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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

Dumars critics get their chance after loss to Heat

It appears Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars will have to wait until next season to prove that he's still a basketball genius.

Today, everyone is going to second-guess Dumars for replacing Larry Brown with Flip Saunders after Brown led Detroit to one NBA title and back-to-back trips to the finals, with trading Darko Milicic after only two seasons despite the Pistons needing more frontcourt scoring, and for drafting Milicic ahead of Dwyane Wade.

The second-guessers will suggest the Pistons would have had a better chance to win a second title in three years if they had retained Brown.

Dumars believed Saunders was a suitable replacement for Brown, despite Saunders' losing postseason record.

He believed Saunders would pick up where Brown left off. That the Pistons were a veteran, self-contained ballclub that would play hard for any coach. And, more important, Dumars was so confident in the team he constructed he believed just about anyone could coach the Pistons.

Dumars was wrong. The Pistons didn't make it back to the finals after being eliminated by Wade's Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

The clock is ticking on the Pistons, who are no longer the class of the Eastern Conference.

Miami, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Wade, has caught and passed the Pistons. Cleveland, with LeBron James, could be the Pistons' equal, sooner than later. New Jersey, Chicago, and Washington are also capable of pushing the Pistons.

It all goes back to ego. Detroit's players, coaches, and management believed the hype, that the Pistons were the team to beat in the NBA.

When the Pistons lost to Cleveland in Game 3 of the conference semifinals, Rasheed Wallace's ego prompted him to brashly predict the Pistons would win the next game and wouldn't return to play another game in Cleveland.

Not only did the Pistons lose the next game, they lost three in a row to Cleveland, and they were forced to defeat the Cavaliers in seven hard games.

The Cleveland series taxed the Pistons, physically and mentally. It showed in their lack of energy and focus in losing to Miami in six games.

Ego also led Ben Wallace to defy Saunders and refuse to re-enter a game late in the regular season. Wallace's lack of respect for Dumars' hand-picked coach helped explain why Detroit struggled in the second half of the season, going 22-9 over its final 31 games after posting a 42-9 record through mid-February.

And ego led Dumars to give up on Milicic, a talented 7-footer with a big upside, without giving him a fair chance to prove he couldn't play.

An ego will grow when you slip a championship ring on a general manager's finger. A general manager with a ring believes he can do no wrong.

Dumars believed he was justified in trading Milicic because the Pistons were trying to win another championship, and he believed Milicic couldn't help a team that already had Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, and Antonio McDyess.

In 30 games with Orlando, Milicic, who scored a total of 37 points with Detroit this season, averaged 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.07 blocks, and shot 50.7 percent from the field while averaging 20.9 minutes a game.

Those numbers indicate Milicic could have helped the Pistons, whose lack of frontcourt scoring against Miami was glaring.

The 2003 draft was a double jeopardy for the Pistons.

First, they took Milicic with the No. 2 pick instead of Wade (or Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Josh Howard, etc.).

Second, they never gave Milicic a legitimate chance to prove he could play.

Even if Dumars felt the Pistons were strong at two-guard with Richard Hamilton, how could he ignore Wade's obvious talent? Unless Dumars didn't have a good feel for Wade, which is in itself an indictment on Dumars' ability (or inability) to evaluate college talent, especially high first-round talent (see Rodney White and Mateen Cleaves).

Next season can't come soon enough for Dumars and the Pistons.



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