Patience not a virtue for Dumars, Pistons

“Patience is a virtue.”

Unless you’re talking about the world of professional sports. In that realm, patience is an option, and one that usually doesn’t result in long term employment. Joe Dumars and the Detroit Pistons are a prime example of this.

With the firing of Maurice Cheeks last month, Joe has now worked with nine different coaches in his 14 years as the Pistons president of basketball operations.

History can only carry you for so long and Dumars has (had) a great history with the Pistons, which explains why he’s still employed by the organization. Two championships as a player and one as general manager will buy you some time, though it appears his is almost up.

The Pistons have missed the playoffs for four consecutive years and are well on their way to missing them for a fifth straight year. Detroit went from a cost-efficient, team-oriented championship squad that appeared in six straight Eastern Conference Finals (2002-08), to a team full of bloated contracts and position issues.

Dumars had patience with his core of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace (who left in 2006). The team stunned the 2004 Lakers to win the NBA Championship, and made it back to the finals in 2005, losing in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs. Dumars had patience for the next three years, keeping the core together as they slowly faded further from contention each season. Detroit fans (the few that are left) often reminisce about those teams. What they don’t ever talk about is how unfulfilling it was to watch the team get beat in three straight conference finals.

I hate saying it because I loved those teams, but Dumars was too patient with that group of players and the Pistons are paying for it now. He kept the core together for too long and when he did finally decide to make a move, the timing was bad. After losing to the Celtics in the conference finals in 2008 it appeared Dumars patience had run out.

“Make no mistake, everybody is in play right now. There are no sacred cows here. You lose that sacred cow status when you lose three straight years,” Dumars stated in the summer of 2008.

Winning it all in 2004 set the expectations high, losing four straight years following that set the wheels in motion for the current disarray.

Chauncey Billups was traded two games into the 2008-09 campaign for Allen Iverson. Most won’t admit it now, but it was exciting, at least for a little bit. The Iverson experiment backfired, the Pistons hobbled into the playoffs as an eight seed before getting swept by the Cavaliers. No fan, myself included, is happy with the Iverson/Billups trade now but something had to change that season. Even though the 2008-09 season was a disaster, Detroit had money to spend after Iverson’s contract cleared.

The following offseason is where expectations and patience had an ugly collision.

The Pistons still had playoff aspirations, and there were hangovers from their championship roster in Prince and Hamilton. This was still a team that seemed competitive and not many organizations or fan bases have the patience to watch a rebuilding phase, especially on the heels of eight straight playoff appearances.

Dumars didn’t have the patience either. He overpaid for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in the summer of 2009. Had the Pistons waited one year longer they would have had the cap space to make a run at Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer. As it stands, they’re stuck with Villanueva, who makes over $8 million a year to ride the pine. Gordon, has been released by the Bobcats, and the Pistons lost a first round draft pick when they traded him.

The Pistons finally had cap space to work with last summer. WIth a playoff or bust mindset, they went after the players they thought would help them win now, instead of waiting to sign a player that fit their position needs. Dumars inked Josh Smith to a huge deal and swung a trade for Brandon Jennings. Now they’re stuck with a power forward attempting to play small forward, who can’t shoot, and a point guard who looks to shoot first. While Smith has performed about as expected on offense, he has struggled guarding small forwards.

The Pistons have lost 17 of their last 24 games and are currently 15 games below .500.

It is believed that owner Tom Gores, not Dumars, made the decision to fire Cheeks 50 games into his first year at the helm. Where does that leave Dumars?

Joe’s contract is up at the end of the year and it’s starting to look like Gores is running out of patience with him.