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Nicely Done, Joe Pistons G.M. Joe Dumars was the most agreeable Bad Boy, but he was no pushover when it came to building an NBA champion

June 28, 2004
June 28, 2004

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June 28, 2004

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Nicely Done, Joe Pistons G.M. Joe Dumars was the most agreeable Bad Boy, but he was no pushover when it came to building an NBA champion

Detroit pistons general manager Joe Dumars stood outside a
delirious locker room, hemmed in on all sides by reporters and
well-wishers. As sweat poured from his face, he patiently
answered the same questions over and over, even as he cast about
for an escape route. Dumars's wife of 14 years, Debbie, stood on
the outer edge of the pack, unable to rescue him. Their
10-year-old daughter, Aren, clung to Debbie's side, and from
time to time their 13-year-old son, Jordan, a ball boy whose
blue Pistons T-shirt was soaked with champagne, ambled by,
smiling at the pure joy of it all. ¶ Joe D--the most
understated member of Detroit's 1989 and '90 NBA title teams,
the shooting guard whose name in the lineup carried an asterisk
indicating Not Really a Bad Boy--had brought a new championship
banner to Detroit with a stunning five-game dismantling of the
Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. "Couldn't have happened to a
nicer guy," said Bill Davidson, the 81-year-old owner of the
Pistons.

This is an article from the June 28, 2004 issue Original Layout

That's what you heard over and over after Detroit's 100-87 win on
June 15 at The Palace of Auburn Hills: Couldn't have happened to
a nicer guy. But Dumars, 41, who accepted Davidson's offer to run
the team in June 2000, didn't get it done with nice. He got it
done with cojones. He swapped a flawed franchise player, Jerry
Stackhouse, for a Michael Jordan reject, Richard (Rip) Hamilton;
ignored a sexy superstar-in-the-making who had just won an NCAA
championship, Carmelo Anthony, to use the No. 2 pick on an
obscure teen from Montenegro, Darko Milicic; replaced the 2002
Coach of the Year, Rick Carlisle, with a highly respected gym-rat
gypsy, Larry Brown. Then to top it off, he concocted a three-team
midseason deal for serial troublemaker Rasheed Wallace. "I think
what surprised everybody," says former Piston Bill Laimbeer, "is
how bold Joe has been in this job."

Do not think bold is out of character for Joe D. Gather up the
Bad Boys for a street fight--Laimbeer, the canny instigator;
Isiah Thomas, the hard case from Chicago's West Side; Rick
Mahorn, the brutish enforcer; Dennis Rodman, the budding
lunatic--and Dumars, the soft-spoken, middle-class kid from
Louisiana, a onetime hard-hitting defensive back for Natchitoches
Central High, might have been the one to lead them into the
alley. "In his own way," says Chuck Daly, who coached the team,
"Joe was as tough as any of them."

But Dumars doesn't think it was toughness that guided his
remaking of the Pistons. "Having a vision of what kind of team I
wanted and doing everything possible to realize that vision" is
how he describes the process. (And he made it work on the cheap:
Detroit's payroll ranked 12th in the league.) In Dumars's
backcourt, for instance, "I wanted both guards to be weapons," he
says. "And since Rip is great on the move, you need a guy like
Chauncey [Billups] he can kick it to, to spot up. Nothing against
Jerry, but you don't need to isolate Rip and call plays for him
to get you 20 points."

On the front line Dumars wanted size and athleticism. He had 6'9"
Ben Wallace for the latter, so before this season he signed
7-foot free agent Elden Campbell. Hardly anyone noticed until the
brawny Campbell provided valuable defense against Shaquille
O'Neal during the Finals. And in February--"working himself into
a state of delirium," Debbie says--Dumars reaped both size and
athleticism in the person of 6'11" Rasheed Wallace, who gave Ben
another interior defender, Billups and Hamilton another scorer
and the Pistons the lift they needed to go from good to
astonishingly good.

But until his vision became clear to the rest of the world in the
Finals, Dumars had to endure a steady drumbeat of criticism for
last year's draft. As Syracuse product Anthony, the No. 3
selection of the Denver Nuggets, was challenging top pick LeBron
James for Rookie of the Year honors, Milicic was nothing more
than a peroxide-blond, 7-foot hood ornament. Brown played Milicic
only 159 minutes--the rough equivalent of three full games. (In
an irony beyond cruel, Milicic did see two minutes of garbage
time during the Finals clincher, during which he broke his left
hand.) Considering that throughout the season the Pistons'
sputtering offense paled in comparison with their
take-no-prisoners D, the question came up time and again: How
much better would they have been with Anthony?

Dumars steadfastly insisted that drafting Milicic had nothing to
do with rejecting Anthony and everything to do with finding a
center for the future. Besides, Dumars felt he already had an
outstanding small forward in Tayshaun Prince, whom he'd taken
23rd in the '02 draft. That seemed a dubious rationale until
Prince played superbly in the Finals, when he backed up series
MVP Billups and Hamilton as a ball handler, applied long-armed
defense that held Kobe Bryant to 38.1% shooting and proved
unflappable at crucial moments. "I guess it's fair to compare
Darko, who had just turned 18 when we drafted him, to Carmelo,
who's undeniably a great young player," says Dumars. "I can
handle that. But when you bring Tayshaun into the equation,
calculate what he's meant to us and how we already had the
Carmelo position filled, well, see, the story doesn't flow as
well, the darts don't stick as much."

Before retiring in 1999, Dumars competed against most of the
current Pistons and is still a significant part of the team's
locker room culture. After Campbell threw down an awkward dunk in
Game 3, Dumars joined in kidding him about it the next day. In
addition to smack talker, Joe D can play the horse whisperer,
especially with Hamilton, who mans his old position. "When I look
at Rip on the court," says Dumars, "I swear I'm walking with him,
looking at what he's looking at, thinking about what he's
thinking." At one point this season Hamilton and Dumars had this
exchange:

Hamilton: Joe, did you ever hear the guy who's guarding you
breathing real heavy?

Dumars: Yeah, that's when you know you got him.

Hamilton: It's a great feeling.

Dumars: When you got 'em breathing heavy, keep running 'em.

Joe D was also a frequent sounding board for Billups this season
when Brown, as is his wont, harshly critiqued his point guard's
play. (Before signing with Detroit in 2002, Billups had always
worn number 4 in Dumars's honor.) But Dumars is old enough and
smart enough to pull off the delicate balancing act of supporting
his troops without undermining his coach, of being fair but firm.
At the end of every conversation with a player, he puts on his
G.M. hat. "I'll say, 'Let's go now,' or, 'Let's get focused,'" he
says. "It's important that the line is clear."

Which it seems to be. "Joe's success isn't about him being a
great player," says Hamilton. "It's about seeing the kind of
players he wanted, and then getting them. Not every ex-player can
do that." And, certainly, few could have done it so nicely.

COLOR PHOTO: photograph by julian h. gonzalez/detroit free press JOE'S D-LIGHT The stogie-wielding Dumars was a low-key celebrant next to one of his key pickups, Finals MVP Billups.COLOR PHOTO: GREGORY SHAMUS/NBAE (DUMARS)COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN RASHEED WALLACE

ANATOMY OF A blowout

The Pistons' five-game defeat of the heavily favored Lakers was
as thorough as it was stunning, due in part to Detroit's balanced
offense (all five starters scored in double figures) and a D that
held L.A. to 41.6% shooting from the field. Here's a dissection
of some other key stats from the final Finals
box.

COMPOSITE BOX SCORE
Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers

FG FT RB
Pistons Mins. M-A M-A O-T Asst. PF Pts.

Hamilton 222 37-92 29-34 12-26 20 9 107
Billups 192 29-57 39-42 3-16 26 8 105
R. Wallace 151 24-53 14-18 7-39 7 19 65
B. Wallace 203 22-46 10-34 19-68 7 15 54
Prince 196 21-54 5-11 15-34 10 9 50
Williamson 52 6-15 9-10 4-12 1 7 21
Hunter 65 5-17 6-6 1-7 4 11 18
Campbell 68 6-16 5-10 6-13 8 13 17
Okur 39 4-9 2-4 1-6 2 7 11
James 22 2-4 0-0 2-4 4 2 4
Ham 10 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 3 2
Milicic 5 0-2 0-2 1-2 0 0 0
Totals 1,225 157-366 119-171 72-228 89 103 454

Percentages: FG: .429, FT: .696. 3-point goals: 21-66, .318
(Billups 8-17, Hamilton 4-10, Prince 3-16, R. Wallace 3-12,
Hunter 2-8, Okur 1-1, B. Wallace 0-2). Blocked shots: 20 (R.
Wallace 8, B. Wallace 5, Campbell 3, Hunter 2, Prince 2).
Turnovers: 69. Steals: 39. Technical fouls: 4.

FG FT RB
Lakers Mins. M-A M-A O-T Asst. PF Pts.

O'Neal 213 53-84 27-55 15-54 8 22 133
Bryant 231 43-113 23-25 2-14 22 15 113
Fisher 101 11-36 4-7 5-15 9 16 32
George 104 11-28 2-4 3-14 3 16 29
Payton 168 9-28 1-2 6-15 22 17 21
Malone 122 8-24 4-6 8-29 9 8 20
Medvedenko 72 6-17 6-8 6-18 3 12 18
Rush 78 7-22 0-0 0-5 2 10 18
Walton 77 5-13 2-2 3-12 18 15 13
Fox 30 4-7 0-0 0-3 7 6 8
Cook 21 1-6 2-2 3-8 0 4 4
Russell 8 0-2 0-0 1-1 0 1 0
Totals 1,225 158-380 71-111 52-188 103 142 409

Percentages: FG: .416, FT: .640. 3-point goals: 22-89, .247
(Fisher 6-16, George 5-15, Bryant 4-23, Rush 4-16, Payton 2-10,
Walton 1-6, Fox 0-1, Malone 0-1, Russell 0-1). Blocked shots: 14
(Bryant 3, O'Neal 3, George 2, Payton 2, Walton 2, Malone 1,
Medvedenko 1). Turnovers: 68. Steals: 36. Technical fouls:
6.

TIPPING POINT Here's why Chauncey Billups was Finals MVP: 50.9%
shooting from the field and 92.9% from the line (not to mention
47.1% on threes).

TIME WELL SPENT Rasheed Wallace averaged only 30.2 minutes--fewer
per game than the hobbled Karl Malone--but led the Pistons in
blocked shots and was third in scoring.

GLASS ACT At 6'9" and 215 pounds, Tayshaun Prince had as many
offensive rebounds (15) as 7'1", 345-pound Shaquille O'Neal,
helping Detroit gain a 72-52 advantage for the
series.

REF TREATMENT The Pistons shot 60 more free throws than the
Lakers' 111 and were whistled for 39 fewer
fouls.

A LITTLE HELP HERE? O'Neal averaged 26.6 points and Kobe Bryant
22.6, but the next highest scorer was backup point guard Derek
Fisher (6.4).

GLOVE LOST Gary Payton scored only 21 points in the series, or 84
fewer than Billups, his point guard counterpart, and as many as
Detroit reserve Corliss Williamson, who played 116 fewer
minutes.

LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE That's where Bryant spent most of the series,
as evidenced by his lack of rebounding (2.8 per game) and his
long-distance jacks (20.4% of his field goal attempts were
threes).

PURPLE RAIN OF BRICKS While O'Neal's marksmanship from the field
was superb (63.1%), the rest of the Lakers shot an abysmal 35.5%
(105 of 296).

CAGED FOX Three-time champ Rick Fox played only 30 minutes for
the Lakers, even though he totaled more assists (seven) in that
time than Kareem Rush and Slava Medvedenko did in 150 minutes
(five combined).