Isiah Thomas hasn't worked in the NBA since his unceremonious exit in 2009. (Ron Antonelli/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
The public relations game in the NBA is so often one of minced words and veiled meanings, but Pistons officials went on the record to dispute a recent rumor with indisputable clarity. On Saturday, the New York Post reported that Detroit legend and NBA exile Isiah Thomas had recently become the "top candidate" to replace Pistons team president Joe Dumars. That whisper could hardly have received a more stern refutation, as Tom Gores and Mark Barnhill -- the team's owner and his business partner -- rejected the reported possibility that Thomas might be hired.
From David Mayo of MLive (via PBT):
A spokesman for Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores called a report that the team is wooing Isiah Thomas as its next general manager "absolutely false."
"He is not a candidate for any job with the Pistons," Mark Barnhill wrote about Thomas in an email to MLive.
Barnhill, a partner in Gores' Platinum Equity, wrote that he and Gores had dinner with Thomas a couple weeks ago in Los Angeles but the upcoming Bad Boys reunion "was the sole topic. Period."
The Bad Boys reunion Barnhill mentioned is a scheduled halftime event to be held later this month in commemoration of the infamous 1989 title team. Those back-to-back champions will reunite for the Pistons' Mar. 28 game against the Heat, with Thomas as the headliner of the group.
Yet while the Pistons welcome Thomas in celebration of his achievements as a player, they clearly want nothing to do with his work as an executive. It was under Thomas' watch that the mid-2000s Knicks became their most wretched. He stockpiled bloated contracts at the expense of future draft picks, damning his roster beyond salvage. He made long-shot moves for established names without regard for fit or personality, and with each added contract Thomas further limited the Knicks' ability to improve. There was no capacity to adapt in response to the problems the franchise cultivated; Thomas' reign was proof positive of salary cap flexibility as a resource in itself. Once New York spent its way into a jam, Thomas squandered the team's draft picks out of desperation, surrendering the selections that would yield LaMarcus Aldridge, Joakim Noah and Gordon Hayward*. In return, New York landed Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and Wilson Chandler.
All of which doesn't even broach the culture of sexual harassment that Thomas contributed to, nor the greater organizational disarray of his front office. He was a remarkable basketball player -- one of the greatest ever. But his managerial career was so distinctly horrid that even these Pistons want no association in the slightest.
That's coming from a team with its own share of basketball problems, as Dumars -- while by far more successful as a general manager than his former backcourt mate -- is now on exceedingly thin ice.
The goodwill cultivated from building the 2004 championship team is long since gone, papered over with his costly mistakes since. Chauncey Billups was shipped out of town for an Allen Iverson trial run. Immediately after, Dumars gave a three-year, $34 million extension to the aging Richard Hamilton. He sent Arron Afflalo to Denver (with cash!) in exchange for a second-round pick. After cultivating cap space, Dumars committed $95.7 million over five years to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva -- the former of which cost the Pistons a first-round pick to move in 2012. Tayshaun Prince was given a four-year, $27 million deal after the introduction of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Dumars' tenure hasn't been uniformly bad (the drafting of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, in particular, have proven to be wise), but it has now been six seasons since the Pistons have had a winning record. During that time, Dumars has fired five head coaches. In his latest debacle, Dumars sought to acquire Josh Smith (on a four-year, $54 million contract) and Brandon Jennings (on a three-year deal worth $24 million) to flesh out a misshapen core. Former Detroit coach Maurice Cheeks took the fall when that awkward group of players failed to settle, though it was Dumars who both assembled the team in question and hand-picked Cheeks to run it.
All of which leaves Dumars without much ground to stand on, just as his contract draws toward its close. The Pistons are desperate for progress, though apparently not so much that they would seriously entertain the prospect of hiring Thomas to succeed Dumars. Even the despair of a 23-36 letdown, it seems, has its reasonable limits.
*Or, if you're inclined to play to the hypothetical: Paul George or Eric Bledsoe. Both were selected after Hayward in the 2010 draft.