Joe Dumars is a Hall of Fame player who teamed with Isaiah Thomas to lead the Detroit Bad Boys to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. But since taking over as Pistons’ General Manager, his track record has been uneven at best. Sure, he presided over Detroit’s championship in 2004, when a team led by Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace knocked off the favored Los Angeles Lakers, but that was a long time ago. Dumars’ decisions in the draft and free agency have featured more hits than misses, starting with the colossal mistake in ’03 when he selected European big man Darko Milicic with the second overall pick over future stars like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And then there was the ill-fated decision in 2009 to commit big free agent dollars to Charlie Villaneuva and former Bulls’ sharp-shooter Ben Gordon.
But lately, Dumars has shown a lot more patience in rebuilding his team through the draft. Detroit has quietly stockpiled a nice collection of young talent, especially in recent years with the addition of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Jonas Jerebko, Kyle Singler, and this year’s number one pick, Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Monroe and Drummond look like they could develop into one of the league’s most formidable inside tandems, and Caldwell-Pope should help solidify one of Detroit’s biggest weaknesses in recent years, consistent outside shooting.
Detroit also went back into the free agent market this summer to add versatile forward Josh Smith. Sure, the fans in Atlanta got all over Smith for his penchant of settling for outside shots instead of using his quickness to drive to the basket, but you won’t find many 6-8 players around the league who can stuff the stat sheet the way Smith can. Detroit can pencil him in for about 15 to 18 points, six to eight rebounds, four or five assists, and a couple of blocked shots and steals just about every night. While some question how Smith’s game will mesh with Drummond and Monroe, his athleticism gives the Pistons a dynamic frontline that will create match-up nightmares for coaches around the league. It’s amazing to me that Smith has yet to make an All-Star team. No one’s ever questioned his talent, now it’s up to first year Pistons’ coach Maurice Cheeks to get the most out of Smith’s versatility.
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Dumars also made a couple of nice moves this summer to improve the backcourt, bringing back former playoff-hero Billups, and working a trade with Milwaukee to acquire the talented, but erratic point guard Brandon Jennings. Those two players should open the season as Detroit’s starting guards, providing an upgrade over recent seasons. Jennings has all the talent in the world, but seemed to chafe under the hyper-critical coaching style of Scott Skiles. Cheeks has a much calmer relationship with his players, and the Pistons are counting on the former All-Star point guard to bring out the best in Jennings. Cheeks will ask the lightning-quick lefty to become more of a traditional point guard, getting the ball inside to Drummond and Monroe, and not forcing so many contested jump shots. If Cheeks can harness Jennings’ wild streaks, the Pistons might have a real prize.
Given all the changes in the East during the offseason, Detroit has a legitimate chance to claim one of the final three playoff spots. Boston has gone into rebuilding mode, Milwaukee looks weaker with the loss of Jennings, J.J. Redick and Monta Ellis, and even Atlanta might have a tough time getting back to the postseason. The Pistons don’t have the experience to challenge the heavyweights in the East, but a playoff berth is well within their reach. When you watch Detroit’s young talent against the Bulls Wednesday night on Comcast SportsNet, keep in mind that everything in professional sports is cyclical.
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The Bulls have dominated their division rivals since Derrick Rose came into the league, but beating the Pistons won’t be quite so easy anymore.