With the NBA free agency frenzy that took place the past week, there are two concrete things we learned. Number one, NBA GMs and accountants did not learn a damn thing from the most recent lockout if all these contracts they handed out are any indication, so please, spare us the crying poor routine as a league. If you can pay bench players and question marks ridiculous sums for multiple years, you’re doing just fine.
And number two, Joe Dumars is not to be trusted in the free-agency space. Under any circumstances.
Listen, the fact that Dumars inked Josh Smith to a four-year, $56 million isn’t egregious at face value. Smith is a very talented, very versatile, borderline all-star player who is certainly exciting to watch for his defensive prowess, athleticism and insane box score stuffing. But he is also a flawed player who takes too many jump shots that he doesn’t make and is better suited as the second or third best player on a contending team rather than a cornerstone for a youth movement that is looking three or four years down the road.
That’s why this signing him makes absolutely zero sense for the Pistons. Smith is a valuable player who would do a ton of teams a lot of good, but Detroit isn’t one of them. For starters, his poor shot selection and at times disinterested attitude aren’t exactly the type of things you want such a young core to pick up on — and this is coming from a huge Josh Smith fan. Secondly, Smith is much more in the mold of an athletic power forward than anything else, meaning his presence will cut in to playing time for the dynamic, talented and raw young big men the Pistons already have in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
What the Pistons really need is some stability and talent in the backcourt, not a splashy signing for a talented but flawed big man. Brandon Knight has not proven yet he can be the effective point guard they had hoped, and we’re all still waiting for Rodney Stuckey to be even a fraction of as good as he was purported to be. Instead, they tied up $14 million a year in a veteran that probably won’t’ be around when the team is actually ready to take the next step.
It’s the type of signing that brings you back to that infamous summer of 2009, when Dumars lost his damn mind and signed Ben Gordon — a sixth man — to a five-year, $55 million deal and Charlie Villanueva — an OK player — to a five-year, $35 million contract. That was $90 million for what amounted to two bench players. We all saw the results. And truthfully, Dumars hasn’t made a single sound free-agent signing since he hit the jackpot a decade ago, inking Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton in repeat off-seasons — two of the core players on that 2004 championship team.
Here are the free agents Dumars has signed in the decade since Rip Hamilton fled the Wizards for Motown, in reverse order: Josh Smith, Vernon Hamilton, Ike Diogu, washed-up Tracy McGrady, Chucky Atkins, Maceo Baston, washed-up Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, old Antonio McDyess, Kwame Brown, Will Bynum, washed-up Theo Ratliff, Gerald Fitch, Jarvis Hayes, deceased Chris Webber, Nazr Mohammed, Flip Murray, Ronald Dupree, Maurice Evans, the carcass of Dale Davis, mummified Elden Campbell, Nigel Dixon, Smush Parker, Terrance Shannon, Ronald Dupree, Antonio McDyess, Derrick Zimmerman, Ronald Dupree (yep, three times), Chris Garner, Rod Grizzard, A.J. Guyton, Justin Hamilton, Tang Hamilton and Darvin Ham.
I did not make up a single player on that list. Joe Dumars signed all of these people in free agency. True story.
Now, I’m not entirely saying Dumars should be fired. After all, he was the architect of the early 2000s Pistons, a team that dominated the Eastern Conference and won an NBA title. Since being named president of basketball operations in the summer of 2000, he’s done a lot of good — trading for perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Wallace; signing Billups and Hamilton; drafting Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Arron Afflalo, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond; trading for Rasheed Wallace, among others. Those were all sound, sometimes brilliant moves — moves that brought home a championship and moves that provided solid young talent moving forward.
But the Pistons have been a laughingstock the past five years, and Dumars has had a big hand in that. Beyond the infamous Darko Milicic pick in the now famous 2003 draft, Dumars hasn’t exactly done much to put Detroit in good standing for the future. Even his draft picks, excluding Monroe and Drummond, have shown very little for the most part. And he hasn’t even made anything you could consider a wise free-agent move since luring Hamilton away a decade ago, unless you want to say an effective if slowed Antonio McDyess following the championship season.
Now with Josh Smith, Dumars made another baffling move. Had another team close to contention shelled out the same contract, I wouldn’t have blinked. Like I said, Josh Smith is a very good, very valuable player on the right team. But Detroit is not that team. The Pistons are nowhere near contention, and Smith only gets in the way of the development of the young bigs the Pistons looked to be building around, just like signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva made no sense a few years ago. Perhaps Smith will go out and prove that he can be the right mentor for a young team, can be the man and help turn things around in Detroit, but consider me skeptical because logically the move simply doesn’t make sense.
It’s been 10 full years since Dumars actually improved Detroit’s future with a free-agent signing. Perhaps it’s time to take his keys away during the NBA’s free agency period.