Full Speed Ahead

Tom Gores vows thorough review, quick action for Pistons

Before Karen Davidson handed the keys to Tom Gores, she left Pistons fans with this by way of what they should expect from the man who assumes the mantle of ownership her late husband held for 35 years: “Tom Gores has, and Bill had, the same qualities of hard work, dedication and vision, and I look forward to seeing Tom carry out his legacy.”

Nearly an hour later, as Gores’ introductory press conference at The Palace was nearing its end, somebody asked the new owner about the need to be mistake-free in getting the Pistons back on track.

“I think we can afford mistakes,” Gores answered, politely turning the question on its ear. “Look, we’re going to make mistakes. The key is to not sit in your missteps. I want our folks and our leaders to not be afraid. Now, I don’t want you sitting with that mistake for a long time. I don’t want you to get set in whatever decisions you made. If it was wrong, the next day, change it.”

They were words Joe Dumars had heard before – from Bill Davidson. Change is coming to the Pistons. Gores left little room for misinterpretation on that score. And Dumars is ready to enjoin his new owner in making it happen.

“Starting tomorrow,” Gores said, “we’re going to go full speed ahead, talking about every single detail, giving everybody every single chance to say why they want to be a part of the Pistons. We’re going to listen. We’re going to be very thorough. But we’ll be fast.”

The new owner, members of his management team and Dumars met on Thursday, but the real roll-up-your-sleeves stuff starts Friday morning. Gores said John Kuester “deserves the courtesy of a meeting” with him – something the NBA wouldn’t allow until the deal closed – and said decisions are going to be made swiftly, but thoughtfully.

There wasn’t much not to like for Pistons fans, who have anguished as the team lived in a perceived state of stagnation for more than a year, since Davidson stated her intention to explore the process of a sale.

“I look forward to being able to address some of the things we’ve been wanting to do for the past couple of years,” Dumars said. “It’s been tough, not to be able to get things done because we were just at a standstill.”

He had to like what he heard from Gores, as well, and if he cracked the slightest of smiles as Gores talked about his willingness to accept mistakes, well … it’s the message Mr. D gave him 11 years ago, when Dumars asked him why the Pistons owner and wildly successful businessman had the confidence to put him in charge of the basketball team.

“Because there are car mechanics and then there are car designers,” Mr. D told Joe D. “You’re a designer.”

It was the way Bill Davidson ran all of his business empire, the Pistons included. He wanted people who thought in bold strokes. And he encouraged them to put themselves in positions where failure was possible – because failure lives in the same neighborhoods as success. If you don’t risk encountering failure, Mr. D would tell his managers, you’ll never find success.

“It’s not the first time he’s said it,” Dumars said afterward of Gores’ echoing of a Davidson business tenet. “I’ve heard him say it quite a bit. ‘Look, man, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you make them, let’s move on. But don’t hold back because you’re afraid to make a mistake. Do what you’ve got to do.’ It was obviously good to hear and it sounded like Mr. D when he would say, ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.’ ”

Now, Gores didn’t build Platinum Equity into an industry giant in the time it takes Derrick Rose to go baseline to baseline by making a lot of mistakes. He made it clear that he’s going to challenge everyone who falls under the umbrella of Palace Sports & Entertainment to think boldly and execute wisely, Dumars included.

“We’re going to push Joe,” Gores said. “He knows that. We already told him that we’re going to challenge you every single way, whether it’s right or wrong. We’re going to push you and we’re going to push you hard. Our job isn’t to agree with Joe, it’s to challenge Joe. And hopefully that will make the outcome better.”

Among other highlights from the new owner:

  • On the immediate priorities: “The biggest thing is the draft coming up and make sure we make the right decisions, and that we pull the two organizations together – the sports part of the business and the organization. We’re moving very fast.”

  • On whether he’ll be more Mark Cuban or more Bill Davidson: “I can’t be either one of them. You have to be yourself. I’m willing to be whatever the franchise needs. If they are going to get inspired by me being next to the bench, great; if they’re going to be distracted by me, then you might see me on the roof. I need to be the owner that this team needs. It’s really not about me; it’s about what they need. And I’m not sure exactly what that will be.

    “I’m a team player. I need to play the role. And maybe from year to year, that’ll change. To the extend the team needs some juice, I will be right there.”

  • On what convinced him to pursue Pistons ownership: “The true closer in the deal is this community. In the way it embraced me and the excitement it’s provided to the city. I always thought I could make a difference – I always thought I could – but the momentum, especially in the last few months, makes me sure that I can.

    “I need to deliver on the standards of your passion. This is a very passionate city. And it can be demanding and I do think it will bring out the best in all of us.

    “I promise I will lose sleep to deliver to the standard. We want to win, of course … (but) we want to do it in the right way. This has to be something that’s good for everybody.”

  • On his willingness to spend money to build a winner. “It’s not about the money; it’s about the value. So if it’s bringing value in, then, of course – we’ll spend the money. But are we going to frivolously spend the money to say we did? You have to understand there’s a value that comes with spending the money. Those two things go together. Are you going to spend the money or not? Of course. You have to. But you have to get the value.

    “We’re going to be hard, Joe and I. ‘Hey, if you’re on board and we’re paying, then we expect value and that means full value – you’ll be out there with the community, deliver shots you’ve got to deliver, practice hard as heck,’ and that’s going to be our motto with the people we bring on. You can’t show up based on your resume. You have to show up on the court, you have to practice, you have to practice hard.”

  • On his intentions to bring “a spark” to the community: “There are two ways to spark a community. … It’s education and economy. Education meaning the kids in this community, and making people feel good. We’ve had a very tough time. We’ve gone through pain, probably more than anybody in the country. We have to ease that pain through good spirits and we’ll inspire the economy and inspire kids through education.”

  • On efforts to connect to Detroit and help deliver inner-city fans to The Palace: “We’re going to address a couple of things with the city. You don’t have to build a stadium to connect with a city. There are different ways. We’re going to hope to build some gyms. We’re going to make sure kids can be at those gyms. We’re going to have some classrooms around them. And we’re going to find a way for people to get here. It’s a great house. But transportation … it’s a real challenge and we have to overcome those challenges and appreciate getting the city here. … We’ll find a way to handle the transportation issue.”

  • On his vision for what the Pistons should become: “We have to be competitive. Our product is going to be full of hard work. We need to be proud of what we put on the floor. If that results in a win, that will be great. I think it will. We need to go back to those core values the Pistons are made of – hard work.”

  • And on the current makeup of the team: “It’s something Joe and us, we’re going to talk about it, and tomorrow will be the first day of doing that. But I actually think we have a good base. We’re going to get back to instilling the culture we believe in. I know we had a very challenging season, but the core – there’s a core there. There’s pieces that have to get added, without a doubt. I’m not going to tell you we’re going to figure it out with what we have. We’re going to analyze that and bring it together. We made a great draft pick last year. That’s a great base. We’ve got to make sure we do that again and bring the pieces together.”