The highs and lows of Joe Dumars' long Pistons tenure

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Dumars can lay claim to a championship ring, but in the last several years, he's struggled to find the right head coaches and whiffed on several free agent signings.

Joe Dumars is out as the president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons. Though he will still remain as an adviser, his role as a primary decision-maker officially came to an end on Monday after 14 seasons in charge of the team. His tenure will be remembered for the Pistons' excellent run during the 2000s and the swift collapse that followed six straight trips to the conference finals.

Let's take a look back, shall we?

The strong start

Dumars had a tough task when he took over in the summer of 2000, needing to rebuild the team with superstar Grant Hill choosing to go to Orlando as a free agent. He worked out a sign-and-trade with the Magic, receiving backup point guard Chucky Atkins and workhorse big man Ben Wallace in return. Wallace had averaged 4.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 24 minutes per game the previous season, and it would be a massive understatement to say he was undervalued. In Detroit, he'd immediately step into the starting lineup, win over fans and develop into a perennial All-Star and four-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award. Improbably, Dumars won the trade.

Destination Detroit

In the summer of 2001, Dumars hired Indiana Pacers assistant Rick Carlisle as head coach. Carlisle would lead Detroit to the first of what would be seven consecutive 50-win seasons. In 2002, he signed free agent point guard Chauncey Billups to the mid-level exception, drafted Tayshaun Prince with the 23rd overall pick and traded Jerry Stackhouse to the Washington Wizards for Richard Hamilton. None of the three moves seemed brilliant at the time, but they, along with Wallace, would form the core of a championship team.

The big mistake

With the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, Dumars picked Serbian youngster Darko Milicic. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade then were picked in succession. Milicic languished on the bench for two and a half years in Detroit before being traded away, and the 7-footer never fulfilled his considerable potential. Nine years later, in a press conference following his selection of another big man, Dumars revisited the erroneous decision, via MLive:

"After I drafted Darko, from that point on, the amount of background we do on every single player that you see us draft is ridiculous. We do as much or more background than any other team in the NBA because of that.

"The background on (Milicic) was about 20 percent of what we do now. I look back on it now and realize you didn't know half of the stuff you needed to know."


Darko had a rough go of things/Photo credit: Christian Petersen

The missing piece

In perhaps the best trade-deadline move in NBA history, Dumars acquired Rasheed Wallace and Mike James for Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter and two future first-round picks, which eventually turned into Josh Smith -- more on him later -- and Tony Allen. The Pistons gave up a lot to get Wallace in the three-team deal with Atlanta and Boston, but it was well worth it. Under new head coach Larry Brown, Detroit defeated the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers to win the 2004 NBA championship, and Billups won Finals MVP.

The hold steady

While 2004 would be Detroit's only championship in the Dumars era, it remained an elite team for four more years. The Pistons added Antonio McDyess in the summer of 2004 when they could not retain young big man Mehmet Okur, and they returned to the Finals, losing in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs.

In the 2005 offseason, Brown left to coach the New York Knicks and Dumars hired Flip Saunders as head coach. Dumars also selected an 18-year-old Amir Johnson with the 56th pick in the draft, the last high schooler to be picked before the league changed the early entry rules. Saunders immediately transformed the Pistons' offense, and Billups, Hamilton and the Wallaces were all named All-Stars on the way to a 64-18 season, the best in franchise history. They ended up losing to Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, however.

Detroit lost in the conference finals again the following season, this time falling to LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. Dumars made another nice draft pick in 2007, grabbing guard Rodney Stuckey at No. 15.

The decline

A few games into the 2008-09 season, the Pistons shipped Billups to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Allen Iverson, but it didn't pay dividends. That same November, Dumars extended Hamilton's contract for three years. In Michael Curry's only season as head coach, he led the Pistons to a 39-43 record and an eighth seed in the playoffs. The run ended quickly in the first round, where Detroit was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After the quick playoff exit, Dumars fired Curry and handed out pricey contracts to free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Gordon left the Chicago Bulls for a five-year, $55 million deal, while Villanueva left the Milwaukee Bucks for a five-year, $35 million contract. To open up as much cap space as possible, Detroit also used that summer to trade guard Arron Afflalo to Denver for a second-round pick and then deal Amir Johnson to the Bucks for Fabricio Oberto.

The kinda-sorta rebuild

Over the next two seasons, the Pistons struggled under head coach John Kuester, but they did attempt to fix the mistakes that became clear as Gordon and Villanueva failed to live up to their new contracts. The team drafted versatile big man Greg Monroe out of Georgetown with the seventh pick in the 2010 draft.

The next summer, the Pistons drafted point guard Brandon Knight after his freshman year with Kentucky, extended Prince with a four-year, $27 million deal and also gave Stuckey a three-year, $25 million extension.

In 2012, the Pistons drafted UConn center Andre Drummond and suddenly had a promising young frontcourt, but Dumars again went into the 2013 free agency period with overaggressiveness, acquiring former Atlanta forward Josh Smith on a four-year, $54 million deal and then grabbing point guard Brandon Jennings on a three-year, $24 million sign-and-trade deal.

The coaching carousel

After Dumars entered his president of basketball operations position with George Irvine as head coach in 2000-01, he did make three very impressive hires. Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and then Flip Saunders won at least 60 percent of their games from 2001-08, but since it's been a turnstile of coaches coming and going under Dumars.

Michael Curry was fired after a 2009 playoff berth and 39 wins, Kuester won just 27 and 30 games in the next two years as the team struggled with injuries and an identity, and Lawrence Frank won 25 and 29 games in 2011-13 with young Knight and Monroe being two of the most leaned-upon players. In 2013-14, the win-now signings and rising young big men haven't melded well, and first-year coach Maurice Cheeks didn't last a season before John Loyer was forced into an interim position.



Photo credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dumars' time simply seems to be up in Detroit, and while rare patience allowed him to make mistakes over the last few years, it also helped him win a championship. He'll be known for three very good coaching hires, a recent list of bad ones and an eye for drafting talent that didn't quite translate to free agent evaluation.

Kevin Zimmerman contributed to this piece.

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