Attendance was down dramatically this season for the Pistons, who used to be on of the best draws in the NBA. (Brandy Baker/The Detroit News)
The firings last Friday of a popular public relations person and some top sales executives seem to illustrate that the once-family-like Pistons franchise is in disarray. It appears everyone's job is on the line during a period of uncertainty a year after the death of longtime owner Bill Davidson.
Why else would The Palace fire four employees with more than 100 years of experience and escort them out of the building with security?
The biggest name was longtime publicity man Matt Dobek, 51, who began working with the Pistons just months after he graduated from Central Michigan. He was hired by then president Tom Wilson, who now holds a similar title with rival Ilitch Holdings.
Also fired were sales executives John Kapral and Jon Dierkes, along with executive assistant Julie Telly. All three were hired by new Ilitch Holdings executive John Ciszewski when he was with the Pistons. Ciszewski left the Pistons shortly after Wilson left. Telly was Ciszewski's executive assistant.
Dobek was fired and forced to return his Blackberry and company car and clean out his desk. A security team member drove him home. According to sources, Dobek was told he was fired for breaking a confidentiality agreement he signed years ago.
He was told he was being fired for "just cause" and would not receive a severance package.
Wilson did not return a phone call seeking comment. Alan Ostfield, who replaced Wilson, also did not.
Palace vice president Marilyn Hauser said she couldn't comment on a personnel issue.
Why were Dobek and the others fired?
You can make a case the Pistons were concerned with leaks from employees to the new management team at Ilitch Holdings, who remain bitter rivals. If that is the case, that could end speculation that the Red Wings might play at The Palace while waiting for a new arena to be built. It also would seem to end speculation that Wilson is working behind the scenes to broker a deal that would allow Red Wings and Tigers owner Mike Ilitch to purchase the Pistons.
There are two men with Detroit ties who might be interested in buying the Pistons. Compuware owner Peter Karmanos has the cash and the incentive. His company headquarters is downtown and a downtown sports arena would benefit him and heighten his profile.
The other is Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. He cannot own two NBA teams, but Gilbert, an MSU graduate, might try to sell the Cavaliers if superstar LeBron James bolts for another team. In the past, he has expressed an interest in owning the Pistons.
Gilbert has business ties to Detroit and has the money to pull it off.
Future up in the air
Team president Joe Dumars cancelled a Monday news conference about the draft. The team said he would talk following this week's pre-draft camp in Chicago, where he can scout players. One reason for the delay is Dumars still is dealing with family issues following the death of his brother last month.
But what is the direction of the team?
No one knows because Dumars has not spoken since the end of the Pistons season. We've heard little from the organization, even after the firing of a popular public relations person.
It's certainly not business as usual at The Palace.