The following is a four part feature on the summer transactions of the general managers for Detroit’s four major pro-sports teams. First up, Joe Dumars of the Pistons. Stick with DSN for assessments of Dave Dombrowski of the Tigers, Ken Holland of the Red Wings and Martin Mayhew of the Lions.
Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Unlike Michael Correlone, that’s probably a good thing for me.
The current crop of Detroit general manager’s have been frustrating me for the better part of the past six years. Joe Dumars has left me perplexed, pushing every bit of not necessarily basketball knowledge but simply common sense in some of his transactions and use of cap space.
Dave Dombrowski had developed two American League champions in his tenure, yet in my opinion hasn’t made the savvy organization moves to build a deep farm system and balanced team that wouldn’t have raised ticket prices the past three seasons.
Ken Holland–the most celebrated and trusted GM in Detroit–has caused me to nearly stroke out, after a three year period of neglecting available cap space, showing an absurd loyalty to veteran players and seeming incapable of executing a good trade.
Then there’s Martin Mayhew, who I’ve never exactly trusted, mainly because–in case you forgot–he’s the protoge of Matt Millen. In his time as Lions GM, he’s struggled to draft well which has done nothing but tie up roster space and prevent any real depth on Lion teams that have needed it.
So as you can tell, I’ve had my beef with all of them and have seen other teams make better trades, more efficient signings and build more organizational depth. While success has still been there with the Tigers and Wings, I’m always expecting and wanting more out of Dombrowski and Holland every year. I idealize how the Tampa Rays and Chicago Blackhawks are run and that’s what I want for the Wings and Tigers–I want innovation, efficiency and perennial success.
My cynicism had reached its peak at beginning of the summer. Mayhew and Dumars had drafts that many are anticipating as subpar, Holland was coming off an inactive trade deadline with a team that ultimately appeared one move away from upsetting the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Dombrowski had added needed offensive punch and true two-spot hitter in Torii Hunter–can’t complain there–but he made the final decision to bring back Don Kelly after designating him for assignment TWICE without any other team claiming his services.
Aside from Mayhew, all have redeemed themselves in my mind and have refreshed me from the malaise I’ve felt as a Detroit sports fan over the past few years. Coincidentally they did so almost on cue after I’ve written previous columns trashing them (good timing, guys).
Today, I present part 1 of 4:
Following the controversial first-round pick of Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, I wrote a piece dismantling the Pistons organization and how rapid their decent was. We go from a franchise being a quarter away from back-to-back championships to being known for having MC Hammer perform at half-time in six short years. It’s as if Dumars was on Twitter reading every single tweet from frustrated Pistons fans who saw the pick of KCP as the breaking point.
He addressed the need for a small forward with size in signing former Atlanta Hawk Josh Smith to a heavy four year $54 million deal. Smith is risk; he was known to be lazy on defense and check out from time to time. Giving him a fresh deal and putting him with superstar in the making, Andre Drummond, should be enough to energize him. When he’s engaged, Smith has the talent to take over games and be the experienced shooter to stretch the offensive floor.
Smith will likely play majority of his minutes at small forward, back in a role he hasn’t prominently played since his first couple seasons in Atlanta. In his early days with the Hawks, his efficiency was down significantly with a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) around 15. The question is, was this because Smith was a young player, struggled to find his lanes and shot or because he simply wasn’t comfortable? I’m going to stick with the former. He’ll be forced to pull up often and work outside of the post, which he may struggle with some nights, but the key to this revamped offense will be to open lanes–Smith will be expected to find them and use his power driving to the net.
I’m well aware that this contract isn’t the most savvy and while Smith has shown some development in his game, he is not the savviest player on the court, but similar to Dombrowski signing a past-prime Magglio Ordonez with a bum knee to an albatross contract in 2005, Dumars is paying the “bad team tax” on a fringe all-star. Smith wasn’t going to come to a bad team at market value or even a bit above; this was a cut and dry case where Dumars had to overpay and that was part of the Pistons appeal to Smith.
At best, Smith will provide 18 points a night and another defensive rebounding presence–simply put, a legitimate shooting threat and bulk at a position where the organization certainly isn’t used to it under Dumars reign.
If Smith is focused and can adjust to returning to an old roll, he’ll dramatically improve the Pistons offense.
This still didn’t fix the point guard problem, which was the main cry from concerned Pistons fans. First Dumars re-signed Will Bynum and I’m like wow, okay, that’s inconsequential.Then in a surprise move, he brought back Chauncey Billups.
Obviously the main point of this signing was to grab a nostalgic insurance policy to not only win back some disgruntled fans but bring in a capable floor general to run the offense in case Dumars couldn’t make that trade for a star point guard. One of my first thoughts was that Dumars brought Billups in to mentor Brandon Knight to switch over to point guard. He might be old, but he can still shoot, play suffocating defense and his leadership has never been in question. I was expecting Billups to still play key minutes late in games, but I never expected him to start regularly and play 40 minutes a night.
I figured this would be a transition year for Knight but then last Tuesday night, amid rumors of trading for Celtics star Rajon Rondo, Dumars didn’t quite reach for the stars but he did settle for speed and raw scoring talent with Brandon Jennings. A player who I’ve always been a fan of, Jennings seems to be entering his prime, reaching a career high with 6.5 assists per game and leading the Bucks in minutes per game. He averaged a solid 17 points-per-game but his efficiently will likely go up in the Pistons system with mentoring for guard-savvy new head coach Maurice Cheeks. Jennings isn’t the best, but he’s an above average point guard entering a ripe point in his career.
Jennings, like Smith, will have to make adjustments to different roles than they had with their former teams. Smith will be expected to stay outside a shoot more often, Jennings will be asked to be more of a distributor to a player like Smith or Drummond. He already talked about bringing “Lob City” to the Palace, so this seems like an adjustment Jennings is eager to make, possibly because he was dealt from a team that pinned franchise expectations on him as a high-scoring rookie.
Smith was categorized as lazy, Jennings was tagged as a bust–both will come into a fresh look rejuvenated and I’m expecting them to play effective and exciting basketball in Auburn Hills.
Dumars addressed his two big needs and has made the Pistons a playoff team again. The Pistons aren’t ready to join the East’s elite, but they should come in anywhere as a 7 to 5 seed, win a couple playoff games and make basketball the reason to visit the Palace instead of Gladys Night and as a fan, that’s all I was asking for.
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer