The Stan Van Gundy Era of Detroit Basketball is in full swing. The Pistons have gotten noticeably better in almost every area, and The Palace is filled with promising and upcoming young talent for the first time since the arena was filled with roaring, diehard fans and the team was conference finals regulars.
But it definitely hasn’t always been like this. Before Van Gundy took the reigns of the question-filled Pistons in April 2014, the team’s personnel was controlled by general manager and former Detroit superstar guard Joe Dumars. Nearly two and a half years ago, Dumars stepped down as GM after making some ill-received and quite frankly terrible moves in recent years. But, before the Pistons started their downward spiral after the 2008 NBA season, Dumars had made many great under the radar moves that helped Detroit become a championship contender. Let’s jump right in to some of the highlights, lowlights, and low-lowlights of Joe D’s management tenure.
A New Role (2000-2001)
Only a year after retiring from the NBA as a guard for the team, Joe Dumars was named the general manager for the Detroit Pistons, replacing former GM Rick Sund, who left for a job with the Seattle Supersonics. Early on, Dumars made many of his good and bad moves at the same time, so it’s crazy to imagine what the Pistons team could’ve been if he would’ve avoided some of those ill-advised moves in the early 2000’s. For example, in his first draft, Dumars selected recent national champion and hometown standout Mateen Cleaves, who had declared for the draft after a successful tenure with the Michigan State Spartans. He turned out to be well below expectations, averaging only 3.6 points, 1.9 assists and one rebound per game for his brief 6 year professional career. But just over a month later, he acquired future defensive star Ben Wallace from the Orlando Magic. In the next year’s draft, he selected Rodney White, another massive bust in the first round, but selected future all-star center Mehmet Okur in round two of the 2001 draft. The first coach to find success with this new Pistons team, Rick Carlisle, was also hired in 2001 to replace Dumars first coaching hire, George Irvine, who had been promptly fired after his first season as head coach.
Building a Contender (2002-2004)
One of the more underrated moves during his time, Dumars traded the recently mentioned Mateen Cleaves to the Sacramento Kings for forward Jon Barry and a future first rounder. Barry went on to average nearly 8 points, 3 assists, one steal, and 2.6 rebounds on almost 44% from 3-point range over two seasons with Motown. The 2002 offseason was easily the best of Dumars’ front office career. He drafted Kentucky alum Tayshaun Prince with the 23rd pick in the draft and signed afterthought and journeyman Chauncey Billups. He also continued to make moves in the trade market, as he acquired Wizards guard Richard Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse and irrelevant role players Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda. These three moves were all made in the matter of two and a half months and all three players mentioned became crucial pieces of the 2004 championship team. This lead to Dumars taking home the 2002-03 Executive of the Year Award, which we can look back on as well deserved. Now possibly the worst move of them all, a draft day decision that still lingers in Pistons fans’ minds to this day, the drafting of Serbian big man and possibly the biggest draft bust of all time, Darko Milicic. This is easily the most destructive choice Dumars made as GM, and we still have a LOT of other candidates to go over. We’re all still picturing Carmelo Anthony in Detroit red, white and blue… In the coming months widely respected Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown was hired to lead the Pistons to the promised land. In February, Dumars shored up some of the Darko damage in a last second trade deadline deal that brought Detroit its last piece of the championship puzzle, a versatile forward with a troubled past in Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks, along with serviceable backup point guard Mike James from the Boston Celtics in a three team deal. Detroit, as we all know, would take down the “powerhouse” Lakers in five games in the upcoming finals.
Post Championship Years (2005-2008)
These years were still filled with success, but also had some good choices that turned sour later on. Former all-star forward Antonio McDyess came aboard, along with returning Piston Lindsey Hunter, to help defend the title. The Pistons went on to lose to the San Antonio Spurs in the following finals, and Detroit would never make it back. Larry Brown was relieved of his coaching duties after flirting with offers from other teams, leading to the hiring of Flip Saunders, who would do a serviceable job over the next few seasons. In the following draft, Dumars would select forward Jason Maxiell, a rotation mainstay for many years, and big man Amir Johnson, who is still putting up numbers for the Boston Celtics, with the 26th and 56th picks of the 2005 NBA draft, respectively. Not many big time moves were made in the next couple seasons; Darko Milicic was sent away for a future first round pick, which was a massive haul for a player like him. A washed up Chris Webber was signed, but never made a significant impact. Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo were selected in 2007, both who went on to play as starting guards in their careers, albeit only Stuckey started for Detroit. Many role players and bench warmers were signed, along with a few draft picks that never contributed much. The team was still very competitive under Dumars’ watch during these years, but the core was aging, and destruction of the team was on the horizon. Flip Saunders was fired in 2008, which began what seemed like a never-ending coach carousel in the coming years.
Downward Spiral (November 2008-2011)
During their contending years, the Pistons’ success began and ended with the team’s heart and floor general, Chauncey Billups. Dumars thought the roster was aging and needed a youth boost, so what did he do? In a move that competes with the disastrous Darko drafting, Joe shipped Mr. Big Shot and McDyess to Denver for a 33-year old washed up Allen Iverson. Without their star point guard, who was balling up in the Mile High City, the Pistons were swept in the first round of the 2009 playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers in what would be Dumars last taste of the playoffs. Coach Micheal Curry was fired and replaced with John Kuester. Iverson was gone after just one season. This started a slew of destructive moves that led to a 6 year playoff drought. Amir Johnson was traded for nothing, Austin Daye was drafted over the likes of Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and DeMarre Carroll. In the matter of four days, Dumars handed out lucrative deals to Charlie Villanueva (5 years, $35 million) and Ben Gordon (5 years, $55 million), while also sending off Arron Afflalo, who would go on to become a fringe all-star player for the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic. Former Pistons Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins were signed, but both were old and didn’t give much. Greg Monroe was drafted 7th in 2010, while Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler were drafted 8th and 33rd in 2011, respectively. All became starters for the Pistons due to them not having anyone better to start out there, none became all-stars and all three are off the team now. Lawrence Frank was hired as head coach to replace fired coach Micheal Curry.
Dumars’ Last Years (2012-April 2014)
In June 2012, the Pistons were coming off a 25-win season, missing their second straight postseason. Ben Gordon and a first rounder were shipped to the Bobcats for Corey Magette in a salary dump move, but this wasn’t the highlight of June 2012. On June 28th, 2012, Dumars selected Andre Drummond out of UConn with the 9th overall pick, which turned out to be arguably his best move as a GM. Khris Middleton and Kim English were also selected, but neither are on the team anymore. The last piece of the 2004 title team, Tayshaun Prince, was sent away to Memphis for Jose Calderon, officially ending the great era that had preceded it. Lawrence Frank was fired and replaced with former Sixers point guard Maurice Cheeks. (see a trend here?) The 2013 offseason was an eventful one for Dumars. Georgia standout Kentavious Caldwell Pope was drafted, Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings was acquired for Knight and Middleton, and an embarrisingly massive contract was given to Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith. (which will still haunt the team until 2020, due to the stretch provision used on his contract.) Other minor roster moves were made including bringing back a banged up Billups, Cheeks was fired, (little annoying, yet?) and another unsuccessful season came soon after. Dumars resigned in April 2014, leaving a bunch of parts that didn’t fit together for the next guy to take control of the team, and I think we can all agree, he’s done a pretty good job.
The Dumars Era was filled with many ups and downs. A championship was won, a star was drafted, huge contracts were handed out to subpar players, and us loyal fans enjoyed and stuck through every second of it. We can safely say that Dumars undoubtedly was a better player than executive, but that was because he was just that good. Even with all the success he helped bring, we can argue that the best move he ever made was resigning from his position, which lead to the eventual hiring of current head honcho, Stan Van Gundy.
Through the good and the bad, thanks for everything, Joe D.
Featured Image: Allen Einstein/ Getty Images