The fate of Pistons team president Joe Dumars has been speculated at for months, with all indications pointing to this being his last season in charge of Detroit's basketball operations. That plan was clarified slightly on Tuesday as Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News reported that Dumars intends to step down by his own power in the near future:
Dumars has told multiple sources within the NBA that he plans to resign — possibly as soon as this week — after a busy offseason that included the signings of high-priced free agents Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and led to an underachieving 2013-14 season. The Pistons, who many experts picked to return to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, are 28-49 and out of playoff contention.
The need for such a move has been years in the making. It has now been six seasons since Detroit last had a winning record, and during that time Dumars has fired five coaches: Maurice Cheeks, Lawrence Frank, John Kuester, Michael Curry and Flip Saunders. The Pistons' roster has run through several different iterations in that time, with this year's 28-49 team being only the latest of many disappointments.
More than anyone else, Dumars is at fault for the Pistons' inability to break that cycle. That Dumars drafted Darko Milicic with the No. 2 overall pick in 2003 over Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony is the stuff of NBA legend. Later he traded franchise mainstays Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson in one breath before offering Rip Hamilton a five-year, $34 million extension with the next. He famously committed $90 million over five years to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, the former of which required a first round pick to unload. He gave the withering Tayshaun Prince a four-year, $27 million deal after the introduction of the new CBA.
Then, in his roster's latest reinvention, he threw money at Josh Smith (four years, $54 million) and Brandon Jennings (three years, $24 million) to play transformational roles. Their poor fit both with one another and with the team already in place was disregarded for the sake of a splashy headline and immediate gratification -- a Dumars trademark through and through. Rarely have the Pistons sat on their cap space during his time in charge, no matter the unattractive options available or the far superior ones upcoming.
It need be mentioned in fairness that Dumars had previously been no stranger to success. It was by his hand that the 2004 championship team took shape; he was responsible for the acquisitions of every key member of that long-lasting team, which -- including the aforementioned title run -- went to the Eastern Conference Finals or beyond in six straight seasons. Every key member of those teams, from Ben Wallace to Billups to Mehmet Okur, was acquired under Dumars' watch. He was a worthy winner of the Executive of the Year award and looked to be one of the league's finest basketball architects.
Things went a sour for Dumars as that roster aged, though selecting the overlooked and disregarded Andre Drummond with the No. 9 pick in the 2012 draft might be the Pistons' most important move after his fall from grace. Yet because of all the silly moves made both before and after that choice, Dumars won't likely be in charge of the Pistons when it pays off fully. Ditto for selecting Greg Monroe with the No. 7 pick in 2010. This lengthy tenure isn't without its redeeming moments, to be sure, though Dumars will soon be resigning because his savviest moves were overwhelmed by the sheer number of unfortunate ones. Beyond that, Dumars paved the way for his resignation by letting his team slip into disarray on an organizational level. Those in charge of basketball operations aren't merely in responsible for picks and signings, after all, but the very infrastructures of the teams they govern. Dumars' undoing might have been staved off had he found just one reliable coach in his many tries, or at least stuck with one long enough so that they could lend a steady identity or game plan to a team in desperate need of both. Internal leadership suffers without coaching stability. Player development is a lost cause as what should be one consistent message fades into a flood of conflicting ones. Any capacity to elevate a team beyond the sum of its parts is hindered by the shuffle. The Pistons have been a persistent mess precisely because Dumars has allowed it to be so, whether by his poor choices or chronic impatience.