Joe Dumars is in charge. And Joe Dumars is not happy. You can hear it in his voice. If I’ve observed one change in the man I have known for more than 20 years, it is this: What once was kept inside, quietly stewing, is now increasingly coming out of his mouth.
“I was disgusted,” he said of the performance by his Pistons in Games 3 and 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. “By the time I left that arena Friday night, I had seen enough.”
That was clear Tuesday, when Dumars broomed Flip Saunders out as coach. And the exit door awaits at least one of his starters.
“I’ll make a significant trade,” Dumars, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations, declared. “ We have a core group of guys here that for the first time in six years I’m letting teams in the league know I’ll do a deal. I’m open for business.”
See that? None of the navel-gazing GMs and presidents often give the media. No hiding behind, “We’ll sit down and take a look at things.”
Dumars looked at things the same time and place as we did: on the court during the playoffs. And he wants the public to know, the media to know, but, most of all, his players to know, that there is one bottom line here: results.
On Flips and the flops
Listen to some highlights of Dumars’ version of the Straight Talk Express, carved from a conversation we had Tuesday afternoon:
On firing the coach: “It’s never the easiest change you can make, but it’s the first change you can make.”
On why Flip was no longer the right guy: “You can only deliver the same message so many times. After three straight years of the exact same ending, you have to change who sits in that seat, you have to change the voice.”
On whether Flip sent the right messages to his team:”It’s not about the right or wrong message. It about are you getting it done? This is what we don’t do here. We don’t do psychoanalyzing. All this going into the whys, that’s for people who professionally do that. Save that for somebody else, not me.”
I told you he was mad.
And he has a right to be. First of all, three years in the NBA is a coaching lifespan, so there can be no shock Saunders was let go. Yes, he went to three straight East finals. He also lost all three. And remember, he followed a coach who’d been to two straight NBA Finals – one of which was a championship.
As for the players? Dumars has been loyal to his core group. He has given each, at some point, a fat, long-term contract. And he has kept them intact since 2004, an eternity in the NBA.
On ‘Sheed and the starters
On whether Rasheed Wallace is the problem: “When people bash Rasheed, I don’t defend Rasheed. I’m not defending any single thing Rasheed has done. But I also say this, don’t be a hypocrite about it, because when we win, everybody says, They don’t have one superstar’ but when we lose, he’s an easy scapegoat. I hold Rasheed accountable. I hold Chaucey, Rip, Tayshaun – I hold all these guys accountable.”
On why the other players don’t bear as much scrutiny: “All too often, whoever the fan favorite or the media favorite is, whoever does the best interviews, they get the free pass. I don’t do interviews with players. I can only judge you on what you do.”
Now, in fairness, Dumars should be held to the same “results or else” philosophy, if that is the Pistons’ credo. But it’s hard to argue with his job performance. In a salary-cap world, he has crafted a talented, successful starting quartet, found some diamonds in the rough with later draft picks (Jason Maxiell, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey) and hasn’t bankrupted the owner – even when the owner gave away millions because he wanted coaches fired.
Dumars picks them. He doesn’t draw plays. He doesn’t move their bodies or make their shots. He can’t light their fires.
But he doesn’t get sentimental. Somewhere along the way, the quietest Bad Boy found a valley for his voice, and we learned it is loud and decisive and he holds it to the same high standards that he once demanded of the rest of him. If you ever watched Dumars play, you remember, he was well-liked, well-respected, but never, ever, gave an inch. If I wore a Pistons uniform these days, I’d keep a suitcase handy.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).