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Chauncey Billups and the difficulty of assessing leadership

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

The Pistons stumbled, at least in part, due to a leadership void the past five years.

But I think the story requires an additional chapter. Billups didn’t leave Detroit by accident. President of basketball operations Joe Dumars traded him, believing Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince could rise into leadership roles.

Instead, Hamilton feuded with Michael Curry and sabotaged John Kuester. Prince took Hamilton’s side and created some divisiveness of his own. Unlike most after-the-fact analyses of the Billups-Iverson trade, I’m not here to skewer Dumars. I’m here to defend him.

Dumars exhibited such incredible sportsmanship as a player, the NBA gave him its first sportsmanship award. Then, realizing that wasn’t enough, the league named the sportsmanship trophy after him.

During his playing career, Dumars had 104 different teammates. He shared locker rooms with personalities as wide-ranging as Isiah Thomas, Grant Hill and Dennis Rodman.

As a general manager, even before trading Billups, Dumars worked daily with strong-minded players. He hired strong-minded coaches and he worked for a strong-minded owner. If we can’t trust Dumars to properly value and identify leadership, whom can we trust to do it?

Leadership, chemistry and all those intangibles are important, and I don’t think anyone would deny that. But to what degree can those attributes be controlled by a front office?

33 Comments

  • Jul 19, 20131:24 pm
    by Keith

    Reply

    To address the question posed, it’s not about controlling the intangible qualities that define and improve leadership. Some guys just don’t want to lead, even their play makes them the obvious teammate that others look to for direction (Carmelo Anthony, Chris Webber). You can’t force players to be leaders, but you can hope they grow into it.

    The main issue the front office should concern itself with is whether they have put all of their pieces in position to succeed within themselves. That is, if you think there is a leadership gap in the personnel, the manager must fill it himself or find a coach that can. If the players are set on their own, then you can allow them to grow more organically without the rigid structure or discipline of a taskmaster coach.

    If we want to look at the Pistons historically, I would say Ben Wallace wasn’t a vocal leader, but his relentless effort had a noticeable effect on his teammates. Chauncey was more vocal, and rose to the occasion when his teammates needed him, so he they naturally deferred to him. I think it’s difficult to make the argument in this article, that Dumars is an expert on leadership because of his experience and sportsmanship. Dumars has never really had to lead a team of consequence. Isaiah took care of that while the Pistons were good, and Dumars was more than willing to give it up when Grant Hill was drafted. If anything, Dumars has a history of being a very good teammate but questionable as a true leader. Dumars constantly wants to defer to someone (his teammates as a Piston, his team when in the front office, the coach during our best runs, his owner even when they make poor decisions). 

    The thing about deferring is that it makes it really easy to be a great teammate. It makes you very likable, and I bet players love him. But in terms of identifying great leaders, in terms of finding his own direction when failures occur, being Joe Dumars doesn’t seem to grant special knowledge or skill. Joe is willing to let anyone be the leader, and that’s one major reason the team has been so directionless and poor since the ones he lucked into (Chauncey, Ben, Larry Brown) left. 

    • Jul 20, 20138:46 am
      by abaraxis

      Reply

      Your view is flawed at best.

  • Jul 19, 20131:33 pm
    by RyanK

    Reply

    If it ain’t rough, it ain’t right…  This attitude had to make Joe D crazy.  Year after year of getting knocked out of the playoff because they either didn’t play hard or didn’t care.  When Miami won, Billups laid down and let Jason Williams take over the game and win the series.  

    Trading Billups was not a mistake…he needed to be gone.  The mistake was trying to keep the younger players around and signing CV and BG to those big deals.  It’s okay to make mistakes, but just letting them linger for years really hurt the franchise.

    Trader Joe made no trades…  Doesn’t mean he wasn’t trying to make them, he just didn’t make any for a long time.  I don’t know for sure what was going on, but one thing is certain, Joe D wasn’t Joe D when Karen Davidson had the checkbook.

    • Jul 19, 20132:02 pm
      by ryan

      Reply

      I agree. I’ve said it many, many, many times the Chauncey Billups Joe Dumars traded to Denver was a much worse player than the Chauncey Billups the Nuggets got. Chauncey was flipping the switch and the whole team believed their own hype… it hurts to say it but not a single one of those guys was anywhere near as good as they thought they were.

      Joe Dumars has made mistakes and was hobbled by Karen Davidson’s unwillingness to spend but a whole lot of the blame has to fall on the players themselves. They never should’ve let it get to that point.

      I think Dan’s point about Joe Dumars’ experience is a valid one. Joe was a quiet leader as a player basically just a guy who was a great example but he was around a lot of different guys and he should know leadership. I think he knew that he needed to shake up that core because of the whole hype believing and flip switching culture. Joe thought that Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were going to step up as leaders and I would’ve had that same thought from the outside looking in. They let him down, they let us down and they let themselves down.

      • Jul 19, 20133:47 pm
        by RyanK

        Reply

        I think the lesson was Billups, Rip, and Tay are not Joe D.  Joe was one of the young guys with the bad boys.  No class Rodman was sent away and high class Joe D stayed.  Joe eventually teamed up with Grant Hill.  He transitioned from one “team” to another “team.”  Joe expected Tay and Rip to do that…they didn’t.  And Billups contamined the team from afar…instead of telling them to do their jobs, he was telling them how he was screwed over…they turned the situation into a toxic environment.

        Joe D failed to realize others don’t have his professionalism and class.   

      • Jul 19, 20133:51 pm
        by RyanK

        Reply

        I think the lesson was Billups, Rip, and Tay are not Joe D.  Joe was one of the young guys with the bad boys.  No class Rodman was sent away and high class Joe D stayed.  Joe eventually teamed up with Grant Hill.  He transitioned from one “team” to another “team.”  

        Joe expected Tay and Rip to do that…they didn’t.  And Billups contaminated the team from afar…instead of telling them to do their jobs, he was telling them how he was screwed over…they turned the situation into a toxic environment.  

        Joe D failed to realize others don’t have his professionalism and class.  Joe also says today the trade was a mistake…I think that’s the only way he can save face with Billups.  Give him an injection of sodium pentothal and I bet you’d hear a different story.

      • Jul 19, 20134:03 pm
        by Who Is Us

        Reply

        At the time every analyst was saying how Billups had lost a step and couldn’t guard the league’s top OF any more because he lacked the quickness, that his shooting in the playoffs was not what it had been in previous years, and that his contract was going to make him more and more more overpaid as he continued to decline. It hurt the team even more that they had that attitude that they could flip the switch whenever they wanted and when the playoffs started.

        That trade lot a fire under Chauncey’s butt and he played much harder game in and game out, the way he should have been playing in Detroit. His work allowed him to play to his ability level and to return the elite player he was paid to be.

        The team he left behind still believed they could coast along, and flip the switch when they needed to. Unfortunately they had been a much better team than the sum of their parts and without Chauncey’s vocal leadership they fell apart with the destructive AI and immature Stuckey filling his shoes, Rip and Prince incapable of that leadership, and Rasheed without anyone to reign him in. Chauncey was the cornerstone who allowed each of those parts to become more than the were as individuals.

        The biggest difference was that those other individual Piston players lacked the ability to push themselves the the limits of their ability, but Chauncey had that that ability to excel on his own.

  • Jul 19, 20131:41 pm
    by Edgar

    Reply

    I think basketball, more than football or baseball, is such a fluid game that stuff like chemistry and leadership are a fundamental part of success. This being true, I think it’s absolutely fair to hold a GM to high standards if he makes poor decisions based on lazy, inaccurate assessments of players’ personalities. Dumars has continuously whiffed in terms of leadership qualities: Darko, Iverson, Stuckey, Hamilton, Prince, Villanueva, trading Afflalo, Kuester, Curry. The fact that it’s happened so often tells you something about Dumars’s ability to identify/develop potential leaders.

    • Jul 19, 20132:31 pm
      by Leon

      Reply

      I’m one to say in hindsight some of the decisions Joe made were bad, but to be fair nobody could’ve possibly known Darko was going to be more worthless than Pervis Ellis or Kwame Brown. Nobody knew Stuckey was going to fall off after 2008 playoff run.  I mean he looked primed to take over. Granted every team CBilll went to got significantly better while having his services, he was getting up there in age and his skills were declining. To say that Joe D and or his staff was “Lazy” in their assessments is a bit childish…I mean you’re bashing a guy or at least it seems like you’re bashing a guy who have given you 6 straight Eastern conference final appearances in a time when we so called only had ” ONE” Rogue referee. The CV BG signings were SCREWED I admit that, but who really knew those dweebs would basically end up robbing the team LOL. Bottom line we all must realize he could only do so much with what he had at the time. I mean who was actually good and wanted to come to Detroit when he signed CV and CB?

      • Jul 19, 20132:53 pm
        by Edgar

        Reply

        Dumars has admitted that they didn’t do enough research on Darko, especially on his character. To me that’s either laziness or magical thinking. A GM has to assess whether a guy actually cares about basketball (especially if you’re going to sink a ton of money into them). I’m criticizing Dumars for his poor track record of evaluating players’ personalities, not just their games. Like Dan said, he misjudged Hamilton’s and Prince’s willingness/capacity to lead, he traded for one of the most difficult personalities in the league in Iverson, he traded away a great leader in Afflalo, he hired two coaches with poor leadership skills in Curry and Kuester (you could make a case for Frank as a poor leader as well), Stuckey has proven to be a bit difficult to manage (remember that game where he took like one shot?), and CV and Gordon speak for themselves. 

      • Jul 20, 20131:08 pm
        by T Casey

        Reply

        @ Leon
        I’d say anyone who knew Darko’s stats in Euroleague play should’ve known he wouldn’t amount to much here. Who in their right mind would expect someone who couldn’t even manage 10 ppg or 10 rpg would somehow be a force here? How his hype got so high is beyond me. But if people were being realistic about his potential based on his actual production, he probably would’ve been a definite second rounder. I know that’s all old news, but it doesn’t hurt to say.

        • Jul 20, 20138:55 pm
          by CityofKlompton

          Reply

          Darko displayed a raw talent in workouts that, with work and a few years of development, appeared to be transferable to an great NBA game. It simply didn’t pan out. To think Joe was the only one in the league who would have drafted him there is far from the truth. That’s not to say he was far and away everyone’s second choice behind Lebron, but he wouldn’t have gone out of the lottery. 

        • Jul 20, 201311:42 pm
          by Max

          Reply

          You could have said the same about Rubio regarding his European production.  

  • Jul 19, 20132:43 pm
    by Leon

    Reply

    My Biggest gripe I always had with the Pistons was that they never took the time to develop any of their young players like other teams were able to do. I can’t remember one person that INITIALLY came to the Pistons and may not had been that good in the beginning but developed into a good or great player while with Detroit in the past decade. Maybe Will Bynum but…..he’s not …..Well frankly he’s not a real good example of a player developing into anything god or beneficial. No offense Will but it’s not like he had a lot of other options or teams knocking down his door. I mean Nate Robinson still hasn’t been picked up by anyone and he’s no way better than Nate. Anyhow, once we learn how to develop the players we have we’ll be a better team. I know it was a bit harder back then because we were winning so it wasn’t like we were getting any good draft picks. I think the best players we probably had was Jason Maxiell who fit that category and Aarron Afflalo but Aarron got good somewhere else. Jason got good in Detroit but…he obviously reached his full potential.

    • Jul 19, 20134:07 pm
      by Who Is Us

      Reply

      Um, perhaps you heard of a guy named Tayshaun Prince? Drafted by Detroit, developed into a starter for the last decade plus.

      LOL. 

      • Jul 20, 201310:35 am
        by tarsier

        Reply

        He said
        “ I can’t remember one person that INITIALLY came to the Pistons and may not had been that good in the beginning but developed into a good or great player while with Detroit in the past decade.”

        Prince was pretty much who he was from the start.  

    • Jul 19, 20134:24 pm
      by MIKEYDE248

      Reply

      In resent history, most of our team are draft choices…Monroe, Drummond, Singler, Knight, Jerebko, so they must be developing someone.

      The problem the pistons had was that they drafted so far down for so long, that they never really had any top picks to develope.  Most of ones that did develope during their run at the title, like Okur & Afflalo wanted too much money to keep.

      • Jul 19, 20138:49 pm
        by Who Is Us

        Reply

        But when they did get a top 5 pick it ended up as Darko…

        • Jul 20, 20138:51 am
          by abaraxis

          Reply

          LULZ The Nuggets came out and ADMITTED that they would have snagged Darko up in a heartbeat had he fell to them at #3 REGARDLESS OF MELO, WADE, OR BOSH. Milicic would have been the first overall pick had LeBron James gone to college. Darko is no different than Kwame Brown, cept Darko failed because his family was back home in a warzone and he could not adjust to American life. Its happened to a few Euro bigs, not just Darko.

      • Jul 20, 201310:36 am
        by tarsier

        Reply

        The Pistons didn’t get rid of spell check because he wanted too much money. They got rid of him to sign Wilcox.

  • Jul 20, 20139:09 am
    by abaraxis

    Reply

    Bill Davidson hurt the Pistons. Bill overruled ALOT of Joes decisions. He REFUSED to pay Larry Brown because Larry took games off. He pushed for the firing and hiring of Flip Saunders. He ordered the deal of Chauncey Billups because Chauncey was overpaid and unable to finish a season healthy. SAME TREND AS WITH BROWN, DAVIDSON REFUSED TO PAY GUYS HE FELT WERE LAZY. Bill Davidson REFUSED to match Ben Wallaces offer from Chicago- thus KILLING this team. He was the one that ordered the Darko move without even ATTEMPTING to develop him. Bill Davidson was cheap and hindered this teams ability. He was about money, not winning in the NBA. Its amazing that Joe was able to assemble a competitive team  under the restrictions placed upon the franchise by Davidson.

    If Dumars were to be fired, two things would happen-

    1. he would IMMEDIATELY be hired by another organization. Brooklyn to name one would fire Billy King on the spot.

    2. If Joe is fired, this team is moving to Seattle within 5 years. Gores lives on the west coast and stands to make more money off owning Palace sports while also building an arena for the new Sonics in Washington. If and IF this occurs, you would then have the Cleveland Cavaliers moved to Detroit. Why? Dan Gilbert has the means to build a new arena in the city of Detroit.  

    Scoff at #2. The NBA is a business. There is no loyalty in business. Detroit is now bankrupt and there is no money to be made in a city that has nothing. By the time Detroit recovers, the Cavaliers franchise will be moved under the same circumstances as the current Pistons organization.

    Remember,the Pistons were NOT originally based in Detroit, but rather Ft. Wayne.      

  • Jul 20, 20139:22 am
    by Terrell

    Reply

    Everyone praised Joe when he constructed this power house in the east. When conference finals was pretty much expected. And now people have no faith in his ability to build a contender. The offseason isn’t over yet. And even if it is, trust that he is the one we want handling our front office. Does any blame goes to Gores? Joe didn’t want Frank but that’s who we got! The Spurs coach elected to let LeBron shoot freely in the championship game. Does that now make him a terrible coach now. Think on what positives has he done, do they outweight , off set, or do they come short to his negatives. DRAFTED DARKO, TRADED BILLUPS, COACHING CHOICES, AND TWO TERRIBLE FREE AGENT DEALS.OK HE HAS BEEN TRIPPING BUT MAYBE NOT. But he did some way manage to get three potential allstar on his roster. With cap room next season to sign a superstar or allstar. And about Joe bieng a good spotter for leadership, who can realistically
     

    • Jul 20, 201311:35 am
      by tarsier

      Reply

      Because Joe had built up such a strong reputation, it took many of us, myself included, a long time to lose faith in him. But at some point, all that benefit of the doubt wears off when a guy gives you all doubts and no benefits for years.

  • Jul 20, 201311:21 am
    by Leon

    Reply

    Thank you for seeing what I was trying to say Tarsier.  

    • Jul 20, 201311:41 am
      by tarsier

      Reply

      It’s not that hard if you don’t look at it from the perspective of “what can I find wrong with this comment”. It was pretty much about developing project players. Tay was never a project player.

      I think the best counterpoint to you would be that they did fine at developing Billups and Wallace, just not their own draft picks. 

  • Jul 20, 201310:45 pm
    by cali piston fan

    Reply

    Oops… My bad, I thought this was a pistons FAN forum. I must have stumbled on to another one of those Hate Group sites. 

    • Jul 20, 201311:47 pm
      by Max

      Reply

      No, you are in the right place, that’s just how a lot of Pistons fan are.   They are less forgiving and patient than Knicks fans for all of the stuff about how hard it is to play in front of the New York media.  

    • Jul 21, 201310:51 am
      by tarsier

      Reply

      We are fans of the Pistons, not fans of guys like Joe Dumars who are making the Pistons worse.

      Did you expect Minny fans to be fans of Kahn or Knicks fans to be fans of Thomas when they were in charge? 

      • Jul 21, 20131:30 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        What a nonsensical question.   Dumars was a hall of fame champion player for the Pistons and is one of a handful of proven GMs that has put together a championship and he put together every single piece.   They not only won the title but had a magnificent sustained run as contenders that was one of the great runs of all time in league history.   Beyond this, he is the only living GM who figured out how to win a title or even really contend without a top five or top ten player.    Yes, I would expect Pistons fans to be fans of Joe Dumars if they have any sense or heart.     

        • Jul 24, 201312:15 pm
          by MIKEYDE248

          Reply

          I think a lot of people are always saying what have you done for me lately instead of looking back at the whole history.  In two or three years, with the addition of one or two more players, the Pistons could be back into a long playoff run for many years to come.  And yes it would have been Dumars the put it all together…again.

  • Jul 21, 201312:29 am
    by Max

    Reply

    There are very few true leaders in the league and also very few good players who are truly willing to be led.   That said, great players are always looked to as leaders whether they possess leadership qualities or not and championships don’t require anything more than great players.   True leaders are great to have but not really required at all if the coaches are at least competent.    

    I think the idea of RIP and Prince as leaders was compromised by something Dumars couldn’t have anticipated and that was their reaction to being on a struggling team that lost a lot of games.    They had different personalities when they were on an elite team than they did when they were losing and Dumars had never seen them in that situation unless he referred to RIP’s days in Washington but he was so young at that point that it would have been difficult to futile to assess his leadership qualities or his ability to handle struggling based on that period.   RIP’s response to losing was to completely spiral out of control whereas Prince reacted by becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient with his teammates.   These facets of their personality were not very evident when the team was contending although Prince never seemed completely satisfied with how well the team played no matter what—which actually made him seem like more of a leader than he was and perhaps a future coach.     

  • Jul 21, 201312:50 pm
    by Leon

    Reply

    I’m not quite sure how anybody expected Dumars to foresee any of the shortcomings of any players or coach past 2008. Or even before then. He never got a superstar in his prime but made something out of nothing. Look at the teams that has won championships in the past decade outside of DAL & MIA teams with players from the 90′s that were significant back then won multiple Championships. Which leads me to say, players in this generation ain’t $h@!  They maybe more athletic and talented but they’re incompetent and not skilled. Therefore, unless Joe can warp back into time and get players from the 80′s or 90′s it’s very slim pickings with the players now. You don’t really know what you’re going to get with some players nowadays. Why are people williing to trade away Monroe for Rondo when Rondo still lacks a real offensive game and is known to be a knucklehead from time to time? Why do you think Ray Allen left?

  • Jul 24, 20137:14 pm
    by anacaniwelk

    Reply

    Dumping an over the hill Billups etc. for Iverson’s expiring 23 million was one of the best moves Dumars has made.  Just cuz he didn’t spend it right takes nothing away from how smart that move was.
    I would prefer Billups come back as a coach to help out Knight and Pope.  I have no interest in watching Billups miss shots and move slow all year on the court.  Hopefully Knight takes the next step and Billups sits.  

     

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