Joe D: No Small Thinking

Losing hurts, but Pistons president resists quick-fix temptations

(Editor’s note: Pistons president Joe Dumars discussed a number of topics this week with editor Keith Langlois. We’ll have more throughout the week on Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, some of the team’s other young players, new coach Lawrence Frank and the direction coming from new owner Tom Gores and his team.)

Joe Dumars would prefer to be following his team through the playoffs in mid and late May, not pondering the fates of lottery combinations and ping-pong balls. But if it has to be, then coming away with cornerstones like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight at least makes the anguish of a lottery-bound season bearable. And if the reward for a third trip is a similar payoff, then the Pistons are prepared to endure whatever the quirky 2011-12 season can throw at them.

“What you can’t do is allow any part of the season to force you to start thinking small,” said Dumars, who as Pistons president took over a 42-win team a month before the face of the franchise, Grant Hill, walked away in free agency and turned them into NBA champions within four years. “You always have to look at the big picture – where you’re going as a team, where you want to go as a team and how you’re going to get there. Even through the ups and downs of a tough season, you can’t lose focus, can’t panic, you can’t make a short-term move to try to win a few more games. You stick with your plan and you keep going.”

The plan is to make these trips to the lottery pay off spectacularly with talent that lays a foundation for the next great generation of Pistons basketball. By the time February ends, Dumars will have seen virtually every high-caliber college player, using the time before the lockout ended in late November to see many of the players who will shake David Stern’s hand next June.

That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to bear the losses in a 3-10 start, Dumars says, but the organization’s leadership – from new owner Tom Gores and his team to Dumars and his staff to Lawrence Frank and his coaches – are of one mind.

Ownership, he said, is “totally on board with rebuilding this the right way.”

“You just have to have the discipline to do it, but make no mistake about it: Everybody is so competitive because you want to win every single game. It’s hard to maintain it sometimes, because you just want to win. You show up at the arena, they toss the ball up and at the end of the night, you want to walk out of the arena feeling good that you won a game. It’s extremely tough to lose. It’s the worst feeling in the world in this business. Either you win or you’re miserable. There’s no in between. Either you win and you walk out feeling great or you lose and you’re miserable.”

The discipline Dumars maintains and imposes, with ownership’s support, is “pretty simple,” he said. “Building up and developing new, young talent. Increasing your young talent base and allowing a young team to grow together and become a really good team one day. Right now, it’s about the flexibility to do that or acquiring someone who is going to grow with you. If it doesn’t fall under that realm, it would be tough for us to do any deal outside of that.”

That doesn’t stop his peers around the league from calling with options that might temporarily ease the pain.

“You’ll get some of those offers,” he said. “But that’s where the discipline comes in. If what someone’s offering is not someone that’s going to be a part of your core going forward or it’s not a financial gain for us, then it really doesn’t make sense. That’s the discipline we’re going to stay with and continue forward with.”

It’s probably easier for Dumars to maintain that discipline than for others because he’s lived it once, resisting any quick-fix urges when Hill departed and rebuilding the franchise into one that would win 50 games seven straight years and play for the Eastern Conference championship six consecutive times.

“It’s the reality,” he said of the near inevitability of the NBA’s cycle of success. “We wake up every day and know that we had a great run. That’s over and now it’s time to rebuild the talent base. When I first took over, it took about three years to build up the talent base to say, ‘We’re good enough to be one of the contenders.’ That’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re not going to get off of that. That’s just not the plan here.”

The overarching goal of the season, the thing Dumars hopes to be able to say about it a few months down the road, is that “we’ve grown and we continue to head in the right direction. That’s what this year is about – growing and heading in the right direction. That’s exactly what we want from this team. We want these young guys to get better. By the middle of March, you want to look back and say this team keeps getting better – we’ve got a bright future with these young guys.”