Auburn Hills —Joe Dumars introduced another coach Thursday, another decent guy facing daunting odds. Good luck to Maurice Cheeks as he joins the least-exclusive club in sports, becoming the Pistons’ eighth head coach in 14 years.
But the truth is, the guy that desperately needs good fortune now is Dumars. In the coming weeks, he’ll take another shot in the draft, then another shot at the free-agent and trade markets. And if there isn’t a significant boost, Dumars likely will be gone.
He has one year left on his contract and said he hasn’t discussed his future with owner Tom Gores. I think he knows his job officially is on the line, and he understands it.
“I’m gonna continue to do this until I don’t,” Dumars said. “But this is not about me, it really isn’t. We’re just trying to get it right. I don’t even get into the speculation with me. I’ll be fine, whatever.”
When Gores fired Lawrence Frank, Dumars said his own job security “never came up.” The owner had a heavy hand in Frank’s hiring, so that alleviated some of the culpability on Dumars.
But it’s all on Dumars now, as it logically should be. If this is his last shot, he’s approaching it as calmly and diligently as he can.
“I don’t just wake up and think there’s an automatic benefit of the doubt,” Dumars said. “When you don’t have success, you open yourself up to these kinds of things. You have to know, OK, the same people that touted you, now you have to take some knocks. You can’t take it personally.”
Dumars could take it positively that he was allowed to hire Cheeks without much interference, unless you count the silly sideshow involving Phil Jackson. But then the negative — his contract is expiring and there’s no word from the owner.
Aggressive, not foolish
Gores wasn’t there Thursday to make any proclamations of support. Obviously, the owner wasn’t happy with a 54-94 record in two seasons under Frank. But because Dumars was a legend as a player and showed tremendous savvy building the 2004 championship team, Gores wasn’t ready for a complete Palace-cleaning.
The Pistons are rebuilding, and there’s some acceptance of that. But the puny crowds at the Palace are startling, and if the owner was planning to be patient, he probably can’t afford to keep it up. Thanks to solid maneuvering by Dumars, the Pistons have about $25 million in salary-cap space. It’s a weak free-agent class, but there will be trade possibilities as teams bump up against the luxury tax.
Dumars promises to be aggressive, but not foolish. If he wanted to be reckless and make a short-term splash to save his job, I suppose he could. But he’s realistic, and on the day he turned to Cheeks, he turned the other cheek on criticism.
Even Gores’ appointment of Jackson as a consultant didn’t seem to bother Dumars. Maybe that’s because Jackson’s involvement entailed a couple conversations in which Dumars said they talked in general, not about the Pistons job. Gores’ flirtation with Jackson basically amounted to a publicity stunt, and that had to be mildly insulting, no?
“No, no,” Dumars said. “If I was easily insulted, I wouldn’t be standing here with some of these (reporters) right now. I roll with it. KIM — keep it moving.”
Not living in history
Dumars chuckled. This was not a day to defend his record, to reiterate the Pistons made six consecutive Eastern Conference finals. It’s a different time and a different owner, and culpability finally is moving up the Pistons’ food chain after years of ridiculously chewing up coaches.
Cheeks is next on the block, and while he’s a respected former player with a level-headed style, he was 284-286 in two NBA coaching stints. If he had any trepidation about coming to a place where coaches often are rendered irrelevant, he wasn’t admitting it.
“If you felt like that, no one would be coaching, because changes happen in the league all the time,” Cheeks said. “No way, no how can you take a job thinking about things that happened before.”
The Pistons have a rising big man in Andre Drummond and a solid big man in Greg Monroe. But beyond that, Brandon Knight’s role is yet to be defined, putting him in company with most of the roster.
The Pistons could get lucky in the draft and find an intriguing point guard at No. 8 (Trey Burke?). Dumars could pull off a blockbuster trade for an expensive veteran such as, say, Boston’s Rajon Rondo. Or perhaps he could lure a free-agent like Denver’s Andre Iguodala.
Any big move would take smarts and luck.
“You don’t make a splash just to make a splash,” Dumars said. “It’s a tough ride to get to this point with this kind of flexibility. But now that we’re here, it definitely puts us in a position to make a pretty significant jump.”
The significance of this offseason is transparent and apparent to everyone, certainly to Dumars.