Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dumars, Ever The Chessmaster, Uses The NBA As His Board And Pawns

There's great irony in Joe Dumars's career as a basketball executive.

As a player, we called him Joe D -- probably first coined by broadcaster George Blaha -- and the "D" was mainly for defense. Dumars made it into the Hall of Fame not because he could score (even though he could), but because he established a reputation -- earned, unlike some others -- as being a top-notch defender. It was said that, in his prime, Dumars was the only man who could come close to checking Michael Jordan, one-on-one.

So here's the irony: Dumars, a perennial candidate for Executive of the Year, is so much on the offense that he's practically forcing the rest of the league to play defense to his aspirations.

The question is, is there any GM out there who can check Joe Dumars, one-on-one? Or will they have to gang up on him? You can't stop Dumars -- you can only hope to contain him!

Dumars, to hear those in the know report it, looks at the rest of the NBA as a giant chess board, with him controlling even the opposition's pieces.

Monday's trade for guard Allen Iverson got people talking, for sure -- but most of the talk was what the trade meant in terms of Dumars's grand plan. And, even scarier for his colleagues, Dumars's grand plan seems incapable of being foiled, even if everyone can see it coming.

Kind of like Air Jordan in the middle of a flying path to the basket. And even Joe D couldn't stop that.

Here's the crux of Dumars's scheme: if the Iverson trade doesn't work out the way Dumars hopes, then no harm, no foul. AI becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Dumars has a trove of cash at his disposal, once Iverson's and Rasheed Wallace's (potentially) contracts come off the Pistons books. Then, Dumars can perhaps trade for Toronto big man Chris Bosh, who becomes unrestricted in the summer of 2010 -- if the Raptors don't feel they can keep him in their camp one year hence. Or, Dumars can simply wait until 2010 and go for other folks, namely LeBron James, and Bosh again. Or others. The class of '10 is filled with some of the league's most marquee players.

Sources say it's James and Bosh, though, that Dumars is zeroing in on. No, that wasn't a typo -- I didn't mean to type OR there. James AND Bosh. You heard me.


Dumars (top) is zeroing in on the NBA's King, it's said

With a boatload of cash, a winning culture, top drawer talent, depth, and the respected Dumars himself, few other teams will be more attractive than the Pistons to big names available.

James, it's thought, wants to play in New York. It's also said that there are days he'd consider playing in Timbuktu or Beirut -- because at least those cities aren't Cleveland.

Dumars absolutely has a path to LeBron James in 2010 -- and there might not be a damn thing anyone else can do about it. Such is how Dumars has set himself up.

Of course, a cynic might say that had Dumars drafted Bosh back in 2003 like he could have, then a lot of this maneuvering would have been unnecessary. But it's not like the Pistons were destroyed by the misstep involving Darko Milicic. They won the championship in Darko's rookie year, and went back to the Finals the following season. The Pistons have been Final Four participants every season since then.

You can tell that Dumars truly enjoys all this GM stuff. For the competitive, sometimes it's hard to find anything off the court that scratches that itch. But Dumars clearly has found it: the wheeling and dealing, the front office strategy, the "wins" you get when you negotiate a good contract or make an astute trade, or sign a "diamond in the rough" free agent. There are losses, too, and disappointments. Also part of high stakes competition.

I think that Dumars's role as team president and GM is merely an extension of his role as a player. He played in a lot of big time games as a Piston. He tasted championship champagne. He experienced deep disappointment. He was surrounded by high profile, sometimes high-maintenance guys. And he competed against the best players in the world.

So it doesn't matter whether it's shorts and sneakers, or blazer and khakis. Doesn't matter whether it's on the hardwood or in an office. Doesn't matter whether he's guarding Jordan or trying to put the moves on a rival GM. It's all about competition and outwitting and winning the whole enchilada.

It's all there right now for Dumars; the NBA landscape is shaping up just the way he would like it to. It's not even relevant whether his intentions are close to the vest or plainly evident. A true chessmaster will put you in checkmate in due time.

And Dumars definitely has his sights set on the King from Cleveland.

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