D(umars)-Day: Grading Joe Dumars’ Tenure in Detroit
USA Today Sports
D-Day has finally come in Big D as Joe Dumars will reportedly step down from his role as President of Basketball Operations of the Detroit Pistons.
The move follows an offseason that saw Dumars and the Pistons go “all-in” to sign free agent Josh Smith and trade for Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings. Coupling those two with the emerging Andre Drummond and the now-established Greg Monroe made the playoffs seem like a certainty.
Both moves have been huge disappointments, mainly Smith who is putting together not only the worst season of his career, but one of the worst three-point shooting years ever. The Pistons, sitting at 28-49 are fifth worst in an abysmal Eastern Conference and don’t appear to be well-equipped for the future.
Much of that has to do with the team-building strategy of Dumars. After taking home Executive of the Year honors in 2002-03 and building the 2004 NBA Champion and 2005 Eastern Conference Finals Pistons teams, things have never been quite right for the Motor City or Dumars.
Now I can write a big long column all about Dumars and his most memorable transactions but that’s no fun. The last time an NBA general manager left his post I graded him on the tried and true Underpants Gnome scale. While the Underpants Gnome scale is one of the best measures of a general manager’s worth, it doesn’t work for everybody — Chris Grant was a special case. We’re going to modify the Underpants Gnome scale a bit for Dumars and instead go with another proven method: The Charlie Villanueva scale. This scale is quite similar to the Underpants Gnome in that it’s out of five, 0 Charlie V’s being a really bad move and five V’s being a great move. Easy enough, right?
August 3 2000
Signed and traded forward Grant Hill to the Orlando Magic for guard Chucky Atkins and center Ben Wallace.
I was still a young pup when this trade went down but I can only imagine the outcry from Pistons fans. Sure, it was a sign and trade and Hill had intended to go to Orlando so the Pistons didn’t have any leverage but really ALL we got back was Chucky Atkins and Ben Wall…wait, who!?
Today, we know Atkins as a smooth and reliable backup point guard, but in 2000he had only played one mediocre year in the NBA after going undrafted and bouncing around the CBA. Ben Wallace also went undrafted and in stints with Washington and Orlando prior had only managed career-averages of 4 PPG, 6.3 RPG and a 14.3 PER.
Jokes on us? Wallace turned into a multiple-time defensive player of the year, one of the most feared interior defenders in the league and ESPN NBA 2k5 coverboy. I also shared an elevator with him in Milwaukee, look, the accolades are endless. Atkins had a solid but not spectacular run with the Pistons and were key cogs in the Pistons slow climb to the 2004 NBA Championship. Grant Hill? You know the story, never fully recovered from an ankle injury in his last season with the Pistons, Hill managed to play in only 200 games during his six-year stint with Orlando.
Selected guard Mateen Cleaves (14th overall pick) and forward Brian Cardinal (44th overall pick).
Welp. Mateen played one season in Detroit, averaged 5.4 PPG on 40% shooting then was traded to Sacramento for Jon Barry. 89 games and four years later he was out of the league. Not exactly what you’d want out of your 14th pick. Cardinal ended up having a solid NBA career but contributed none of which with Detroit where he played in 23 games averaging 2.1 PPG.
February 22 2001
Traded forward Jerome Williams and center Eric Montross to the Toronto Raptors for forwards Corliss Williamson, Tyrone Corbin and Kornel David and a future first-round pick.
Giving up The Junkyard Dog should give him negative Charlie V’s but that’s a pretty damn good trade for the Pistons. Williamson flourished his first year in Detroit (20 PER) but took a necessary backseat during the Pistons’ title run. I can’t go too high with the rating here but it’s impossible to call this anything other than a success for Dumars.
May 25 2001
Named Rick Carlisle head coach.
After three years on Larry Bird’s bench in Indiana, everything was in place for the young Carlisle to take over the reigns of one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams. Then Donnie Walsh happened and you know what that means: ISIAH! Thomas was given the head coaching job in Indiana so Dumars swooped in and hired Carlisle who won Coach of the Year honors in 2002 and led the Pistons to consecutive Central Division championships.
The tenure didn’t end so well, but we’ll get to that later. For the time being, this is a slam dunk.
Selected forward Rodney White (9th overall pick) and Mehmet Okur (38th overall pick).
I consider myself a pretty knowledgable guy when it comes to basketball. My speciality is obscure players of yesteryear, you want to talk Ronald Dupree or Mamadou N’Diaye? I got you. Yet, I have no memories of Rodney White, none. I looked up his entry on Wikipedia, Basketball-Reference page, still nothing. No memories. Sorry. It appears he fell out of favor with Carlisle and ended up being sent away after only one horrible year. These days he’s playing in the Philippines. Good for him.
Okur, much like Cardinal from last year’s draft, ended up having a really solid NBA career but very little of that came with the Pistons. In his two Pistons years, Okur averaged a mere 8.2 PPG. He ended up finding his stride in Utah, making the 2006-07 All-Star team.
Both players did little for Dumars and the Pistons, including White who was woefully unproductive for such a high draft pick.
Selected forward Tayshaun Prince (23rd overall pick).
This pick may be Dumars’ best. Prince, the lanky to end all lanky forward out of Kentucky was an absolute steal at the 23rd pick in this much-maligned draft (Nikoloz Tskitishvili!). Out of all players draft in 2002, Prince ranks fourth in all-time Win Shares behind only Amar’e Stoudemire, Yao Ming and Carlos Boozer. Not bad company at all. Better yet, most of that production came as a member of the Pistons where he averaged 12.6 PPG, 14.6 PER over 806 games.
July 17 2002
Signed guard Chauncey Billups to a multi-year contract.
If Tayshaun was Dumars best draft pick, Billups was his best free agent get. For six years and $35 million, Dumars and the Pistons got their starting point guard of the future. Though Billups had a breakout season the year prior with Minnesota, there was still a general uneasyness about Billups as a full-time, featured point guard. It’s safe to say he put those to bed with a near-legendary run as the point man for the Pistons. Numerous All-Star berths, an NBA championship and Eastern Conference dominance were just a few of the highlights from Billups’ time with Detroit.
September 11 2002
Traded guard Jerry Stackhouse, forward Brian Cardinal and center Ratko Varda to the Washington Wizards for guards Richard Hamilton and Hubert Davis and forward Bobby Simmons.
This was another head-scratcher at the time but ended up working quite well for Dumars and Detroit. Hamilton to this point was nothing more than a volume scorer, certainly not the piece you’d want in exchange for a psuedo-star in Jerry Stackhouse who led the league in scoring the year prior. Again, the joke was on us. Hamilton was a key piece to the Pistons success through the mid 2000s averaging roughly 18 PPG during his time with the Pistons and embraced his role as one of Detroit’s primary late-game scorers. Stackhouse would spend only two years in Washington before moving to Dallas, then Milwaukee and Atlanta and Miami and now Brooklyn never matching the success he had in Detroit. Definite win for Dumars.
May 31 2003
Fired head coach Rick Carlisle
June 2 2003
Named Larry Brown head coach.
We’re going to combine these two because, well, we are, stop asking questions. Carlisle clashed with management (see: Dumars) on a number of issues leading to his dismissal despite a glowing record of success. At the time it was a huge head scratcher but when the Pistons announced Larry Brown as their new head coach, well, that took the pain away quickly. Brown, known for his shrewd game-planning was fresh off a tumultuous stint with the Philadelphia 76ers and Allen Iverson. Brown and Iverson rarely saw eye-to-eye during their first years together but ended up embracing each other’s idiosyncrasies culminating in an NBA Finals appearance.
Brown did the same with the Pistons taking them not only to the NBA Finals in his first season, but the NBA Championship. He was the perfect coach for a star-less Pistons team and seemed destined to be their generational coach. Of course, Larry Brown gonna Larry Brown and before the ink on his pen could dry, Brown was publicly flirting with other teams. On July 19, 2005, the Pistons bought out the remaining years of Brown’s contract allowing him to become the new head coach of the New York Knicks. I’m not sure how that went, but I’ll assume it was a rousing success.
Carlisle ended up taking over the helm at Indiana, having a few successful season clouded by “The Malace in the Palace” between his old team (Detroit) and his Indiana Pacers. Carlisle eventually moved to Dallas where he coach a Dirk Nowitzki/Jason Kidd-led Mavericks squad to the NBA Championship.
This one is tough to grade, Brown was the right coach at the right time, led them to an NBA title and unprecedented success, so there’s some merit to a high grade. On the other hand, what was the cost associated with his tenure? We’ll get into that very shortly.
Selected forwards Darko Milicic (2nd overall pick) and Carlos Delfino (25th overall pick) and center Andreas Glyniadakis (58th overall pick).
Oh boy. Do I need to go into this. Darko was an unmitigated disaster as the 2nd overall pick. Hindsight is 20-20 and we can all sit here and talk about how they should’ve drafted Carmelo Anthony, or Chris Bosh, or Dwyane Wade, or Chris Kaman, or Kirk Hinrich, or David West… well you get the idea. Rumor has it Dumars was wowed by Milicic but research has showed many NBA general mangers were wowed by the potential they saw in the youngster. Rumors also swirled around Brown not wanting a potential superstar like Anthony on his already championship winning team, so Dumars went with the potential guy he could stash and use once his current team was starting to get old. Whatever the intention, it didn’t work.
Dumars took the fall as the guy who drafted Darko, similar to Stu Inman who was forever linked to his pick of Sam Bowie. It happens, but it’s hard not to crucify him for botching such a star-studded draft. Fair? Maybe not, but it happened. Delfino at 25th is a good pick although he did little with the Pistons making this draft a total failure.
February 19 2004
Traded guards Chucky Atkins and Lindsey Hunter, a first-round pick and cash to the Boston Celtics and guard Bob Sura and center Zeljko Rebraca to the Atlanta Hawks for Mike James from the Boston Celtics and forward Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks. (some picks got floated around to, they turned into Tony Allen and Josh Smith)
Is this the most successful trade deadline trade ever? Pau Gasol to the Lakers is the only one I think even comes close. This was a total and complete success for Dumars and the Pistons. Wallace, a much-maligned superstar seemingly maturing over night becoming the key piece of the Pistons’ championship core. The Pistons gave up little to nothing for Wallace who struggled initially upon arriving in Detroit but found himself in the playoffs becoming a top defender while adding in over 13 PPG and 7 RPG. There’s no way the Pistons win the NBA Championship without a player like Rasheed, specifically Rasheed so this is unbeatably a five out of five. Atkins and Hunter were expendable pieces and the lone draft pick the Pistons gave up to the Atlanta Hawks became…Josh Smith. Oh boy.
June 3 2008
Fired head coach Flip Saunders.
June 10 2008
Named Michael Curry head coach.
We’re going to combine coaches here again because this was a huge turnaround in Pistons’ future. Saunders, who replaced Brown, led the Pistons to tremendous success including their best regular season record ever (64-18). After his third season at the helm, the still successful Pistons decided to part ways with Saunders, Dumars cited the team needing a new “voice.”
In hiring Curry, who had only spent three years as an assistant coach, the Pistons went a completely different direction than their previous head men, all of whom roamed NBA benches for years before becoming the top guy in Detroit. Curry was overwhelmed, the Pistons regressed and despite Dumars signing him to a three-year deal showed Curry the door after one unsuccessful season.
November 3 2008
Traded guard Chauncey Billups, forward Antonio McDyess and center Cheikh Samb to the Denver Nuggets for guard Allen Iverson.
In one of the more shocking trades in Dumars tenure, he sent franchise cornerstone and the recently resigned (four-years, $46 million in late 2007) Billups to his old stomping grounds of Denver for former star and definitely on the downswing of his career Allen Iverson. Billups wasn’t long for Denver, however he did lead them to consecutive playoff appearances as well as the Western Conference Finals in his first year. He has since returned to Detroit but this was the figurtive and literal destruction of the NBA championship core. Worse yet, it yielded only 54 games and 17.4 PPG from Iverson who would leave via free agency the next summer.
July 8 2009
Signed guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva.
While these signings should literally get the full amount of Charlie Vs possible, that’s not the game we’re playing here. They’ll receive far less than five, I’ll tell you that now. These signings were absolute disasters, complete head-scratchers when they were made, they now look even worse in retrospect. A combined $90 million over five-years for two good but certainly not core-building players. Both were coming off successful seasons but most believe the two already peaked. Not Dumars! Hint: We were right. Villanueva’s 21.7 per-36 PPG the year prior with Milwaukee fell to to 18.1 when he starting donning Pistons blue and he never again reached the level he did the year prior. While Charlie’s Pistons tenure (which is still painfully continuing) hasn’t been terrible, it’s a completely different story for Ben Gordon.
The dynamic Chicago Bulls shooting guard signed a five-year, $55 million deal to become the star of the Detroit Pistons. It was a flawed concept from the beginning and it didn’t take long for it to come to fruition. Through his first nine games with the Pistons, Gordon looked like he was worth every dollar scoring 24.3 PPG while shooting 49% from the field. Then injuries, inconsistency and discontent reared their ugly heads. He’d end his first year with the Pistons still averaging 13.8 PPG a steep decline from his 20.7 PPG the previous year in Chicago. Gordon never found his footing in Detroit putting up two more disappointing seasons before being sent to Charlotte to continue his march towards retirement.
$90 million got Detroit 452 games and 14.2 Win Shares (about a win each 31 games). There’s a good way to spend cap space, then there’s these moves which are still used as examples that teams don’t necessarily HAVE to spend cap space just because it’s burning a hole in their pocket.
July 13 2009
Traded guard Arron Afflalo and forward Walter Sharpe to the Denver Nuggets for a 2011 second-round pick and cash. Vernon Macklin
When you sign Ben Gordon to be your superstar, you don’t need an Arron Afflalo anymore so the Pistons sent him packing for a second-round pick (Vernon Macklin) and cash. Afflalo averaged 14.8 PPG during his Nuggets tenure and was a key piece in their playoff runs post-Carmelo Anthony. Vernon Macklin currently plays for the Liaoning Flying Dragons and only appeared in 23 games for the Pistons averaging 2 PPG.
Selected forwards Andre Drummond (9th overall pick) and Khris Middleton (39th overall pick) and guard Kim English (44th overall pick).
“He’s a project ,and anyone looking to draft him must remain patient. .. Maximizing his development will require the right situation, so he would be best suited in an organization with direction… He needs tremendous polish offensively, but if he hits his stride, Drummond has arguably the highest ceiling of anyone in his class based on his rare physical attributes … “
The above is an excerpt from NBADraft.net’s profile on Andre Drummond, it tells the story of an athletic freak who would take a few years to hit his stride. Dumars took a potential huge risk given his uneasy job status at the time. His draft record is far from flawless but Dumars gets a huge win here. Drummond looked rough when he first touched the NBA floor but it didn’t take long for him to turn us all into believers.
Bursting onto the scene with a mix of explosiveness on the defense end, a knack for slamming big slams and well, missing a lot of free throws, Drummond became an overnight success. Drummond has accumulated 13.7 Win Shares through his first two seasons with Detroit or for context, 0.5 less than Villanueva and Gordon in 316 less games. Only Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis have more Win Shares from the 2012 NBA Draft than Drummond.
Selected guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8th overall pick) and Peyton Siva (56th overall pick) and forward Tony Mitchell (37th overall pick).
It may be too early to judge this draft pick, but thus far KCP has been a disastrous 8th pick for the Pistons. Current averages of 5.7 PPG (10.5 per-36) coupled with shooting a disgusting 39.6% from the field. Already out of the Pistons’ rotation, it’s hard to see things changing anytime soon for the 21-year-old. Siva and Mitchell have appeared in 37 games for Detroit scoring a total of 33 points. Yeah.
July 10 2013
Signed signed forward Josh Smith.
So you have an emerging superstar big man in Andre Drummond and a servicable to above-average big man in Greg Monroe. What the next logical move? Get one of the best post-scoring big men in the league! Oh, we forgot to mention that this post-scoring beast doesn’t always embrace what he’s good at and likes to drift towards out of the paint and sometimes to the three-point line. Let’s sign him anyway and put him at small forward, what could go wrong?
Well, everything. Smith is having the worst season not only of his career but one of the worst three-point shooting years ever! His first nine years in the league were filled with ups and downs as Smith tried to turn his immense potential and athletic ability into something tangible. Just when it would seem he figured it out, he’d start chucking 18 footers again. It led to a disappointing 46.5% FG% during his Atlanta tenure despite being an absolute killer in the post.
Things took a mighty turn for the worse in Detroit. A playful three-point shooter in Atlanta, Smith became an undisplicplined chucker in Detroit averaging upwards of three 3PA while shooting a measly 26.4% from deep. 26.4%, three attempts per game, really good post player. Yeah, this is Josh Smith in Detroit.
A good signing in a vacuum, Smith had no fit in Detroit and it showed almost immediately. A lack of floor spacing has essentially forced the worst part of Smith to emerge as the most featured leading to a putrid 14.1 PER, far and away the lowest of Smith’s career.
July 31 2013
Traded guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton and center Viacheslav Kravtsov to the Milwaukee Bucks for guard Brandon Jennings.
The much-maligned star of the Milwaukee Bucks expressed his desire to move on from Brew City in favor of greener pastures. The Bucks were more than happy to part with their disgruntled star sending him East to Detroit for 22-year-old Brandon Knight and bit players Khris Middleton and Viacheslav Kravtsov. Both teams have been dreadful this season so it’s hard to pick a winner in this deal. Knight has seen his numbers improve across the board with his per-36 PPG toeing the 20 PPG line. He’s improved his shooting, gets to the line more often and could be a solid piece for the rebuilding Bucks.
Already an inefficient scorer, Jennings has taken that aspect of his game to a new level seeing his FG% plummet to a deplorable 37.6%. He’s taking a career-low 20.9% of his shots at the rim, way more shots from mid-range and less from three-point than he use to so pretty much the opposite of what you want. Jennings may be a lost cause at this point and while it’s still too early to judge this trade, it’s not looking good for the Pistons.
Dumars’ tenure in Detroit wasn’t awful. He built an NBA champion and his team was one of the top teams of the mid-2000s. However, once that core had dissipated, Dumars was unable to properly rebuild.
A string of bad drafts including drafting Darko instead one of the four or five superstars in the 2003 NBA Draft and the unbelievably poor signings of Gordon, Villanueva and Smith did him in. I didn’t list them all in this list but Dumars’ questionable coaching decisions may have as much to do with his teams underperforming as his bad personnel decisions did. After having basketball lifers Carlisle, Brown and Saunders as front-men, Dumars turned course on a still respectful team and went with the cool young former player in Curry. It was a total disaster for a team that still needed the direction and leadership from a veteran coach.
When it’s all said and done, Dumars will be remembered for building the NBA champion Pistons, a team still thought of as the only “non-superstar” team to win an NBA title in recent memory.