Isiah Thomas rode into town back in 1981 and took what was once a last-place Detroit Pistons team to the NBA Championship in 1989 and 1990, with the help of shooting guard Joe Dumars. That was then, this is now, however. Dumars has recently been ousted as Pistons president and the team hasn’t had a winning season since 2009. The situation has Detroit fans asking if Isiah Thomas will return to rescue the Detroit Pistons again.
Dumas had a checkered career as Pistons leader, crafting teams that took the franchise to the NBA championship in 2004. Hard times have fallen on the team since then, Detroit hasn’t make the playoffs in five years, and the Detroit Pistons announced Monday morning that Dumars’ contract will not be renewed when it expires this year. He will stay on with the team as an adviser.
Thomas’ path hasn’t been a smooth one, either. After retiring from the Pistons in 1994, he joined the Toronto Raptors as a part-owner and executive vice present. He left abruptly in 1998, however, after disagreeing with the new management team over the team’s direction. That same year he bought the Continental Basketball Association for a reported $10 million. When the league declared bankruptcy and folded in 2001, many of the team managers blamed the failure on Thomas’ mismanagement.
Thomas was hired by the New York Knicks in 2003 as president of basketball operations. He was appointed as coach of the team in 2006, but his relationship with the Knicks ended in April of 2008, when he failed to turn the team around.
Piston fans have long admired Thomas and his efforts at leading their team to two NBA championships. Joe Dumars’ exit has Detroit fans wondering if Isiah Thomas will return to rescue the Pistons again. League sources believe that Thomas is the top contender for the Pistons presidency now that Dumars is gone. One source told the New York Daily News that Pistons owner Tom Gore is “definitely” considering Thomas.
Ironically, Dumars tenure as a team president was more successful than that of the man many think may replace him. Dumars was named NBA executive of the year in 2003. Successful trades that brought Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace to Detroit and the signing of free-agent Chauncey Billips resulted in the team that won the NBA championship in 2004. But equally dramatic failures in drafting led to Dumars’ downfall. The 2003 selection of Darko Milicic over the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh was overlooked when the Pistons won the NBA title the following year. However, Anthony, Wade and Bosh went on to starring roles in the NBA. Milicic gained a reputation as “the human victory cigar.” Reminiscent of Red Aurbach’s famous cigar which came out only when the game was decided in his team’s favor, Milicic came off the bench only when the Pistons enjoyed a comfortable lead. He played just 159 minutes in his rookie year.
Other bad draft day decisions and the trade of Chauncey Billips for Allen Iverson worked to turn Detroit fans against Dumars. Add a drought of playoff appearances in the past few years and the result has Pistons fans wondering if Isiah Thomas will ride to the rescue of the Detroit Pistons once again.
Commentary by B. David Warner