Another 50-win season testament to Joe D’s rebuilding job
by George Blaha
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
What a great achievement – and a greatly underrated achievement – when the Pistons beat the Knicks in Madison Square Garden the other night to win 50 games for the sixth consecutive season. I’ll tell you this – and I think all the players and the coaches who’ve been involved would understand why I’m saying this and I think they’d agree with me: It starts and ends with Joe Dumars.
Isiah Thomas said before our game in New York how proud he was of Joe, his Hall of Fame backcourt teammate. Because Joe returned that winning Pistons culture to The Palace, a culture that everybody in the organization in the early to mid to late ’80s and early ’90s had worked so hard to create. We seemed to go sideways a little bit for a while and now, obviously and not coincidentally, the guys are back in Pistons blue and they’re playing like Detroit Pistons.
Joe’s had to make hundreds of excellent decisions in one form or another to keep the Pistons on this winning track, but mostly he has returned all the pride and professionalism to the basketball side of this franchise and made them an elite franchise again.
I think Joe has always been one of those rare people who can focus on the important details of the moment and still clearly see the big picture. He’s a guy who never forgets what it took to make the Pistons champions during his days and doesn’t get away from that game plan. Even though Joe was obviously a very important part of it, he was a guy who could stand back and look at all the different, divergent personalities and basketball strengths of the Bad Boys – from Isiah and Bill Laimbeer and Rich Mahorn to Vinnie Johnson and James Edwards and Dennis Rodman and John Salley – and understood that guys didn’t have to all be the same person. They certainly didn’t need to be robots, but they had to respect each other’s opinions and absolutely be on the same page and have the same goals.
I’m sure when Joe hears Rasheed talk about the ’ships, meaning championships, he knows that Rasheed Wallace, for instance, is his own man, that he’s a great teammate and really only cares about winning. He’d be an example of the divergent personalities in this group who still, in the last analysis, are Detroit Pistons and want to keep playing at a championship level.
I don’t think Joe makes snap decisions. I think he tries to have all the facts in front of him and have time to consider all of his options. Believe me, I’m sure he knows that putting a roster together is not an exact science. He saw Jack McCloskey, for instance, try any number of times to fill that power forward position on the Bad Boys until he found Rick Mahorn.
He knows that you’re not always going to get it right and, if once in a while you’ve got to cut your losses and move on, you’d better do just that. You don’t forget the goal is not for you to look like a genius; the goal is to win championships and to always be competitive. There are people who always make the safest, least controversial decision. They’ll never be put under a negative spotlight, but they probably won’t take enough chances to put a championship-caliber team together. And Joe Dumars is not one of them.
When you look at the moves Joe made in assembling the current group, Joe would be the first to tell you that he probably didn’t envision Ben Wallace being one of the greatest defensive players of all time when he did the sign-and-trade with Orlando. But he had done his homework and he did like everything that he saw in Ben.
Moving on to the rest of the pieces in the puzzle, the signing of Chauncey Billups, to me, stands out as an absolute stroke of genius. There were so many so-called experts in our league who, for some reason or another, didn’t believe in Chauncey. If they all had to stand up and be counted, they’d be embarrassed. Maybe it takes a great guard to see a great guard. Maybe it takes a multitalented, tough, physical guard to notice there’s another one out there. Chauncey was an intriguing combination, to me, of Joe and Isiah. There was some risk involved there, but Joe never flinched, and you can’t build a championship team without a championship point guard.
There was some risk involved in trading Jerry Stackhouse for Rip Hamilton, but Joe could see the upside. There probably wasn’t a lot of risk in drafting Tayshaun Prince with his quality resume, but there still were those who mistakenly thought Tayshaun was too thin and too long and lean to play anywhere near the basket in our league.
And you can’t say that signing Rasheed was without risk, but, again, Joe did his homework and was convinced that all those teammates and coaches who thought the world of Rasheed were right and many people in the media were wrong. I guess those were some pretty good darn good decisions Joe made – and that’s why I firmly believe he’s the dominant reason the Pistons have strung those six 50-win seasons together.