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 III of their conversation.
KEITH LANGLOIS: I asked at your postseason press conference what you could do in your position to influence toughness. The coaches are in charge of making it a daily point of emphasis, but what you could do. And you said communication, making sure everyone was on the same page. And when I asked if that process had started, you said – immediately. Can you give us a sense of what type of response this communication has gotten.
JOE DUMARS: First of all, it’s been made crystal clear that if you’re not one of those guys that is exhibiting that, that it would be in your interest to start doing so immediately. So I think, first and foremost, that’s the point that’s been made. And if you don’t think that you can exhibit that, if you don’t think you can play that brand of basketball, there’s no sin in raising your hand and letting me know that I can’t play that kind of basketball. Because one way or another, it’s going to come to an end anyway. If you don’t want to go through the aggravation of an organization that’s saying that you have to play a tough brand of basketball, a winning brand of basketball – if you don’t want to go through that aggravation – it’s no sin to have your agent call me and let me know that my guy can’t play like that.
KL: Have you gotten any of those calls?
JD: No, everybody has signed up and said they are ready to show that they are ready to play that brand of ball. And I said, well, one thing about this is that it will be on display for all to see. That’s where things are right now.
KL: John Kuester made frequent mention last year of how much he valued the leadership of the three holdovers from 2004 when he was an assistant here – Rip, Tayshaun and Ben Wallace. How important is it that some of the younger players that you consider building blocks for the future here start to assume some of that leadership?
JD: I think it’s always important for a team that’s evolving to have some younger guys step into some of those roles. I think it’s imperative. I think when you look out there and you see Andrew Bynum contributing like he did – a kid drafted out of high school, stepping up and contributing. I think when you see a Rondo step in with three established star players like he has, it’s just indicative of what you have to have from your young guys. It’s important that they step in and assume some of that role. You’re not asking them – I don’t think the Lakers are asking Bynum or Boston is asking Rondo – to assume everything, but they have to assume some of it, and that’s a very good point that you make.
KL: Do you see this as something of a crossroads year for Rodney Stuckey?
JD: I wouldn’t use the word crossroads, but I will say this. He and I, we’ve had some conversations about expanding his role on this team, about assuming more responsibility, more leadership, for the success of us going forward. I think it’s important for him. We’ve had a couple of those conversations, so he understands exactly, going into year four. I think he’s been good, but good is not always good enough. He’s been good, but sometimes you have to be more than good and that’s what we’re looking for from him.
KL: Has he struggled sometimes, when you look at the caliber of players he’s played with, and just the reputations they have – when they were winning championships, he was in high school or just going into college – that he’s maybe been deferential at times to those players?
JD: I think most young guys that come into an established, championship team, are going to defer some, but eventually you have to grow past that. And I think that’s where he is right now. I think he’s just now growing past that.
KL: Charlie Villanueva said at the end of the season that he was going to spend most of his summer here, working with Arnie on his conditioning and his body. What’s been your communication with Charlie since the season ended and what are your hopes for him for next season?
JD: Charlie and Ben Wallace have been in the gym more than anybody else on our team since the season ended. Charlie started coming in about the middle of May and so did Ben. So I’ve seen those guys in the gym more than anybody else. So Charlie has been a man of his word about the time and effort he was going to put in here. And stay here during the summer. Charlie is a New York guy, spends time in LA, but not this summer. He’s been a Detroit guy, stayed in Detroit and made a commitment that he’s going to be in the gym and proud of what I’ve seen so far this last month or so. He and Ben Wallace, I look out my window on a daily basis and I just about see those guys every day. It’s a great first step.
KL: Can we read anything into the fact that Ben Wallace has been here that often?
JD: I don’t think I’ve been coy about liking to have Ben back. I definitely would like to have Ben back. I think the things we were looking for out of Ben last year, he not only did those things but he exceeded some of those things of what he did on the court. I was very happy with Ben last year. I like Ben’s presence, I like his work ethic, I like what he stands for. Having that type of presence on your team is a very good thing. It’s a very good thing to have that kind of work ethic, presence, a guy committed to winning, a guy committed to hard work. He’s a guy that’s going to preach the gospel of defense and how defense wins for you. To have that influence on your team, we’d like to continue forward with him for sure.
KL: Is he working out so much because he wants to see how his body responds or has he made a decision already?
JD: I think Ben is simply a workaholic. I think that’s all he really knows to do is to work hard. I don’t think he has an ulterior motive for why he comes in and works so hard, I think that’s always who he’s been. He’s a guy who wakes up every day and doesn’t mind putting a day of hard work in. He does that on a daily basis.
KL: Ben Gordon said recently that he suspected for much of the season that he would need this surgery to clean out bone spurs. I’m wondering if you ever sat down with him or was it considered to have that procedure done during the season?
JD: Not during the season, no. Those kinds of things, I sit down and Arnie Kander comes into my office and I just kind of follow his lead on that. I’m not a medical guy so I wouldn’t know if a guy should or shouldn’t. Whatever they tell me that a guy needs from a medical standpoint, I’m all for it. When they came to me after the season and said he needs to have this procedure done, I’m like, OK, let’s do whatever we’ve got to do.
KL: People who had seen Ben Gordon for his first four or five years in the league knew they weren’t seeing that guy last year. How much of that do you think was just the physical limitations he was dealing with?
JD: Listening to him after the season telling me about how painful it was and how it limited him from pushing off and exploding, just listening to him talk about it, it had to have slowed him down a lot. He said, some days it was just really a lot of pain to go out there and do what he did. He wasn’t a guy who griped or complained. He tried to work his way through it. Looking back on it now, I respect him even more for what he went through and what he tried to do last season.
KL: We just talked about Charlie and Ben, who were last year’s free-agent signings. I still get this question a lot. How do you respond to people who say you should have saved your money for this summer with the number of free agents on the market?
JD: Even though we struggled this past year, I just haven’t gotten to the point where I’m comfortable saying we’re willing to throw away a season to wait a year or two and hope that free agency brings a big bonanza for us. You’ve got to try to put a team together to try to win every year. That’s what I was trying to do last year, sign guys who I thought could step on the floor and help us win and continue going forward. When you have the money you had last year, I don’t know if that means you don’t sign anybody and wait … I don’t know how that works, where you wait. You have the cap space, you have about eight guys under contract, so maybe somebody can explain how that works, how you wait with only eight guys under contract.