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PistonPowered Mailbag: Joe Dumars’ tenure in the context of the Undertaker’s streak … for real


Submit questions for the weekly weekly in theory PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

In what has been considered an inevitability much of the season, Joe Dumars is likely to step down as Pistons president of basketball operations in the near future. I’ve already had a handful of questions come in this morning for the mailbag related to Dumars, so I won’t spend too much time analyzing his tenure in this part of the mailbag. I do feel like these are the important highlights to stress:

* Time heals. Dumars has to own some of the colossally bad decisions he’s made just like he gets to own the amazing moments he orchestrated for this franchise. In the end, one of those collections endures and one doesn’t.

* Make no mistake, he has to own the failures. They haven’t all been his doing, but by far the most crippling moves made by this organization over the last five years are, in order: 1. Ben Gordon signing in conjunction with Rip Hamilton extension 2. Josh Smith signing 3. Charlie Villanueva signing 4. Brandon Jennings sign/trade. Add in the tie for fifth of giving away good, cheap, young and useful players Amir Johnson and Arron Afflalo and, well, there you have your recipe for two awful rebuild attempts, even if the silver lining is finding elite talent late in the lottery in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

* Dumars has overseen as many losing seasons as winning ones. As the elaborate defenses of his tenure (or, perhaps more aptly put, revising) come out over the next few days (and make no mistake, they will), it is important to remember this fact. Dumars has been given an extraordinarily long time to do this job, way more time than the vast majority of his peers get, particularly considering the lack of success over the last five years. As Dan wrote, he deserved longer than most because he does have a championship track record. But any suggestion that Dumars was deserving of a longer tenure than he received isn’t credible. The length of time he kept his job is exceedingly rare in modern professional sports and was more than a generous amount of time to turn around the franchise’s tailspin.

* Dumars leaving does not mean Detroit’s problems are solved. Tom Gores is still a question mark who hasn’t exactly wowed fans (other than with his dancing moves) since purchasing the team. Every time he’s been interviewed, he gives vague non-answers about his love for winning. He became so enamored with that enchantress Lawrence Frank that he HAD to hire him over any other coach on the market (not that Mike Woodson, Dumars’ choice, was all that much better based on his results in New York). He ultimately okayed the Smith/Jennings signings, he okayed sending Ben Gordon and a first round pick to Charlotte rather than  just amnestying him and he made the decision to bring Dumars back as a lame duck with no contract beyond this season and a “win or else” edict that never, ever, ever works in sports. It was time for Dumars and the team to part ways, but let’s not pretend that Gores is exactly confidence-inspiring.

Anyway, those basically sum up my thoughts. On to your questions:

"Am I the only one irked by the “Detroit Basketball” promos? The ones where they mash highlights of the team that went to six straight conference finals from 2003-2008 to the current collection of talent pushing 30 wins every year. By constantly, making that association, no matter how faint it is, aren’t we tarnishing the conference finals streak? It reminds me of the Undertaker from the past five Wrestlemanias (WM 26-30), and how his performances have been dismal but they are propped up by the previous 16 straight victories. Speaking of which, what’s a more impressive streak – 21 straight victories at Wrestlemania or 6 straight conference finals appearances? — pt"

To answer your first question, yes, I do find it offensive that the current version of the team is in any way compared to the confident, overachieving Going to Work era Pistons. I just imagine Pistons practices as Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace standing around with their arms crossed, shaking their heads the entire time. I don’t want those two to ever have to talk to or associate with, like 65 percent of this roster.

As for the second part of your question … I’m still not recovered from what I witnessed Brock Lesnar do to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 30 on Sunday. Streak is dead. You got me again, Vince McMahon. You always do.

You’re correct … the six straight conference finals appearances are an incredible feat, something that will be hard to replicate (although the Heat are likely to get to their fourth straight this season, and should continue that as long as LeBron stays in Miami). There are two caveats to throw in here. The East, as it is now, was incredibly weak, so a talented, veteran team like the Pistons could put together an ECF run more easily than a West team could. For example, San Antonio and Dallas both have had sustained runs of excellence similar to the Pistons, but both franchises have won titles and also had early exits during those runs. The Pistons at their peak were never in danger of losing a first round series and only a couple of times played competitive teams in the second round. The road for West teams to copy that feat is just way harder. And secondly, the impressiveness of the six ECF appearances for the Pistons gets tarnished a bit because there is an expectation that that team should’ve made the Finals at least one or two other times and should’ve won another title. There were at least two years (2005 and 2006) that good arguments could be made that they were the best team in the league, but neither resulted in titles.

Anyway, the main difference between the ECF streak and THE STREAK is the fact that literally no one expected Undertaker to lose Sunday whereas everyone expected the Pistons to get crushed by Cleveland in 2008 in the first round. The Pistons couldn’t elicit responses like this when their streak ended.

"(A couple of fun hypotheticals from Brady Fredericksen) Would you take Darko and the one title or Wade/Bosh/Melo and a coin flip for two titles or none? and Dumars dealt Chauncey in 2008-09 and he finally fell apart in 2010-11. Say the Pistons held on to the core until 2011 — how good would they have been in those three seasons? – Brady Fredericksen"

Love these questions. The first one is easy for me — Darko and his frosted tips are easily one of my most hated memories of my basketball fandom life (although I really did get into the fanfiction bizarro world Darko as a superstar character that I created in my book, which you can still totally buy — it’s ranked number 3.8 million on Amazon’s best seller list!). But I would still likely take Darko plus a title over Wade/’Melo and no guarantee of a title. That’s probably why I’ll never be a GM … taking Wade, ‘Melo or Bosh (or, who are we kidding, Kirk Hinrich or Chris Kaman or virtually any other person in that draft) would’ve obviously changed the construction of the Pistons, but it’s hard to not picture them still being unbelievably good. Even if the fit wasn’t seamless, those players would’ve been tremendous assets who would’ve probably fetched more than Rodney Stuckey’s limitless potential in return if they became unhappy in Detroit or made it clear they were leaving. Still though … that title was too important to some of my formative years in my 20s for me to give it up. Oh, and incidentally, Brady also picked the title but the cold, calculating Feldman totally took Dwyane Wade and is going to try and win six straight championships with him. You already knew that would be Feldman’s choice though. He probably has a graph coming to prove why he’s right.

I’ve already written about the second question. I think if Dumars would’ve held onto his core, particularly not making the Billups trade, we wouldn’t be discussing his legacy today because his job with the Pistons would be secure. He was almost onto what the Spurs have successfully done (though obviously on a smaller scale … the Pistons didn’t have a Duncan/Parker/Ginobili). But the short version of what that post I wrote a year or so ago says is you keep Billups as your transitional star (he was still playing at an All-Star level then), you don’t extend Hamilton, you let Hamilton, Wallace and McDyess expire and splurge on a better free agent (like David Lee, who the Knicks probably weren’t going to match) rather than Gordon/Villanueva and you rely heavily on young, solid players like Stuckey, Afflalo and Amir Johnson to grow into bigger roles. Then, heading into the 2009 draft, it’s likely the Pistons would’ve been picking in the mid 20s where they could’ve nabbed someone like Taj Gibson. They had three second round picks, so you give them Jerebko with the Raptors pick they owned and then with two picks later in the second they choose between useful players like Marcus Thornton, Chase Budinger, Patrick Beverly, Patty Mills, Danny Green and Jodie Meeks (seriously that was a really good second round in 2009).

I think the 2008 team could’ve made another playoff run with Billups/Hamilton/Prince/Wallace — Orlando made the Finals that season and the Pistons had Orlando’s number in those days. After letting some of their veterans walk in the offseason, their main roster becomes something like Billups, Prince, Lee, Afflalo, Stuckey, Johnson, Jerebko, Gibson, Thornton and Mills. Is that a contending team? Certainly not. But it’s a possible playoff team and, more importantly, it has veterans who are attractive assets in Billups, Prince and Lee and it has an abundance of promising, cheap young players. The team would be talented enough to compete for lower tier playoff spots and flexible enough to continue adding pieces through free agency or trades. That’s obviously a far better outlook than locking up Gordon, Hamilton and Villanueva.

"I’ve got a general NBA question for you that applies to the Pistons this season. Pretty much every fan knows what’s at stake when their team is in a situation like the Pistons and have chance to lose their draft pick if they don’t tank well enough. But are the players aware of this? I ask because I hear about players not understanding the salary cap, a team’s financial future when they’re in free agency, etc. Don’t want to be insulting to the players, but just curious if they’re even aware of their team’s situation in cases like this. – Jacob"

For the most part, I think players understand the basic constraints their team is operating under. There are probably very few cap experts on rosters in the league, but there are certainly guys all over the league like Billups, Shane Battier, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Tyson Chandler, etc. (Seriously, the list of smart, savvy NBA players is a really long one and includes many of the league’s superstars … despite the awfulness of the Pistons, this is a great time to be a NBA fan. The league is full of incredibly talented players who also conduct themselves well and seem like genuinely interesting people off the court.), who have some understanding of the financial/business side of running a team.

As for the Pistons, I think the fact that they could lose a draft pick has been covered enough that the players know about it. They might not pay much attention to the specific protections or what would or would not cause them to lose it, but I would guess everyone has some understanding of it. I don’t think it enters their minds much or is a discussion point though. I think they’re pretty singularly focused on playing and on their own schedules, as they should be. It’s a lot harder to be oblivious to these types of things than it was in the past. The volume of coverage the league gets, the fact that all players are pretty much using some form of social media and the 24/7 nature of news mean it’s always in the backdrop. In the past, I think players could more easily tune out media or news they considered distractions.

"What do you think are the best places to follow for Pistons news? — Jason"

I’m probably not the best person to answer this one anymore — as most have noticed, my day-to-day writing about Pistons news has dwindled to almost non-existent over the last year. I’m perfectly content writing sporadic mailbags and doing potential draft pick profiles. That’s about the extent of my expertise anymore. I’ll give you a few who I still follow pretty regularly though. Locally, Vince Ellis is the only beat writer I check out regularly. I just tend to think he’s the most connected and best among that group. Along with Vince, I obviously read what Feldman, Brady, Tim and J.M. (seriously … J.M.’s game previews are Best in the World) regularly and I’m a daily Detroit Bad Boys reader as well. Other than that, I think you can get every single thing you need when it comes to NBA coverage from Grantland. If you’re not reading Zach Lowe, Jonathan Abrams and Kirk Goldsberry religiously, you’re doing it wrong.

I’ll let commenters handle other recommendations — who are the best writers/outlets for both Pistons and NBA coverage? Help this guy out.

"Is it totally ridiculous to try to swing a trade for Dennis Schroeder? — Toruk Matko"

I have no idea … is he available? I’ll assume he is. His attributes, as far as I can tell, are that he’s young (20), very athletic and he’s a point guard. He hasn’t played a ton in Atlanta this season, and when he has, his numbers haven’t been impressive — he’s a bit turnover prone and he’s hitting 25 percent from three. He is, however, averaging 17 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds per game in the D-League, so he has obvious potential. I don’t think the Pistons should be opposed to looking to upgrade talent at any position. I would be surprised if Atlanta is ready to give up on Schroeder yet — they’ve never seemed all that in love with Jeff Teague, so maybe they are grooming Schroeder to hopefully push him for a job down the road. The Pistons haven’t found a solution at point guard yet (apologies, Mr. Jennings), so sure, why not, see what it would take to get Schroeder? As long as the price isn’t Drummond or Monroe, I’d be fine with anything else. Do you think the Hawks would like Josh Smith back?

"If you’re Tom Gores, how do you fix this team?-Who are some GM candidates you’d be interested in?-Who are some front-office assistants you’d be interested in? Asst. GM, Head Scout, Analytics, etc.-Who are some HC candidates you’d be interested in?-Who are some coaching staff assistants you’d be interested in?  I guess that depends on who the HC is, but a great big man coach for ‘Dre is an absolute must!-Who do you like in the ’14 draft, assuming we have the #7/8 pick (or in the ’15 draft, assuming we don’t).-What are some potential trades you’d be interested in?-Who are some free agents you’d be interested in?-Any long-term future plan you have?Large philosophical question, but I’d love to hear any thoughts you have! — Eric"

Whoa, we’ll close this with a detailed one. I’ll try to keep responses brief and go bullet by bullet:

– I honestly don’t have a dream candidate. I think the best hires these days are guys who come from some of the league’s best front offices. So I hope Gores looks at anyone currently working for San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana, Dallas, Portland, etc., who might be ready for a promotion. As long as any candidate’s first words in the interview are, “Here’s my plan to dump Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings,” I’m intrigued by that candidate.

– I don’t have anywhere near the level of league insider-nous necessary to know this. I do know that the Pistons have a well-respected analytics guy in their front office now in Ken Catanella. I hope he gets a chance to prove his worth or maybe even get promoted. Just because someone has worked in a supporting role in an organization that hasn’t performed well doesn’t mean that person is part of the problem. Maybe Catanella is the best candidate to fix this. Maybe not. But Gores should be willing to look both internally and externally for the best possible front office team.

– In no particular order, Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Nate McMillan, the Van Gundy brothers (probably with a slight preference for Stan because I’d LOVE to see him clown inane questions from media up close like he used to in Orlando). I think Hollins might not be a perfect fit if a front office crew that is heavy on analytics is assembled considering the … uh … not so smooth way that transition went between Hollins and the new regime that came into Memphis. But here’s why Hollins is my frontrunner — he led a Memphis roster that had two bigs who need touches and little shooting to the Western Conference Finals and he undeniably helped mold that team into arguably the league’s toughest (the GRINDHOUSE is my favorite NBA arena). The Pistons could desperately use a coach who is both innovative in the system he runs and no-nonsense enough to shake the team out of the passive way they’ve played for about half a decade now.

– No preference on assistants, other than whoever comes on board I hope gives strong, strong consideration to retaining Rasheed Wallace in his player development role. In general, I’d prefer assistants who are great at relating to players and at least one each who is a savant when it comes to drawing up or breaking down offensive or defensive sets.

– I currently hate the options (namely, Aaron Gordon) currently pegged in that range for the Pistons. I’d hope that something weird happens (like Marcus Smart falls a few spots) or the Pistons trade their pick to Phoenix or Chicago for two picks later in the first round and end up with some combo like Nik Stauskas and Adreian Payne. I think it’s also possible that wings like Stauskas and Gary Harris rise into lottery range and the Pistons could snag one or the other. Both of those guys are really underrated in mock drafts at the moment. So is Payne — any man who can do this at 6-foot-11 and also hit 42 percent of his threes is clearly a lottery pick.

– Trades, I’d be interested in the following: anything that makes Josh Smith not on the roster; anything that makes Brandon Jennings not on the roster; a Greg Monroe trade that brings back a top eight pick in this year’s draft (unlikely) or a really good, young wing player (and if any of you say “Harrison Barnes” in the comments, I swear … the Hounds of Justice will come after you). Basically, the only player I wouldn’t be open to trading is Drummond. Anything that makes the Pistons either better or gives them more roster flexibility will ultimately be a positive.

– Free agents? I’ve heard this LeBron James guy might be worth pursuing. But in the likely event that that’s out of the question, I wouldn’t be opposed to a large offer to Lance Stephenson, who is an unrestricted free agent — he gives them the young, brutish, defensive-minded and improving wing they need. As far as filling out the roster, the Pistons could use a veteran wing who can defend (like Shawn Marion), a veteran big who can defend (a small offer to someone like Emeka Okafor, coming off an injury, might be an OK low-risk move to find a backup) and finding more shooting (plenty of shooters who should be relatively cheap on the market including Alan Anderson, Matt Bonner, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Anthony Morrow, etc.). The Pistons have to enter the offseason with getting better defensively and adding more shooting as the priority in free agency, the draft and on the trade market.