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NICELY DONE, JOE
Jack McCallum
June 28, 2004
Pistons G.M. Joe Dumars was the most agreeable Bad Boy, but he was no pushover when it came to building an NBA champion
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June 28, 2004

Nicely Done, Joe

Pistons G.M. Joe Dumars was the most agreeable Bad Boy, but he was no pushover when it came to building an NBA champion

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COMPOSITE BOX SCORE

Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Pistons

Mins.

FG
M-A

FT
M-A

RB
O-T

Asst.

PF

Pts.

Hamilton

222

37-92

29-34

12-26

20

9

107

Billups[1]

192

29-57

39-42

3-16

26

8

105

R.Wallace

151[2]

24-53

14-18

7-39

7

19

65

B.Wallace

203

22-46

10-34

19-68

7

15

54

Prince

196

21-54

5-11

15-34[3]

10

9

50

Williamson

52

6-15

9-10

4-12

1

7

21

Hunter

65

5-17

6-6

1-7

4

11

18

Campbell

68

6-16

5-10

6-13

8

13

17

Okur

39

4-9

2-4

1-6

2

7

11

James

22

2-4

0-0

2-4

4

2

4

Ham

10

l-l

0-0

l-l

0

3

2

Milicic

5

0-2

0-2

1-2

0

0

0

Totals

1,225

157-366

119-171[4]

72-228

89

103

454

Percentages: FG: .429, FT: .696. 3-point goals: 21-66, .318 (Billups 8-17, Hamilton 4-10, Prince 3-16, R. Wallace 3-12, Hunter 2-8, Okur 1-1, B. Wallace 0-2). Blocked shots: 20 ( R. Wallace 8, B. Wallace 5, Campbell 3, Hunter 2, Prince 2). Turnovers: 69. Steals: 39. Technical fouls: 4.

Lakers

Mins.

FG
M-A

FT
M-A

RB
O-T

Asst.

PF

Pts.

O'Neal

213

53-84

27-55

15-54

8

22

133[5]

Bryant

231

43-113

23-25

2-14[6]

22

15

113[5]

Fisher

101

11-36

4-7

5-15

9

16

32[5]

George

104

11-28

2-4

3-14

3

16

29

Payton

168

9-28

1-2

6-15

22

17

21[7]

Malone

122

8-24

4-6

8-29

9

8

20

Medvedenko

72

6-17

6-8

6-18

3

12

18

Rush

78

7-22

0-0

0-5

2

10

18

Walton

77

5-13

2-2

3-12

18

15

13

Fox

30[8]

4-7

0-0

0-3

7

6

8

Cook

21

1-6

2-2

3-8

0

4

4

Russell

8

0-2

0-0

l-l

0

1

0

Totals

1,225

158-380[9]

71-111

52-188

103

142

409

Percentages: FG: .416, FT: .640.3-point goals: 22-89, .247 (Fisher 6-16, George 5-15, Bryant 4-23, Rush 4-16, Payton 2-10, Walton 1-6, Fox 0-1, Malone 0-1, Russell 0-1). Blocked shots: 14 ( Bryant 3, O'Neal 3, George 2, Payton 2, Walton 2, Malone 1, Medvedenko 1). Turnovers: 68. Steals: 36. Technical fouls: 6.

Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars stood outside a delirious locker room, hemmed in on all sides by reporters and well-wishers. As sweat poured from his face, he patiently answered the same questions over and over, even as he cast about for an escape route. Dumars's wife of 14 years, Debbie, stood on the outer edge of the pack, unable to rescue him. Their 10-year-old daughter, Aren, clung to Debbie's side, and from time to time their 13-year-old son, Jordan, a ball boy whose blue Pistons T-shirt was soaked with champagne, ambled by, smiling at the pure joy of it all. � Joe D—the most understated member of Detroit's 1989 and '90 NBA tide teams, the shooting guard whose name in the lineup carried an asterisk indicating Not Really a Bad Boy—had brought a new championship banner to Detroit with a stunning five-game dismantling of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," said Bill Davidson, the 81-year-old owner of the Pistons.

That's what you heard over and over after Detroit's 100-87 win on June 15 at The Palace of Auburn Hills: Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. But Dumars, 41, who accepted Davidson's offer to run the team in June 2000, didn't get it done with nice. He got it done with cojones. He swapped a flawed franchise player, Jerry Stackhouse, for a Michael Jordan reject, Richard (Rip) Hamilton; ignored a sexy superstar-in-the-making who had just won an NCAA championship, Carmelo Anthony, to use the No. 2 pick on an obscure teen from Montenegro, Darko Milicic; replaced the 2002 Coach of the Year, Rick Carlisle, with a highly respected gym-rat gypsy, Larry Brown. Then to top it off, he concocted a three-team mid-season deal for serial troublemaker Rasheed Wallace. "I think what surprised everybody," says former Piston Bill Laimbeer, "is how bold Joe has been in this job."

Do not think bold is out of character for Joe D. Gather up the Bad Boys for a street fight—Laimbeer, the canny instigator; Isiah Thomas, the hard case from Chicago's West Side; Rick Mahorn, the brutish enforcer; Dennis Rodman, the budding lunatic—and Dumars, the soft-spoken, middle-class kid from Louisiana, a onetime hard-hitting defensive back for Natchitoches Central High, might have been the one to lead them into the alley. "In his own way," says Chuck Daly, who coached the team, "Joe was as tough as any of them."

But Dumars doesn't think it was toughness that guided his remaking of the Pistons. "Having a vision of what kind of team I wanted and doing everything possible to realize that vision" is how he describes the process. (And he made it work on the cheap: Detroit's payroll ranked 12th in the league.) In Dumars's backcourt, for instance, "I wanted both guards to be weapons," he says. "And since Rip is great on the move, you need a guy like Chauncey [Billups] he can kick it to, to spot up. Nothing against Jerry, but you don't need to isolate Rip and call plays for him to get you 20 points."

On the front line Dumars wanted size and athleticism. He had 6'9" Ben Wallace for the latter, so before this season he signed 7-foot free agent Elden Campbell. Hardly anyone noticed until the brawny Campbell provided valuable defense against Shaquille O'Neal during the Finals. And in February—"working himself into a state of delirium," Debbie says—Dumars reaped both size and athleticism in the person of 6'11" Rasheed Wallace, who gave Ben another interior defender, Billups and Hamilton another scorer and the Pistons the lift they needed to go from good to astonishingly good.

But until his vision became clear to the rest of the world in the Finals, Dumars had to endure a steady drumbeat of criticism for last year's draft. As Syracuse product Anthony, the No. 3 selection of the Denver Nuggets, was challenging top pick LeBron James for Rookie of the Year honors, Milicic was nothing more than a peroxide-blond, 7-foot hood ornament. Brown played Milicic only 159 minutes—the rough equivalent of three full games. (In an irony beyond cruel, Milicic did see two minutes of garbage time during the Finals clincher, during which he broke his left hand.) Considering that throughout the season the Pistons' sputtering offense paled in comparison with their take-no-prisoners D, the question came up time and again: How much better would they have been with Anthony?

Dumars steadfastly insisted that drafting Milicic had nothing to do with rejecting Anthony and everything to do with finding a center for the future. Besides, Dumars felt he already had an outstanding small forward in Tayshaun Prince, whom he'd taken 23rd in the '02 draft. That seemed a dubious rationale until Prince played superbly in the Finals, when he backed up series MVP Billups and Hamilton as a ball handler, applied long-armed defense that held Kobe Bryant to 38.1% shooting and proved unflappable at crucial moments. "I guess it's fair to compare Darko, who had just turned 18 when we drafted him, to Carmelo, who's undeniably a great young player," says Dumars. "I can handle that. But when you bring Tayshaun into the equation, calculate what he's meant to us and how we already had the Carmelo position filled, well, see, the story doesn't flow as well, the darts don't stick as much."

Before retiring in 1999, Dumars competed against most of the current Pistons and is still a significant part of the team's locker room culture. After Campbell threw down an awkward dunk in Game 3, Dumars joined in kidding him about it the next day. In addition to smack talker, Joe D can play the horse whisperer, especially with Hamilton, who mans his old position. "When I look at Rip on the court," says Dumars, "I swear I'm walking with him, looking at what he's looking at, thinking about what he's thinking." At one point this season Hamilton and Dumars had this exchange:

Hamilton: Joe, did you ever hear the guy who's guarding you breathing real heavy?

Dumars: Yeah, that's when you know you got him.

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