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How Joe Dumars’ reliance on veterans both built and crippled the Pistons

I wrote a piece for TrueHoop today on the rise and fall of the Pistons:

I’ve always seen Joe Dumars as old.

Sure, at 47, he’s older than many public faces of the NBA. But even when he played, I had that image of him.

Maybe it’s how he served as the Pistons’ elder statesman for so many years after the Bad Boys era. Maybe it’s the mustache. Maybe it’s how he played with wisdom and class, even when he was young.

The way he has managed the Pistons since taking over the team in the summer of 2000 suggests he viewed himself in a similar way — at least, if you believe general managers create their teams in their own images.

Dumars built the Pistons around veterans, rode the wave of their success and his formula shows no sign of changing.

People wonder what Dumars is doing. Obviously, in recent years, the results haven’t been the same, but many observers don’t realize he built the 2004 title team with the same model he’s using now. Dumars shows veterans tremendous respect, and they’ve reciprocated. Take a look at how the Pistons have gotten here:

Head to TrueHoop to read a themed timeline.

12 Comments

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PistonPowered Feed and Patrick Hayes, Detroit Pistons. Detroit Pistons said: TrueHoop.com – How Joe Dumars’ reliance on veterans both built and crippled the Pistons: http://bit.ly/dNm7lQ [...]

  • Dec 2, 20105:29 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    “…many observers don’t realize he built the 2004 title team with the same model he’s using now….”

    i’d be hard-pressed to disagree more with anything anyone’s ever said. if age was the only trait basketball players possessed, this would be a perfectly thorough analysis. considering that basketball players have various traits, skills, physical makeups, salaries, etc. you’ve wildly oversimplified the situation.

    his old formula had as much or more to do with how players fit together as how many years they’ve been in the league. and picking up 30-somethings to try to win right away is different from re-signing players WAY past their primes. plus, uh, all the wing players. you get the idea. it’s distinctly not the “same” formula. his old formula was to get reasonably priced, above-average players who played complementary roles; his new one is to get overpriced, completely average players who play the same two positions. you get it. surely you get it.

  • Dec 2, 20105:32 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    now it’s my turn to generalize: i think this is a product of a numbers obsession. maybe it puts things in a context where a person looks for certain patterns and locks in on them, ignoring every other angle. but “the same formula?” for real? sounds like more joe dumars apologist talk to me. just my 2 cents…

  • Dec 2, 20105:37 pm
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    I think his signing of Ben Gordon and CV was his uneasiness and resignation that the Pistons would not be a choice destination for the marquee free agents.  He wanted something, yet it is the first time he really came across as desperate and impatient to me.  Really?  That much money for 2 non-defensive players?  Doesn’t fit with his past “philosophies.”
     

  • Dec 2, 20106:22 pm
    by mat

    Reply

    “he built the 2004 title team with the same model he’s using now”
    This is a joke.  Even if you make the simplistic view of just looking at age (and not team composition, character, identity, etc) its still incorrect.
    The ’04 was built around a core of Billups, Hamilton, Prince, B. Wallace and Okur, and was then supplemented with veteran pieces, most notably R.Wallace.
    Billups and B.Wallace were 26 when they were acquired.  Hamilton was 24.  Prince and Okur, even younger, were drafted by the Pistons.  These were young guys who were still ramping up towards their prime when Dumars added them.
    This is nothing like the TMac, Iverson, Wallace signings and the Prince/Hamilton extensions.  Extending his holdovers is the equivalent of hanging on to Stackhouse.  Exactly the opposite of what he did as Hill, Barry, Stackhouse, Curry and nearly every other aging vet was let go whenever they ceased being economically worthwhile.
    Its pretty ridiculous that you conveniently ignore moves like Stackhouse for Hamilton while talking about Hubert Davis, as if he matters at all.
    Dumars IS over-enamored with old players, but he didn’t use to be.  The moves he made prior to 2005 were focused on building the team with youth.  Getting burned by the Darko selection may have become a traumatic experience that dramatically altered his approach.  That thesis is far more defensible than “same old Dumars”.
    Weak!
     

  • Dec 2, 20106:58 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    I understand Dan’s post is going to cause all kinds of debates.
    But something I’d like to point out in regards to Mat’s comments:
    ‘Old’ is different than ‘veteran.’ So yeah, Hamilton, Billups, Wallace, Gordon, V, et. al. were not ‘old’ when Dumars acquired them. But they were all veterans.
    Also, if you remember heading into 2004, Dumars wasn’t happy with Prince and Okur having to start. I remember a comment Larry Brown made after taking the job. He said something like, “Joe warned me going into the season that I’d most likely have to start Prince and Okur, so I’d be essentially starting two rookies.”
    Things obviously worked out, but given his druthers, Dumars would’ve preferrred veterans get some of their minutes. And if you remember, they ended up starting Elden Campbell’s corpse to start the season even though Okur was clearly better.

  • Dec 3, 20104:32 am
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    The roots of the championship season began in 2001-02, when Dumars brought in veterans who could win right away, even if they didn’t have championship potential. Then, he started filtering them out for higher-upside players.

    I think Dumars saw keeping Prince and Hamilton and signing Gordon, Villanueva and McGrady as the first part of that plan.

    Defense-first is not a core Dumars value. He’s openly talked about an offensive focus with the NBA’s new rules.

    Roles over talent is not a core Dumars value. Just look at this team.

    Relying on veterans is a core Dumars value. Throughout his entire tenure, he’s done it.

    Of course, when someone has been around as long as he has, there are exceptions. But far more often than not, he goes with the veteran option.

  • Dec 3, 20109:10 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    Well I won’t argue that maybe he thinks the recipe is the same to a degree. To a very small degree. He’s got a million pieces, just like that 01-02 team. Problem is two-fold – there is no identity, unlike the defensive minded 02 team, and there is no flexibility, unlike the 02 team. The 02 team had a bunch of guys signed to reasonable contracts. There was flexibility. This team has zero flexibility and half of these guys are locked up until 2013.

  • Dec 3, 20109:21 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    Not to mention the 02 team was actually good. they won 48 games, and were 12th in o-rating and 8th in d-rating. miraculously i might add given the looks of that roster. The NBA must have really been down back then. this team is bad, so if Dumars is following some type of recipe he’s starting out with some pretty bad ingredients.

  • Dec 3, 20109:23 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    check that they won 50 games. whoa.

  • Dec 6, 20105:31 pm
    by mat

    Reply

    I don’t think anyone is arguing with the “Dumars loves veterans” line of reasoning.
    What people are arguing with is “he built the 2004 title team with the same model”.  Even in 2000, by choice or not, the major move that Dumars made was moving a veteran (Grant Hill) for younger pieces (Wallace and Atkins). He moved Stackhouse for a younger player (Hamilton).  By choice or not, he let Prince and Okur play prominent roles and even fired Carslile in part because he didn’t play them enough.
    The 2001 team had a lot of veterans:  Atkins, Barry, Stackhouse, Curry, Robinson — they were ALL replaced by younger players within a couple years.
    Even old man Elden Campbell, a role player at best, could be viewed as a younger replacement for Cliff Robinson.
    If Dumars had replaced Rip with Gordon, Prince with Daye, Sheed with CV, and Wallace with Monroe then yeah…I’d buy your argument.  But he didn’t.   He just paid lots of money to add these players to an aging core and he did it while discarding valuable young players like Afflalo and Amir. 2002 Dumars was doing the opposite of what 2008-09 Dumars.  ’02 Dumars would have dealt Billups for a 23 or 24 year old, not Allen Iverson.
    The fact that the argument points to a number of nearly irrelevant role players exhibits it’s weakness.  I could make a similar argument about Joe Dumars’ reliance on foreign players and point out Zebraka, Sura, Milicic, Delfino, Okur etc. but it would be ridiculous to make an argument centering around bit players.
    The “it’ not about age it’s about experience argument” is weak as well.  There isn’t much difference here in age vs experience because we’re mostly talking about 4-year college players in every case.  Prince and Okur weren’t veterans.  Billups and Ben Wallace wasn’t really when they were acquired either.  No point in arguing semantics here but “veteran” vs. “older” is beside the point.
    The ’04 team was built by getting progressively younger.  By trading in older players before they declined.  By focusing on maximizing roster value and not marrying yourself to franchise cornerstones, even if they’re popular (e.g. Stackhouse).  This is almost indisputable.  Every critical move leading up to building that team was a move where an older player was replaced by a young player.
    Even the Brown quote that P.Hayes puts out: that he would “have to start Prince and Okur [...] essentially starting two rookies.” should be interpreted as a leadership decision from Dumars to play younger, inexperienced players.
    To say that Dumars always valued veterans is true.  To make the logical leap that he built the ’04 team by “relying” on veterans is preposterous.
    Feldman’s response is, predictably, myopic and deliberately obtuse:
    “in 2001-02, when Dumars brought in veterans who could win right away, even if they didn’t have championship potential. Then, he started filtering them out for higher-upside players.”
    higher-upside players = YOUNGER less-experienced player.
    “I think Dumars saw keeping Prince and Hamilton and signing Gordon, Villanueva and McGrady as the first part of that plan.”
    And that’s exactly the difference.  2001-2003 Joe Dumars would have cut ties with Prince and Hamilton and dealt them for “higher-upside players” AKA younger players.
    Defense-first is not a core Dumars value. He’s openly talked about an offensive focus with the NBA’s new rules.
    And with the old rules he openly talked about a defensive-focus.  New rules or not, this is a change from 2000-04.
    Roles over talent is not a core Dumars value. Just look at this team.
    True! Now contrast with the ’04 team!  You think Williamson, James, Hunter, etc didn’t know their roles?  You think Darko wasn’t aware of his?
    “Relying on veterans is a core Dumars value. Throughout his entire tenure, he’s done it.”
    Except in 2001-2004 when he moved every core veteran he had for a younger player.
    ………….
    Look, I know this blog is trying to make a name for itself, but you’ll get a lot further by making sound logical arguments without the resorting to ridiculous claims with overtly weak evidence.
    I appreciate the effort put into making unconventional arguments.
    Not trying to hate, just…come on…you can do much better.  At least stop before hitting on an outlandish conclusion when 80% of your argument has some validity.
    In this case “Dumars always leaned towards veterans” has some legs.  But clearly, in 2002-2003 he went AWAY from that inclination.  At that critical phase he went against what made him comfortable…and it worked!  So, why has Dumars clammed up and gone into a shell since then when the youth-oriented strategy served him well?  Was it Cleaves?  Milicic?  Amir and Maxiell being slow to develop?
    What has him in denial about a need to rebuild?  Why is he, against all rational evidence, clinging to overpaid veterans now when he was aggressive about shipping them away earlier in his career?
    Some things haven’t changed (Dumars likes vets), but some things have (the lengths he goes to acquire and retain them).
     
     
     

  • Dec 6, 20106:51 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Mat,

    “The 2001 team had a lot of veterans:  Atkins, Barry, Stackhouse, Curry, Robinson — they were ALL replaced by younger players within a couple years.”

    Dumars began rebuilding by acquiring old players. Who does that?

    “Even old man Elden Campbell, a role player at best, could be viewed as a younger replacement for Cliff Robinson.”

    My case isn’t that Dumars always chooses the older player. It’s that he almost always chooses a veteran.

    “If Dumars had replaced Rip with Gordon, Prince with Daye, Sheed with CV, and Wallace with Monroe then yeah…I’d buy your argument.  But he didn’t.”

    Yet. Do you think Rip, Prince, Sheed and Wallace are part of Dumars’ long-term plan? Do you think he plans to keep those guys with Gordon, Daye, CV and Monroe? The only caveat is the ownership situation. That might keep Dumars from following through with his plan like he wanted.

    ” ’02 Dumars would have dealt Billups for a 23 or 24 year old, not Allen Iverson.”

    ’02 Dumars would have dealt Billups for a 26-year-old, someone who already has experience.

    “The fact that the argument points to a number of nearly irrelevant role players exhibits it’s weakness.  I could make a similar argument about Joe Dumars’ reliance on foreign players and point out Zebraka, Sura, Milicic, Delfino, Okur etc. but it would be ridiculous to make an argument centering around bit players.”

    I would argue that Dumars had a reliance on foreign players, relative to the rest of the league. That ended when Darko didn’t pan out.

    “The “it’ not about age it’s about experience argument” is weak as well.  There isn’t much difference here in age vs experience because we’re mostly talking about 4-year college players in every case.  Prince and Okur weren’t veterans.  Billups and Ben Wallace wasn’t really when they were acquired either.  No point in arguing semantics here but “veteran” vs. “older” is beside the point.”

    I’m not arguing age vs. experience. I think it’s mostly a case-by-case thing. In each situation, you can read into which is more relevant.

    “The ’04 team was built by getting progressively younger.  By trading in older players before they declined.  By focusing on maximizing roster value and not marrying yourself to franchise cornerstones, even if they’re popular (e.g. Stackhouse).  This is almost indisputable.  Every critical move leading up to building that team was a move where an older player was replaced by a young player.”

    Again, do you really think that’s part of the plan now, too?

    “Even the Brown quote that P.Hayes puts out: that he would “have to start Prince and Okur [...] essentially starting two rookies.” should be interpreted as a leadership decision from Dumars to play younger, inexperienced players.”

    Actions speak louder than words. I think Dumars wants to want to play more young players. But when you stock the team with capable veterans, coaches will play them.

    ““in 2001-02, when Dumars brought in veterans who could win right away, even if they didn’t have championship potential. Then, he started filtering them out for higher-upside players.”

    higher-upside players = YOUNGER less-experienced player.”

    Again, I’m not arguing Dumars always choose the older/more-experienced player. But he usually chooses a player with age/experience. To use the Stackhouse trade as an example, Hamilton had already proven himself to be a capable NBA starter. He was young enough to still have upside, but he had already played enough to be a proven commodity. I think most GMs in that situation look to trade for draft picks or an unproven young player or both.


    “And that’s exactly the difference.  2001-2003 Joe Dumars would have cut ties with Prince and Hamilton and dealt them for “higher-upside players” AKA younger players.”

    Again, don’t you think trading Prince and Hamilton is part of his plan now (as much as ownership will let him).

    “Defense-first is not a core Dumars value. He’s openly talked about an offensive focus with the NBA’s new rules.
    And with the old rules he openly talked about a defensive-focus.  New rules or not, this is a change from 2000-04.”

    I’m not sure if you meant to agree with me or one of is misunderstanding each other, but that’s my point, too.

    “In this case “Dumars always leaned towards veterans” has some legs.  But clearly, in 2002-2003 he went AWAY from that inclination.  At that critical phase he went against what made him comfortable…and it worked!”

    This is an important distinction to make, and I think it might ultimately have us agreeing. My case isn’t that Dumars always chooses the older/more-experienced players. It’s that he tends to choose players who have proven to be already capable at whatever role he wants them to fill.

    “What has him in denial about a need to rebuild?  Why is he, against all rational evidence, clinging to overpaid veterans now when he was aggressive about shipping them away earlier in his career?Some things haven’t changed (Dumars likes vets), but some things have (the lengths he goes to acquire and retain them).”

    I’m not convinced at all Dumars has changed. I think the ownership situation has created a situation where he can’t trade away those veterans as easily as he’d like.

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