Auburn Hills — There’s no one formula for success in the NBA, but when the Pistons have been the most successful, they have had a certain identity.
Think of the Bad Boys of 1989-90 or the team that beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 and lost in Game 7 to the San Antonio Spurs in 2005.
Joe Dumars, the president of basketball operations, spoke about that identity Tuesday morning as he looked back on the disappointment of this past season in which the Pistons went 27-55 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
“Anytime that you don’t have the season that you expect to have, anytime you go through a season like this, it’s going to be disappointing,” Dumars said. “We were as disappointed as anyone. The first time, basically, this decade that we had this type of season. Not only was it tough, but it was also a learning experience.
“You don’t just learn from winning. You learn from losing as well. What we’ve learned is we’re more committed now than ever before to maintain our core values and not get away from that and not have the type of slippage that you saw this year. I think we drifted from who we were. We didn’t play with the same grit and toughness that we’ve played with over the past 10 years. That’s the whole focus for us right now is to get back to the grit and toughness that’s identified us for the past decade.”
It’s that identity that the Pistons must recapture to return to glory, although they can’t be the same team that they were in 2004. The league has evolved and the Pistons have to evolve with it.
After all, the league changed the rules after the Pistons won, making it harder for defenders to be as physical.
With the exception of Rasheed Wallace, for a while it looked like Dumars was assembling a team in his own image — tough, hard-working, more quiet than outspoken.
The current edition of the Pistons didn’t live up to that image.
“It’s one thing to lose,” Dumars said. “It’s another thing to lose and not do it the way that you’re built on, and that was just as tough for me to watch as anything is how we lost some games. Teams just being mentally and physically tougher than you, that just doesn’t work for the Detroit Pistons.”
That leads to the NBA Draft, which takes place June 24. The Pistons have the seventh overall pick. It’s no secret that they’re looking for a front-court player, but he has to either be a Pistons-type of player or have the ability to become one.
“I think it all goes back to what we’ve been talking about earlier, to fit a certain profile,” Dumars said. “Like I said, this is the first year in a decade that we’ve had a tough year like this. I think a big part of it was getting away from that model.
“I’ve said to the players, I’ve said to the coaches and my staff, first and foremost, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we stay with the model that has been successful for us, just in terms of the type of players that we bring here. We are committed to making sure that we don’t deviate from what a Detroit Piston is.”
Dumars made sure to emphasize that the players in the 2004 group didn’t necessarily have all of those qualities right away. But they had that in them and developed it as a group, personified by Ben Wallace, who went from being an undrafted free agent to a four-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Wallace is probably still the ideal when it comes to those qualities of toughness and grittiness that Dumars wants, but the ideal Piston for 2010-11 is going to have to be able to contribute offensively.
“I like guys who can break you down and get to the basket, get to the foul line, because physical play is not allowed as much as it used to be,” Dumars said. “It makes sense to have guys who can force the action as opposed to just standing out there and launch threes.”
It would be nice if the Pistons could grab Kentucky’s John Wall, who is just that sort of player, or Ohio State’s Evan Turner, but those players will be gone before the Pistons’ turn, barring a trade.
It’s going to be a different and challenging summer for the Pistons, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding the sale of the team.
Dumars has been at this job for 10 years, which is hard to believe. He’s made his share of mistakes (Darko Milicic, Rodney White, Mateen Cleaves), but he’s also had his successes.
Now it remains to be seen whether he can succeed again, starting with this offseason.