Joe Dumars's deft deal making has made Detroit a big winner
Jerry West did it with the Lakers. Kevin McHale is doing it with
the Timberwolves. Michael Jordan has yet to succeed, though he's
likely to give it another try next season as president of the
Wizards. It's a hard thing for a Hall of Fame--caliber player to
move on to the front office and construct a winning team in his
own image. Joe Dumars has done just that as president of
basketball operations for the tough and unselfish Pistons, whose
44-25 record at week's end was the finest in the East.
Even though Detroit won a division title last year, Dumars has
eight new players on his roster. He traded leading scorer Jerry
Stackhouse to Washington for Richard Hamilton and signed point
guard Chauncey Billups, which turned out to be the top free-agent
acquisition of the off-season. As a result, the Pistons are
zeroing in on their best record since 1996-97, and Dumars is the
clear-cut favorite for Executive of the Year.
Dumars, 39, took over as G.M. in June 2000, just before Detroit's
franchise player, Grant Hill, made it clear he was joining the
Magic as a free agent. "You have to learn on the fly and go by
your instincts," says Dumars, who turned the crisis into a
bonanza by working a sign-and-trade that brought Chucky Atkins
and Ben Wallace from Orlando. While Hill is recovering from his
fourth surgery on his left ankle, Wallace, the league's leading
rebounder, has helped recast the Pistons as a high-effort team,
one that ranked fifth in field goal defense (43.1%) at week's
Dumars's success as a player has given him the confidence to
trust his instincts, which have told him not to build around a
couple of high-scoring stars. Despite spending first-round picks
on guard Mateen Cleaves (in 2000) and forward Rodney White (in
'01), Dumars didn't hesitate to unload those two players when he
saw they weren't working out. "If you truly know it's not a good
fit, then you have to move on," he says. "You don't compound
mistakes by trying to hide them."
Dumars built his team in part by showing faith in underrated
players like Cliff Robinson, Corliss Williamson and Jon Barry.
Last season he predicted, "I will get a bona fide point guard,"
then did just that by signing the 6'3" Billups to a six-year, $34
million contract. Through Sunday, Billups had averaged 15.7
points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 30.4 minutes. He has
found his niche after playing for five teams in five years. "When
a guy has bounced around as much as Chauncey and he's still a
good player," says Dumars, "that tells you something about his
As a result of the 1997 trade of Otis Thorpe, Dumars holds
Memphis's top draft choice--the Grizzlies retain it only if it's
the No. 1 selection--and he can take on salaries because
Detroit's payroll of about $41 million for next season is at
least $10 million below the anticipated luxury-tax threshold. "I
would love to add a high-scoring guy," says Dumars, "but it has
to be the right player. It has to be a guy who fits in with the
chemistry we already have."
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COLOR PHOTO: NOREN TROTMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (PISTONS) Dumars's key acquisitions include Hamilton (32), Wallace (3) and Billups (1).
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER
On 6'8", 220-pound Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony:
"He's going to be the Number 3 pick in the draft [after LeBron
James and Darko Milicic] because he's a throwback guy with the
skills to play multiple positions. His primary position is going
to be small forward because he can put it on the floor, finish in
transition and knock down jumpers, but he's big enough to play
inside, too. The main question now is whether he'll be an
aggressive defender in the NBA--he plays zone a lot of the time
at Syracuse. The NCAA tournament is a good test because he's
never faced such pressure. You want to see him respond well, and
he has, especially in the first-round win over Manhattan."