Auburn Hills — Apparently, Joe Dumars doesn’t mind the heat, or doesn’t feel the heat. With flames licking all around, he just willingly turned it up.
Dumars didn’t make a move to please or appease Thursday night. It’s wise at times to disregard public clamor, but this one looks crazy and amazingly risky. With the eighth pick in the draft and his choice of the top point guards, including Trey Burke, Dumars pulled a mini-shocker on a night of many shockers.
The Pistons selected Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and perhaps that explains the white smoke coming out of Dumars’ office (the first of many bad Pope quips). Dumars artfully defended the pick, saying the Pistons desperately need a shooting guard who can run the floor. Caldwell-Pope is a great shooter and tough defender and was SEC player of the year.
Dumars may have lost some luster in the final year of his contract, but he doesn’t appear to have lost power under owner Tom Gores. He made the pick he wanted to fit his team, not the pick fans may have craved. Dumars didn’t draft as if he was scared, and ratcheted the risk. It’s intensified because U-M’s Burke was taken the next spot by Minnesota, which traded him to Utah for two first-round picks.
“I’m not sitting here fretting about that,” Dumars said. “Really, if it was that much of an issue for me, I would’ve just made the popular selection and walked out there and everybody would say, ‘OK, you drafted Trey Burke.’ You don’t just make the popular pick because that’s a 24-hour rush, and then you still have to put your roster together.”
Dumars said the roster was “basically desolate” at the wing positions, and he’s right. But it doesn’t look any better at point guard, which is why it seemed logical he’d grab one of the top three — Burke, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams or Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum.
They all were available, and it’s not just about the local guy. The 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams could have provided fresh possibilities for a team that hasn’t settled on a point guard since Chauncey Billups was traded. It’s a gaping hole at a more-important position, and I doubt it will be filled by Louisville’s Peyton Siva, taken in the second round.
By talking excitedly about Caldwell-Pope, Dumars said two things without saying them: He still believes in giving combo guard Brandon Knight a shot at the point, and he’s still confident in his own talent evaluation.
But if Burke excels, the damage to the Pistons is staggering. Burke has the qualities — if not necessarily the size — to be a dynamic floor leader in the NBA, and I would’ve drafted him. It’s not about appeasing the public, although the Pistons are in no position to tick off their shrinking fan base. It’s about finding a direction, and the Pistons’ guard group of Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum is thoroughly underwhelming.
If not Burke, why not Carter-Williams or McCollum? With the chance to take the top point guard, Dumars went for the No. 2 shooting guard (behind Kansas’ Ben McLemore).
“It’s really about building your team and trying to fill the needs to put a good product on the floor,” Dumars said. “Trey’s an excellent player, somebody I know extremely well and am very close to, but we had specific needs we had to fill. … When you have two bigs like Greg (Monroe) and Andre (Drummond), you gotta be able to spread the floor, so (Caldwell-Pope) was really appealing to us.
“In today’s game, you have to have wing athletes, and it was time for us to address that.”
True enough. Caldwell-Pope is an intriguing talent who could complement Knight and should seal Stuckey’s departure. And to be fair, if Burke was the player of the year from, say, Georgia instead of Michigan, this wouldn’t be as big an issue.
But point guard is the one position where intangibles aren’t a luxury, but a necessity. Maybe Knight can show them under new coach Maurice Cheeks. Maybe we’re affected by watching Burke’s rapid rise, especially during Michigan’s run to the title game.
No place for sentiment?
Dumars also is a football fan, and he’s seen the Lions make flashy, popular picks over the years (Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, etc.). The Pistons did it in 2000, taking Mateen Cleaves after he led Michigan State to the national title
The hometown picks often don’t work, either because of the inherent pressure, or because the player wasn’t as good as he appeared. But I think Burke will work, and he’s headed to a franchise in Utah that greatly values the point guard (John Stockton) and was willing to surrender two first-round picks to get one.
After three straight drafts in which talented players fell nicely to the Pistons, this was different. Dumars had to make a choice, and we assumed he’d publicly declare which point guard he liked best. In a way, he did, sticking with Knight instead of adding Burke or someone else. It’s a gigantic gamble and I respect Dumars’ confidence, but he picked a curious time to make a potentially defining move.