gordon’s contracts), but I think he can still hit a home run. His hands are tied due to the ownership situation, so you need to give him some time to clean up the mess he created. He has shown great capabilities of turning bad decisions into good ones (Darko into Stuckey), and I expect it from him again.

I think a lot of the blame is undeserved. Nobody expected Villanueva and Gordon to underperform by this much. When they signed, they were slightly overpaid. Now, they’re significantly overpaid.

I only really blame him for getting a defensive-minded coach and putting together an offensive-minded team. In most cases, it doesn’t pay off, and the Pistons are most cases.

Detroit had a great decade basketball-wise, and Dumars deserves a lot of credit for that! We need to give him time and be loyal. He’ll figure it out!

Dan Feldman

Too many rush to assign blame to a person whenever something goes wrong. Every problem needs a face, it seems. I think that’s a flawed way of looking at things.

That said, of the individuals involved in the Pistons’ decline, Dumars deserves the most blame.

Trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, extending Richard Hamilton and signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva were huge mistakes. You can point to Dumars’ incredible work in building the contending teams all you want – and I’ll do that shortly – but many (not all) of his recent moves have totally flopped.

Still, I’m not sure those mistakes outweigh the situational factors Dumars has been dealing with. Years of contending meant sticking with an aging roster  (rightly so) and landing low draft picks. Injuries hindered Dumars’ ability to evaluate key players last season. Bill Davidson’s death and Karen Davidson’s ongoing sale of the team has almost completely limited Dumars.*

*I think he can make trades that 1. don’t and short-term salary and 2. don’t add long-term salary. Find a viable trade that meets 1 and 2 and improves the Pistons’ on-court outlook before criticizing Dumars.

Those external factors have robbed Dumars of one his greatest strengths: an ability to swiftly recognize and correct mistakes. Anyone who has run a team as long as Dumars has will make plenty of mistakes. Of course, some GMs will make more mistakes than others.

But I don’t think avoiding mistakes is the key to thriving in that job. I think the key is fixing your mistakes, not compounding them.

Dumars, in assembling a team that competed for six years, proved he can fix his mistakes. He’s made plenty of them lately, but he deserves a chance to fix them.

If he can’t, then we should pile on. But he hasn’t even gotten that chance yet.

Patrick Hayes

I go back and forth on this. Personnel-wise, signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, as well as extending Rip Hamilton, have all been terrible moves that were his idea. Giving up Arron Afflalo and Amir Johnson for cost savings to facilitate those signings were terrible moves that were his idea. And you could make strong cases that he could’ve picked better players in the draft at the spots he took Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers. The blame for all of those moves start and end with him.

I’m less hard on him for coaching hires. John Kuester and Michael Curry made some sense as candidates considering Dumars didn’t have a huge budget to spend on a coach. They’ve both turned out to be doofuses, but look around the NBA. It’s not uncommon to have coaches who are in over their heads.

There are well-reasoned arguments that Dumars’ rebuilding plan hasn’t had the chance to come to fruition because, with the team for sale, he’s been unable to make the roster moves he feels are necessary to complete whatever his vision was when this thing started. But then part of me thinks that any vision that includes Gordon and Villanueva as two of your highest paid players probably doesn’t deserve the chance to be completed.

His "good" moves of late, meanwhile, have been of the lucky variety. His two best signings were end of the line veteran players in Tracy McGrady and Ben Wallace, who btoh had more left in the tank than anyone could’ve reasonably expected. His best draft picks were an unknown guy who was much better than anyone, even the team, anticipated in Jonas Jerebko and a player in Greg Monroe who was one of the three best players in this draft yet inexplicably dropped all the way to the seventh pick because the NBA is a league that is no stranger to stupid GMs.

So my answer is, he deserves a lot of blame. Roughly, all of it. I think he’s an intelligent man, I think there are far worse GMs in the league than him and he has a championship ring. Those things are probably enough to buy him another year or two on the job, depending on how long it takes to get the sale of the team finalized, but the days of crediting Dumars as some type of visionary GM and the standard by which former players turned executives are measured are long gone.

I’d like this roundtable to include you, too. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s answer to the question in the comments.