Sunday, June 03, 2007

Now what?

Who wants to be in Joe Dumars' shoes this offseason? A show of hands?

No one, just as I thought.

Over the final 4 games of the NBA ECF, the 2007 Detroit Pistons imploded against the Cleveland LeBron's, much as the team they beat for for their one, and only, NBA title, the 2004 Lakers. And just as we saw a massive upheaval in that Lakers team, I think we can bet that the same is going to happen to the Pistons.

As to what those moves might be, we can only guess. It's mostly due to the fact that I don't think even Dumars knows what he is going to do. Or for that matter, will be able, or allowed, to do.

There are several lingering roster questions that will need to be soon answered...

Does Joe D fire Flip Saunders?
Trade Rasheed Wallace?
Trade another of the Pistons' core?
What of the pending free agents, Chris Webber, and the sure to opt out of his contract to be the big catch in this years FA crop, Chauncey Billups?
Do Antonio McDyess and Flip Murray, who hold player options, stay or go?
Will Lindsey Hunter and/or Dale Davis retire?
What do the Pistons do with the bust that is Nazr Mohammad?
Does Dumars keep his 2 1st round draft picks, in what is considered the deepest draft in years, or do those picks go as part of a deal for a much needed skilled offensive player?

That's one Hell of a long list of questions for a team that played themselves into, despite all their disharmony, the NBA's final 4.

The easy move would be to give Flip Saunders the ziggy. Honestly, it wouldn't break this Pistons fan's heart. The last 2 playoff runs have all but confirmed that much of the Pistons' roster doesn't respect, and barely tolerates, Saunders. It's not as if Saunders impressed with his coaching acumen, either. He just lost to the worst coach to ever make the NBA finals, Mike Brown, for crying out loud.

But does Bill Davidson want to pay off the contract of his 3rd head coach in 6 years? Does Dumars want the Pistons' head coaching gig to be known as a coach killer?

I think thr answer to both questions, as much as it pains me to say, is no.

So that leaves changing the roster. You don't blow it up altogether, but you can't come back with the same cast of head cases, malcontents, and characters. They can still play at a high level, but the personality mix has become poisonous. Somebody has got to go.

Who goes? The simple answer is Rasheed Wallace. But who wants 'Sheed and prickly persona? If you could even find a team to take on the 2 years and 24 million left on Wallace's deal, you might get 50 cents on the dollar, talent wise, for him. Might being the operative word.

If Dumars does manage the impossible, and trade 'Sheed, that could leave the Pistons in deep trouble down on the blocks. It's entirely possible that Detroit could lose 5 big men. 'Sheed is trade bait, McDyess could opt out, Webber and Davis are on the verge of retiring, and Mohammad is going to be tossed into any and every trade scenario. Are Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson ready for prime time minutes?

There could be other options, but there are caveats involved with every one of them.

A sign and trade with Chauncey Billups? You don't let a top 5 NBA point guard walk, even one over the age of 30, period. Dumars' has said as much, he plans on bringing Billups back. There is no "Plan B" if Billups signs elsewhere, it's "Plan On Rebuilding." Next.

Tayshaun Prince would be a hot commodity in the trade market. Considering that the reason the Pistons didn't draft Carmelo Anthony was Prince, has a relatively affordable long-term contract, and has freakish abilities you rarely see at any position, let alone in a small forward, Prince is going nowhere. Next.

Trade Rip Hamilton? That's a scary proposition, as he's in his prime, the only consistent offensive player, and by all accounts, not one of the attitude problems. But shooting guards, if not a dime a dozen, are easier to replace. Dumars has made this sort of deal before, in trading Jerry Stackhouse. Any trade involving Hamilton will have to include another contract or 2, and possibly the draft picks. Trading Rip may be the easiest roster move, but also the messiest.

In a perfect world, both Saunders and Wallace leave, the Pistons keep both draft picks, Billups signs a below the max deal, and somehow Dumars acquires an offensive force.

Columnists in both Detroit papers have made it known who that force should be. A "Bring Zach Randolph to Detroit" campaign is in the early stages, and it will gather steam, thanks to...

Terry Foster...

This might be a risk because of a troubled past. But the Pistons should turn to Portland to see if they can bring in big man Zach Randolph. Yeah, he is a pain, and he is immature. But the dude has soft hands and can score inside with the best of them when he is focused.

He is a risk. But perhaps the risk isn't as risky if his former coach at Michigan State, Tom Izzo, steps in and helps guide him.

And Drew Sharp...

Randolph is one of the top-10 25-and-younger stars in the league, a list that also includes James, Miami's Dwyane Wade, Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire, Orlando's Dwight Howard, Toronto's Chris Bosh, Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Chicago's Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, and Washington's Gilbert Arenas.

And if you noticed, seven of those young guns hail from the Eastern Conference.

Opportunities like this don't come often. Portland is looking to change its image as the "Jail Blazers" with reigning rookie of the year Brandon Roy, promising rookie big man LaMarcus Aldridge and eventually Oden.

Randolph has had some off-the-court issues that are more the result of an immature follower. Place him in a stronger team environment with more veteran influence. And don't discount a much closer proximity to former MSU coach Tom Izzo with whom Randolph has maintained a steady relationship since his lone season in East Lansing in 2001.

If Randolph is the target, that means 'Sheed stays (I'm not even going into the idea of a 3 way trade, as it's unlikely), and another of the core goes. If 'Sheed does stay in Detroit, Saunders has got to go. Wallace has less respect for Saunders than he has for NBA referees...

One day after the Pistons were knocked out of the playoffs, there isn't a team in the NBA with a murkier future.

The Pistons front office has a choice in taking this team in one of in several different directions. From the extremes of blowing the whole thing up, and starting over, to keeping the roster pretty much as is, and hoping there is 1 more run left in a rapidly aging roster.

What will probably go down is somewhere in between. Right now I'm just waiting for the first, of what is likely to be several, moves by Dumars.

Joe Dumars, GM super genius, is not infallible, as Mateen Cleaves, Rodney White, Darko Milicic, Flip Murray, and Nazr Muhammad can attest.

If there is a GM capable of reloading rather than rebuilding, keeping a team a contender on the fly, it's Dumars. Can Joe D continue to live up to his glittering reputation?

This offseason will be the litmus test.

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