On June 27th, 2012 when the Pistons traded Ben Gordon and a pick to the Hornets BobCats I was...happy and proud.
The Pistons took a measure needed to get rid of Ben Gordon's attitude, fading skills and his atrocious contract, where $25.6 million dollars over two years remained.
Because of rigidity of the NBA salary cap when you make a financial miscalculation on a player one of two reasonable (no amnesty, no buyouts) things can be done to try and economically rebound:
- Wait it out. As the Pistons are doing now with Charlie Villanueva. That's free and open money this summer.
- Deal your bad deal for someone else's bad deal and hope the fits are better for each.
Of the latter, two things can happen. It turns out to be a shrewd move (for you) and the team begins trending up, while crossing off certain personnel needs on the shopping list.
Two, your initial error has been compounded. This is real trouble. The Knicks offer a good example of this. I compare the repeated trade attempts to make up for a bad signing, or two, to lies.
When we were young, our parents told us not to lie. For that one lie would lead to another, and another and another. Before you/we know it our stories are all criss-crossed and discombobulated and we struggle to recall what the initial lie was even about.
*On the note of lieing, it's apt to share the sage words of Mark Twain, 'If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.'* A-freakin-men.
Compounding NBA trade after trade desperately trying to land the right combination of players - not usually benefical draft picks - to help the organization start trending back in the right direction rarely ever works out. Sometimes, worse than bottoming out in the League, you've achieved a more harrowing fate. You're now somewhere in the neighborhood of the 7th to 10th best team in the conference. Get eviscerated by a Miami or OKC in the first round, or land at the end of the lottery where the choices aren't as obvious or fruitful, and certainly not as transformative, as they are at the top of the lottery.
Unless something unconventional and drastic happens - to 'save' the draft pick or to drastically improve - the Pistons are now playing for two games at the Palace against Miami or Indiana in mid-April.
The price of NBA financial freedom is often costly.
For the Pistons to rid themselves of Gordon's deal (THIS was the thorny impetus of everything) the painful, but expected, cost was a future draft pick. At the time, we had fair idea how transcendent the draft was going to be (this year's) in the second year where Charlotte was able to capture the Piston's draft pick.
I wasn't too concerned. A lot can change with draft prospects in two years, and by then the Pistons should've markedly improved.
The setting was now this: an emerging Greg Monroe, a full offseason for the previous lottery pick, Brandon Knight, to improve, the 9th pick in that June's draft and nearly an entire roster of expiring contracts in the coming years equating to a Federal Reserve sized vault of money to spend on free agents, but moreso, to work inventive trades to enhance personnel since Detroit was no flashy destination for free agents.
I was happy. Joe Dumars, even at a lofty price, had secured a get out of economic jail free card with the transaction.
Up to then Dumars had created a questionable resume for a general manager in the post '04 championship world of the Pistons.
My vertical wasn't more than four inches off the ground, but I was willing to give Dumars a leap of faith that he'd learned from the miscalculations on Gordon and Villanueva. Maybe a 'Damn, I got lucky with Moose in the draft. Better not fcuk this up.'
He'd owned the team for less than 13 months, but Tom Gores was soon going to task Joe Dumars with erecting a competitive playoff Pistons team.
Having come from a background where he needed to accept a scholarship to attend Michigan State, I can only deduce that Gores' $2.5 billion dollars in worth came from refining a keen business acumen and dedicated, endless work, not from a family trust.
You have to have an uncommon level of intelligence to make that kind of fortune.
Immediately after Joe Dumars dealt Ben Gordon, he should've felt the doubt Pistons fans hardbored in Dumars' GM prowess, thanked him for his time and fired him.
Instead, Dumars remained.
By the time all is said and done, the deals given to Villanueva and Gordon might look like pop gun shots compared to the genocidal nuclear bombs of the summer of 2013.
This hindsight is the inescapable vision of a galactic telescope, but few would've minded if after selecting Andre Drummond, Gores would've fired Dumars.
As happy after that trade as I was, as time wore on my lack of confidence in Dumars grew to the size of their young, newly drafted center.
Did they shop Corey Maggette's expiring contract for an asset?
Why couldn't they figure out the Brandon Knight conundrum?
The acquisition of Jose Calderon was smart. It showed what the Pistons were capable of with a legitmate offensive orchestrator at point guard, and it moved more money off the summer books.
Didn't move the impending expiring deals of Rodney Stuckey nor Villanueva.
I'm not willing to throw the towel in yet on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, even light of Trey Burke's quality play since his return from a broken finger, but the Pistons are really hindering KCP's growth.
Maurice Cheeks was an underwhelming hire to replace Lawrence Frank.
The mercurial Josh Smith is signed. Bringing questionable size to the Pistons frontcourt, in an era of smaller, fleeter lineups, and by making him the 3, essentially encouraging him to hoist up even more 3's which have played a major role in why he's never ascended to an All Star level. But he's $54 million dollars anyway.
It was great to move Knight, though I remain confident that off the bench as a 3 & D he could've excelled, but wait, you bring in the erratic and inefficient Brandon Jennings AND extend him!? Jennings and Smith is a volatile pairing. The owner said PLAYOFFS, no matter the toxic fumes that eminate.
Dumars did it anyway. Because Gores demanded playoffs, which is his right as an owner to do. But his duty as an owner is to make the best decisions for the franchise, and in that, he failed by not firing Dumars on June 28th, 2012.
Other things that irk me:
FWIW, former Pistons 2nd rounder Khris Middleton is averaging 11.7 and 4.4 rebounds and hitting 43% of his 3.1 three attempts per game for the Bucks...
...where Knight has reached a career high in points, rebounds and assists a game.
Perhaps the greatest miss of the summer wasn't Burke or Iguodala or even passing on my coveted Jeff Teague.
It's that Denver's GM, Masai Ujiri, who constructed a team just how the Pistons needed to be built - sum of the parts... - was out with the Nuggets and he opted to go back to his previous destination in Toronto, to become the Raptors GM. The deal was $15 million over 5 years. That's slightly more than Will Bynum is making this year.
Ujiri wanted to back 'home' and the deal was done in late May.
I just can't fathom how a guy who is worth billions of dollars completely ignored the possibility of swiping away a man who knows exactly how to erect an team in a not-so-desirable NBA city.
The Raptors, who've gone 10-5 since dumping their 'Josh Smith', Rudy Gay, will probably be the 4 seed in the East.
Dumars deserves blame. But who's more incompetent? The man being incompetent, or the man who permits the incompetence?