Pistons president Joe Dumars sat down with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois on Monday to discuss the upcoming NBA draft, free agency and the summer ahead of him. Here’s Part II of their conversation.
KEITH LANGLOIS: When you look at what the landscape might look like, most of the teams that stand to be affected by free agency are in the East more so than the West. You’re looking at Cleveland, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Miami. Does that complicate your job at all in trying to build your team when you don’t really know what the landscape will look like in the East once the dust clears?
JOE DUMARS: To be a championship contender, I think there are some fundamental things you have to have, no matter what, no matter who you’re competing against. You have to have exceptional guard play. I think you have to have interior defense with some size. Those two things … and you’ve got to have people who can make shots. Those are three fundamental things I believe in. You’ve got to have really good guard play, you’ve got to have size up front and you’ve got to have people who can make some shots. Regardless of what’s going on around you, you can stand on those three things and be able to compete against anybody.
KL: Let me follow up on that. We’ve all acknowledged that the Pistons need to get bigger and better up front. Based on what you just said, can we assume the emphasis will be more on a big man who is adept defensively than perhaps as a scorer?
JD: Listen, we’ve always hung our hat on guys who can defend and rebound. So, yeah, we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to try to locate guys who can defend and rebound. It’s imperative to winning. Having guys who can do that, it gives your team a better chance, it gives your coaching staff a better chance when you can acquire guys who can defend the paint, who can rebound and who can make some shots.
KL: We know that this free-agent class is pretty top-heavy with stars. Is it a deep free-agent class and by that I mean is that mid-level a real value this year?
JD: Only if it addresses exactly what you’re looking for. It may be deep, but it may not be deep in the areas you’re looking for. For us, I can’t say we’ve pinpointed any one particular person – man, that’s the mid-level guy. We’ve done that in the past and we’ve known it early on who we were going to go after. I can’t sit here and tell you that right now.
KL: The trend in recent years has been that teams are more reluctant than they were in the past to spend it all on one player. I take it that maybe you’re going to have to wait and see what happens with other free agents first?
JD: Yeah, the one thing that will happen is the major free agents going first will trickle down to who’s left. People are going to wait. That’s the one area that the free-agent class will have (an effect) on the rest of the teams in the NBA. Agents are going to want their players to wait. I’m talking about the guys who aren’t the top-tier guys. Those agents are going to want to wait and see how the dust settles and see who has how much money left and then they’re going to start doing their business. That for sure is normally how it goes. I’d be surprised to see a lot of mid-level signings right out of the gate. Most agents will want to see what happens up top first and go from there.
KL: Last year when the clock struck midnight on July 1 you were active. This year, will you just be up watching TV?
JD: Yeah, I’ll be watching the scroll to see what’s going on around, but when you have the money up front, people want to strike fast. I’m sure these teams out there with cap money are going to want to strike fast.
KL: At your postseason press conference, you spent a lot of time talking about your desire to reintroduce the grit and toughness – those were your words – that we all associate with the two great eras of Pistons basketball. We know the game is played a lot differently than it was in your day and it’s even officiated differently than it was in 2004. Is it as easy to identify and instill toughness in a team as it was five, 20 years ago?
JD: I think you have to make a concerted effort, as a team, as an organization, that that’s what you’re looking for and that’s what you want. But you also, I’ve got to be honest, you had to make that a point of emphasis even when I played, that this is who we’re going to be. So I don’t think that part changes. The emphasis has to be on that. A prime example, you look at the two teams in the Finals right now. They’re making an emphasis of physical play, toughness, rebounding, all those things that we’ve talked about. The reason you hear them talking about it is that it’s imperative that you make it a point of emphasis where there’s no mistake as to what you’re trying to get out of your team.
KL: Is that something that’s contagious on a team? I don’t know that one tough player is enough, but if you have two or three or four really tough players, do the other guys kind of have to fall in line from peer pressure?
JD: When you have multiple tough guys on your team, that’s the start of it. I think, though, not only do you have to have multiple tough guys on your team, but it has to be a point of emphasis that that’s who we’re going to be on a daily basis. I can tell you from playing that we made a point of emphasis when we were players that this is who we’re going to be when we step on the floor. I think that the Lakers and Boston are both doing a good job of establishing that we’re going to play a tough, physical brand of basketball that gives us the best chance of becoming the champion. You can have tough guys, but it has to be a mind-set and an approach.
KL: How much of your off-season acquisitions, be it free agency or the draft, how much is that toughness gene going to be important in the players you select?
JD: I think it’s going to be really important for us to continue to acquire guys like that, guys … I don’t want to emphasize just tough. I want to emphasize guys who are about winning. Because every tough guy isn’t about winning. Sometimes it’s just about being tough. We’ve seen guys like that before. Kind of an unfocused toughness, if you will.
KL: You also want talented guys. I don’t think anyone would necessarily say Pau Gasol is a tough guy, but everyone would want him on their team.
JD: But I tell you what, Pau Gasol, I give him a lot of credit. He’s learned how to grind and play tough and I think that’s the environment, I think that’s the focus, I think it’s a point of emphasis, I think it’s all of those things that has him playing so well.