Joe Dumars had the chance to consider Dallas’ Jason Kidd and his expiring contract over the summer, a league executive said Monday, but the Detroit Pistons president had bigger, bolder ideas. Allen Iverson still gives the Pistons a puncher’s chance in the Eastern Conference this season, but this trade isn’t about him. It isn’t about Chauncey Billups.
Think LeBron James, 2010.
The Pistons president doesn’t just have the salary cap space for the Cleveland Cavaliers star. He also has the connections and the championship credibility. Make no mistake: Detroit and Dumars are officially in hot pursuit of James – maybe even the favorite now – and it promises to be a long, agonizing two years for the Cavaliers.
Detroit doesn’t deliver the bright lights and global metropolis destination that James wants when he opts out of his contract in 2010, but two more years of watching Kobe Bryant win titles could transform his priorities. James wants badly to be considered the best player on the planet and that won’t happen until he’s a champion.
James wants a front office with a vision that honors his greatness, and make no mistake: This makes Detroit and Dumars so dangerous, makes them Cleveland’s worst nightmare. The city could justify losing its prodigal son to New York or Los Angeles, but nearby Detroit?
Cleveland would never recover.
So why Iverson over a possible package for Kidd? Several league executives know exactly why: The trade with Denver to make an unhappy Iverson happier just further imbeds the Detroit franchise deeper into James’ agent, Leon Rose, and advisor, William Wesley. Just as they represent James, they rep Iverson.
And as much as anyone, “World Wide” Wes is one of the most important voices in Lebron’s life. Wesley lives in Detroit, where one of Rose’s clients, Richard Hamilton, is a Pistons star. What’s more, Dumars is close to an agreement with Hamilton on a two-year extension that will keep him through 2012, sources say. This is a terrific show of faith for Hamilton, who is trying to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars that a business manager allegedly stole from him.
Wesley comes and goes at the Palace of Auburn Hills as he pleases, and few have such a window into the winning culture of the Pistons.
As one rival GM said Monday, “Damn it, I am afraid Joe has this whole thing wired. He’s got everything in place to pull this off.”
The New Jersey Nets’ move to Brooklyn is falling apart, and so is owner Bruce Ratner’s chances of using limited partner, Jay-Z, to lure James. The Knicks will be a factor, but the bumbling of the Stephon Marbury mess has reflected horribly on the organization. The Knicks have an owner, GM and coach with differing agendas and they’ve made an initial poor impression. Detroit can’t compete with New York as the global city to market James, but winning could take care of everything.
With Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni as GM and coach, the Knicks can still get their act together. Yet, no one will ever need to ask that of Dumars. No one else can sell James on a winning culture as compellingly as Dumars. He had gone as far as he could with Billups, who has three years and $36 million left on his contract. Billups gave the Pistons a slight edge over Iverson to make another run this season, but Dumars had already gotten a final run out of him a year ago. Detroit won a title, reached a Game 7 of the NBA Finals and six straight Eastern Conference finals with Billups.
Now, Billups is 32 years old. He’s declining. This is a low-risk, short-term, high-reward, long-term play for Dumars.
The Pistons president believes that the young guard Rodney Stuckey, a brilliant pick out of Eastern Washington, can take over the Pistons next year. Iverson and Rasheed Wallace could leave the payroll this summer, and the Pistons will be $22 million under the salary cap in 2009. They will have a core of Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Stuckey, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson in 2010. No one else among James’ serious suitors with cap space has two All-Stars (Hamilton and Prince) and a potential third (Stuckey) for him to join.
Most of all, James knows he’d have Dumars to give him the right coach, the right teammates, the right atmosphere to chase championships for a long, long time. What makes this plan so ingenious is that the bridge from Iverson to Stuckey, from Wallace to Maxiell, makes it possible for the Pistons to reconstruct themselves without bottoming out. They’ll still be a 50-win team. Dumars hates the idea of rebuilding through the lottery, and that won’t need to happen here. He won’t be offering James a heap of ashes in 2010, but a good team needing him to complete its greatness.
For the flawed franchises falling over themselves to get under the salary cap for 2010, the most ingenious plan promises to start out of the NBA’s brightest executive mind. Joe Dumars is thinking big. He’s thinking bold. This will be an agonizing two years in Cleveland.
- Joe Dumars