The last time Joe Dumars made an in-season trade for a high-profile veteran on an expiring contract he intended to pursue in free agency, it was 2004. The player was Rasheed Wallace and the best sales tool Joe D had at his disposal was the NBA championship run on which the Goin’ to Work Pistons embarked.
He has no such aphrodisiac by which to woo Jose Calderon.
“Obviously, it’s a different, different team – a younger team that’s trying to build vs. a team that’s vying for a championship, so that in itself makes the experience completely and totally different,” Dumars told me last week. “But a guy can still make a decision based on the environment, based on the culture, based on the surroundings, the way an organization goes about its business.
“We can still do those things great. A guy can still look around and say, ‘I like the direction. I like the thinking. I like how they do business. I can see myself here going forward because I trust that they’re going to turn this thing around.’ You can still sell, but clearly it’s a lot easier when you’re sitting in the NBA Finals as opposed to finishing a tough, tough season.”
Dumars made it clear after completing the late-January trade that sent Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye to Memphis and brought Calderon over from Toronto that he wasn’t acquired to create even more cap room than the Pistons already anticipated having. The Pistons, Dumars said, would make every effort to retain Calderon for the long term.
Nothing he’s seen in Calderon’s 23 games has caused him to waver.
“It’s been very good to have a guy like Jose, who’s a veteran, true point guard, leader, on your team,” he said. “A lot of the stuff he brings is exactly an area that we needed to get better in, so that’s why I really enjoying watching him. The results are not where we want them to be, but in the middle of the season for where your team is right now, it was never the expectation that Jose would come in and just turn everything around for us. What he would do is give us a snap shot of what it’s like to have a true point guard out there.”
Dumars sees Calderon’s leadership qualities ooze out of him in a variety of situations, on the court – during the course of a play or during dead-ball situations, which Calderon consistently uses to communicate with teammates and coaches – and off.
“He’s gotten more comfortable,” he said. “That’s his natural personality. It almost has to be your natural personality if you’re going to play a leadership role and the point guard position is a leadership position. He’s a giver, not a taker. He’s a guy that naturally embraces other people. I think he has a goodness about him that comes out. You can see the goodness in him when you’re around him. I’m a big fan of his.”
Dumars has had conversations with Calderon, but they’re not hard-sell talks. In fact, they’re really not even soft-sell talks. They’re just conversations about the Pistons, life in Detroit, the NBA and basketball.
“What you talk about is all the other stuff,” Dumars said. “Guys want to make sure they’re signing up with the right organization and with people who are about doing things the right way. Those are the things that you focus on now.”
When July 1 rolls around and it’s time to make their pitch, it’s not difficult to imagine the bullet points Dumars will hammer to Calderon. He has two of the league’s top young big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the latter who at 19 looks like a defensive anchor. Calderon and Brandon Knight have shown signs of flourishing as a backcourt combination.
Kyle Singler has solidified his spot as an important role player, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench. The Pistons will have another lottery pick on board by then and will no doubt make clear to Calderon what their blueprint is for the ample cap room they’ll have to add veteran contributors.
It’s conceivable Calderon, should he return to the Pistons, would come back as the only player 30 or over on the roster. Corey Maggette, Will Bynum and Jason Maxiell are all free agents with uncertain prospects to return. The natural leadership qualities Dumars sees in Calderon will be even more valuable and, the Pistons would likely believe, Calderon himself would be intrigued by a role that carries such responsibility.
It can’t hurt, Dumars knows, if Drummond’s back injury heals in time to allow him to squeeze in at least a few games by season’s end. Calderon’s first game in a Pistons uniform came on Feb. 4 at New York, the day after Drummond initially injured himself in a loss to the Lakers.
“That would be great if those two guys got a chance to connect on the court – literally and figuratively,” Dumars said. “That would be great. It really would be.”