Ben Wallace key to Dumars' plans
Pistons president is unlikely to overhaul roster unless free-agent center signs elsewhere.
Chris McCosky / The Detroit News
Daniel Mears/The Detroit News
Joe Dumars said he doesn't want to hear any excuses from his team over the summer for its earlier-than-expected playoff exit. See full image
AUBURN HILLS -- In his annual postseason state-of-the-team address Monday, Pistons president Joe Dumars said there was only one way he would overhaul his roster this summer -- if free-agent center Ben Wallace chose to sign elsewhere.
"What I have to do is determine, 'Have we got all that we can out of this group? Is it time to make that transition?' " Dumars said. "My job is to figure that out, and I have come to the idea that it's not that time. You don't do what we did and get to where we got and say, 'We're not good enough.' We aren't going to change the team completely.
"Are we are going to add to it? Absolutely."
Dumars said he expects to bring back his top six players -- Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess -- and add one or two top-tier pieces to that core.
"Our ability to count on the same five or six players has run out," Dumars said. "We have to rely less on the top six guys. At some point we have to start adding to that mix, and not just periphery guys, not just guys who would be the ninth or 10th guys on the bench, but significant guys who can be in the mix."
All of that is on hold, though, until Ben Wallace is re-signed.
"He's very important to the continuity of who we are," Dumars said. "What we've been able to do the last five years has been spearheaded by him."
Wallace, the reigning defensive player of the year, has said he would like to return, and Dumars made it clear the feeling was mutual. But Wallace will be 32 in September and this will be his last major contract. That's why he hired powerful agent Arn Tellem to represent him.
The Pistons aren't likely to offer Wallace a maximum contract (which would start between $14 million and $17 million). It's more likely the Pistons will offer a four-year deal, perhaps starting out at $10 million to $12 million. If another team comes in with a maximum offer -- which is somewhat unlikely given Wallace's age and skill limitations -- the Pistons probably won't match.
"Ben is an unrestricted free agent," Dumars said. "At the end of the day, it's going to be Ben's call. I'm going to do what I need to do to get him to come back. But it's his call."
Dumars said there was a fine line between his desire to reward Wallace for all that he's accomplished the last six years and making the right economic decision for the future.
"There is a balance," he said. "I want guys to know they're going to be compensated for what they've done. But I also have a business to run moving forward. That's a delicate balance.
"I think we can get it done. I have some ideas about what it's going to take. But my ideas have to match his ideas."
Wallace told reporters Saturday that security and being in a place he felt wanted and comfortable -- for himself and his family -- mattered more than squeezing every available dollar out of the contract.
Dumars and Wallace talked briefly Saturday.
"My thing to him was, 'How do you want me to deal with Arn,' " Dumars said. "And he said, 'Just get it done as quickly as possible.' That was the end of the conversation."
Wallace isn't officially a free agent until July 1. Dumars can't begin negotiations until then. Free agents can sign contracts as early as July 12.
"The only way this team makes any drastic changes is if Ben doesn't re-sign," Dumars said. "But my intention is to have the top six back."
Dumars said he wants to add a proven wing scorer and/or a backup point guard and perhaps another low-post scoring option. He said he would seek to find those players through free agency (he has the mid-level exception and veterans exceptions at his disposal), trades and by building from within.
"We have to add a couple of more pieces to the team," he said. "When McDyess is your only veteran, proven scorer off the bench, that becomes an issue. If he's not scoring, you don't know where it's going to come from. That has to change. We need more proven people we know can step in and score for us."
The Pistons are likely to make a run at free agent Bonzi Wells, a former Pistons draft pick, who played in Sacramento last season. Other free agents who would fit the need would be former Piston Mike James, recently of Toronto (although he might command too much money), Philadelphia's John Salmons and Memphis' Bobby Jackson.
A player such as Portland's Juan Dixon also could interest the Pistons, although his contract runs through 2008 so they would have to broker a trade.
"We need people who can break defenses down and get us easier shots," Dumars said. "We have to somehow get more points in the paint. I thought we depended on jump shots way too much."
Rookies Jason Maxiell (who could provide some low-post scoring) and Amir Johnson will be given every opportunity to win spots in the rotation for next season. Dumars also said he didn't plan on trading forward Carlos Delfino.
"He's going to be here," Dumars said. "We're not trading him and he's not going anywhere. That was one of those situations where I would have liked to see him play more this year. Flip (Saunders) and I talked about that. He provides a skill we need -- he can put it on the floor, break down defenses, get to the rim and play in the open court. We need that."
Dumars reiterated that the Pistons, while not foregoing their defensive orientation completely, had to adapt to the changing NBA game.
"You can only win in a one-dimensional manner for so long," he said. "I don't care who you are. … You have to diversify the way you win. For us to think we can keep grinding out 72-71 wins forever is wrong. With the rules changes and the way the game is being played now, we have to diversify.
"We have to be able to go into Phoenix, like we did, and be able to outscore them. And we have to go to other places, like Memphis, and be able to grind it out with them. We have to play different styles. The best teams can do that."
Dumars clearly believes the Pistons' window of opportunity is still wide open, and he let the players know what he expected before they scattered Saturday.
"My message to the guys was, 'Don't make excuses this summer,' " he said. "I don't want to hear about anybody being hurt or whatever. We didn't get it done and the fact is, we have to come back and get it done. That's what I expect and they have given me no reason to expect anything less."