A Fresh Perspective

A new Pistons GM will start with a few building blocks, led by Drummond

Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond is a building block for the new Pistons GM.
Barry Gossage (NBAE/Getty)
A team of genius engineers gathered once to figure out the most economical way to fit a fleet of semi trucks 16 feet off the ground under a bridge with a clearance of 15 feet 11 inches. In the end, a kid on a bicycle rode up and suggested they let just enough air out of the tires to slide under.

Sometimes, it just takes a fresh perspective.

The Pistons are chasing that fresh perspective today, announcing that Joe Dumars will step aside as president of basketball operations. He’ll remain a part of the only pro sports organization he’s ever known – 29 mostly glorious years – since stepping outside his native Louisiana for the first time in 1985 when Jack McCloskey stunned owner Bill Davidson by picking Dumars over local hero Sam Vincent, serving as an adviser.

The new general manager won’t find a bare cupboard, that’s for sure. If the NBA were to terminate all player contracts and start over with an open draft, we wouldn’t get to the first commercial break before Andre Drummond would come off the board. Joe D found him after eight other teams, focused on his perceived flaws, decided otherwise.

But there is no getting around the fact that the Pistons, headed into Wednesday’s season finale, have won only 29 of 81 games this season. They have overwhelming strengths – first in offensive rebounding by a wide margin, first in points in the paint, top five in transition scoring – but glaring weaknesses, too.

The Pistons will finish dead last in foul shooting, 29th in 3-point shooting and in the bottom five in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense.

It will take some off-season tinkering to fix those things. Whether it takes a major reworking of the roster will be a determination for a new management team.

The Pistons have won three NBA titles in their history, all of them in the past 25 years. Only the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Spurs and Heat have won three or more in that span. The Lakers and Celtics will be in this year’s lottery, too, a useful reminder of the cyclical nature of a game so dependent on stars.

Read that list again. It’s nice company. Tom Gores wants back inside that room. He’s owned the Pistons for three seasons, certainly enough time for an honest assessment of their standing, and reasonably decided, “We are turning the page with great respect for what (Dumars) has accomplished not only as a player and a front-office executive, but as a person who has represented this team and the NBA with extraordinary dignity.”

About that last part, the dignity. There might be no greater legacy Dumars leaves – his two titles as a player and one as an executive notwithstanding – than his name on the trophy handed out every year to the Sportsmanship Award winner. He came of age amid the fiercest rivalries of the NBA’s golden era – Pistons-Celtics, Pistons-Lakers, Pistons-Bulls – and there was never a negative word uttered about Joe D, who competed with every bit the ferocity of anyone.

There aren’t many common links to those three titles. The list pretty much starts and ends with him. You can put an asterisk on McCloskey, given that Trader Jack so presciently picked Dumars, a player he thought was one of the two or three best in a draft where he got him 18th.

Isiah Thomas was a close as the Pistons ever came to having a superstar, but it must be remembered he wasn’t close to making the All-NBA team in either championship year. That’s what made the Pistons so unique. Both McCloskey and Dumars put together championship teams without benefit of a Jordan, a Shaq or a LeBron.

That takes an incredible touch in roster building. The 2004 Goin’ to Work title team consisted mostly of reclamation projects. Thomas, Dennis Rodman and Joe D all represent the Bad Boys in the Hall of Fame, but there’s no sure-fire Famer from the ’04 bunch.

Dumars leaves a handful of nice pieces in place for his successor, too. Drummond is the centerpiece, of course, a player who, at 20, has boundless growth potential. Those who know best what makes Greg Monroe tick are confident his best is yet to come. He’ll be a restricted free agent come July and restricted free agency gives the home team a clear upper hand.

The decision on Monroe will be first among many crucial ones awaiting whoever the Gores search team identifies as worthy of leading a third championship era of Pistons basketball. But he’s a major asset, whether it be at Drummond’s side or used to acquire players the new GM sees as more complementary.

Nobody is kidding themselves that it will be an instant or necessarily an easy fix. But sometimes, like the kid who rides up on a bicycle and cuts to the heart of the problem, a fresh perspective makes all the difference.