As he sat down for his new conference to introduce Brandon Jennings, Joe Dumars muttered, “Oh my god.”
I don’t know what Dumars was referring to at that moment, but I cant think of a better way to describe the experiment he’s conducting with the Pistons.
Jennings at point guard with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in a supersized front court.
Oh my god.
“We could bring the Lob City to Detroit this year,” Jennings said.
Or they could be a mish-mash of talent, too undeveloped and/or too stubborn to fit together. Or anything between.
Either way, Dumars succeeded in significantly upgrading Detroit’s talent level this summer, a necessary step as he enters the final year of his contract while serving as general manager for an owner whose impatience for making the playoffs is showing. When the Clippers dubbed themselves Lob City, they had championship dreams. The Pistons’ goals are much more modest, merely reaching the postseason after missing it the last four seasons.
That’s a sad state for the Pistons, a franchise with three championships in the last 25 years. The goal in Detroit has never been a title ever year, but challenging to make the playoffs – the way Dumars phrased it today – sounds relatively pathetic.
But after four pathetic seasons – really five, counting a 39-43 year that resulted in an especially lopsided first-round sweep – this is where the Pistons are. It’s too soon to aim higher, but with the talent the Pistons now have, it’s at least possible to see this road leading to, with the absolute right breaks, reasonable discussions of championships.
Jennings, who cited the Pistons’ multiple titles, must understand this, though he brushed off an attempt to tie himself to the Pistons’ previous greatness. Asked about the Bad Boys shirt he wore to the Drew League, Jennings said, “I just liked the shirt. That’s all.”
Dumars, the shooting guard on those 1989 and 1990 championship teams, patted Jennings on the back – a playful threat. The threat to Dumars’ job is a little more real, and he’s hoping for a pat on the back from Pistons owner Tom Gores after the season.
For that to happen, the Pistons probably have to make the playoffs. For that to happen, Jennings probably must refine his game, something most gunners aren’t inclined to do.
“You’re going to see a whole different player,” Jennings said. “…I definitely have to change my game.”
“The things that I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here, take all the bad shots,” Jennings said. “Now, I can just actually be myself and be who I was five years ago when I was in high school, playing AAU basketball.”
As he spoke about the need to become a different player, Jennings said, “Of course, I have that chip on my shoulder.”
Again, championship aspirations remain very distant in Detroit. But there’s still a strong connection there with both the Bad Boys – the NBA’s ultimate castoff team – and 2004 championship team, which featured Chauncey Billups (bounced between the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, Magic and Timberwolves before finding a home in Detroit), Richard Hamilton (judged by Michael Jordan to lack the proper winning attitude), Tayshaun Prince (fell to No. 23 in the draft despite a standout Kentucky career), Rasheed Wallace (kicked out of Portland for being a bad seed) and Ben Wallace (undrafted and cut by the Celtics).
Did Dumars target players like Smith and Jennings, because they’re viewed as having an edge about themselves?
“We’re not afraid to go down that road,” Dumars said. “That doesn’t dissuade us at all from going up to guys like that. As a matter of fact, we like guys like that.”
Jennings gives the Pistons a better point guard than Brandon Knight, and that’s the most important reason he’s on the team. But Jennings also gives Dumars a chance to save his job with his type type of player. The Pistons have aligned themselves on a course that has worked for them in the past.
Nationally, the Pistons’ season is about really talented players trying to make it work together. Locally, the season is about Dumars’ attempt to keep his job.
Jennings makes both storylines a lot more intriguing.