A visibly emotional Joe Dumars said last week that changes were coming in Detroit after another painful loss in the Eastern Conference finals. Despite the Pistons' regular-season success, Dumars was no longer happy with the direction his franchise was heading.
Dumars isn't a man of many words. When he speaks, people listen. His team got the message and so did everyone else in the league -- he was putting the core of his team on the market.
He wants to rebuild his team while still competing for championships. In particular,
Dumars is looking to receive impact players while making the Pistons younger.
For the past week, his phone has been ringing off the hook. Most teams covet what the Pistons have -- seasoned veterans who put their team over personal agendas and know how to win.
Dumars knows that, too, and he's driving a hard bargain.
"I will say this. We're not talking to teams about their second- and third-best player," Dumars said on Tuesday. "My point has been, 'Look, if I'm going to put these guys on the market, then don't waste your time talking about guys you don't like.' That's where it is now. Nothing is imminent. But I've talked to at least 10 teams."
He's sitting in a pretty good position. The Pistons have a number of assets that they can put together in trades.
Chauncey Billups is an elite point guard whose contract, while long, is pretty reasonable at $10 million per year. Richard Hamilton is a 20 ppg scorer who has two years and $23 million left on his deal. Tayshaun Prince is a rangy defender who can guard multiple positions on the floor. He has three years, $30 million left on his deal. Rasheed Wallace may be an enigma, but he's in the last year of his contract and could still be valuable for a playoff team.
The only player off limits is rookie Rodney Stuckey, who's being groomed to take over for Billups or Hamilton at guard.
So exactly what kind of deal might Dumars be able to pull off?
I spoke with a few executives around the league to get an idea of what Detroit's opportunities are. Here are a few scenarios that could make sense for both Dumars and his trading partners:
This deal has already been rumored for a while. Nothing is imminent, in part because Anthony and Billups are base-year-compensation players. They can't be traded for each other until after July 1, when they lose that designation.
This move isn't as farfetched as it seems. The Nuggets are struggling and need some balance on their team. They're desperate for a point guard to run the team, especially one who can shoot. And they probably can't move Allen Iverson, Kenyon Martin or Nene, which appears to limit their two tradable assets to Marcus Camby and Anthony.
Anthony would give the Pistons a go-to scorer. He has struggled to keep his nose clean in the league, but there's no denying his talent. Playing with a more disciplined, structured team like the Pistons could be just what Anthony needs. Detroit would miss Billups' leadership, but Stuckey should be able to come in and hold down the fort.
But are the Nuggets getting enough for Carmelo? It's debatable. A backcourt of Billups and Iverson would be formidable. Prince is a glue guy who would add some defense. And Billups could help set an example in the locker room. But unless the Nuggets were to get great years from Martin and Nene, would they have enough to win in the West?
Another factor also speaks against the Nuggets pulling the trigger. Billups turns 32 in September. Anthony just turned 24. History says that, in the long run, the Pistons would win this trade.
But if the Nuggets decide they want to cut ties with Anthony and still compete for a championship, this may be the best option they're going to get.
As a contender without the right pieces to get over the top, the Jazz are in a similar boat as the Pistons. Could this swap help both teams?
Utah would get two veteran wing players to shore up its two weakest positions on the floor. The Jazz would lose an All-Star in Boozer, but the move would allow them to shift Andrei Kirilenko back to the 4, where he thrived before Boozer joined the team -- and they have Paul Millsap to back him up. Also, Boozer has an early termination option after the upcoming season. I think the Jazz are concerned that he'll bolt Utah for a bigger market.
Detroit would be giving up two key wings but getting back a low-post scorer and rebounder in Boozer, something the team has needed the past few years. Stuckey would step in as the starting 2 guard. Brewer would give the Pistons a long defender who can play both the 2 and 3, and Almond showed a lot of promise in the D-League last year. The Jazz would still need to find someone to play the 3, but they have trade bait like Jason Maxiell or Antonio McDyess to make that happen.
This is a trade that would shake up the core of both teams while allowing them to compete for an NBA championship next year.
3. Dallas' Josh Howard for Tayshaun Prince or Richard Hamilton
Howard is a talented player, but he appeared to wear out his welcome in Dallas this spring with revelations, during the playoffs, that he smokes pot in the summer.
With the Mavericks desperately trying to compete for a title next season as their roster ages, adding a playoff veteran like Prince or Hamilton makes a lot of sense. Prince is a better fit in terms of position, but the Mavs could really use another scorer like Hamilton as well.
For the Pistons? They win either way. Howard can both defend and put up numbers offensively. If they were to swap Hamilton for Howard, the Pistons could find plenty of deals for Prince to bring them back something else they needed.
Larry Brown has a history of stepping into messy teams and immediately posting impressive results. But he'll struggle to do that in Charlotte unless he gets a few proven winners to put alongside some of the Bobcats' younger players.
This deal would reunite Brown with two of his favorite players from his run with the Pistons. Put Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson and a re-signed Emeka Okafor on the floor with Prince and Rasheed Wallace and you're looking at a playoff team in the East. The deal also would give the Bobcats some future cap flexibility should they want to make more additions down the road.
The Pistons would lose two core players but add an excellent scorer and defender in Wallace. At No. 9, a number of interesting big men could be available, including Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Darrell Arthur, Marreese Speights and Kosta Koufos. As for Morrison and May? They both look like draft busts right now but their contracts expire at the end of the season.
This is a deal that the Nets, especially, would be motivated to do. But it would have to wait until free agents could sign their deals in mid-July.
The Nets are trying to find ways to clear cap space for the summer of 2010 to be in the running for LeBron James. This deal would help them achieve that goal. While Prince and Jefferson both have four more years on their contracts, Prince makes roughly $4 million less a year than Jefferson. In the meantime, Wallace and Prince would keep the team competitive in the East.
The Pistons would get another big-time scorer in Jefferson. And Krstic looked like a potential All-Star big man before he tore his ACL about 18 months ago. He is finally getting back to 100 percent, and the Pistons could probably get him at a reasonable number to shore up their front line. With the 10th pick in the draft, the team would have to take whomever the Nets selected. But considering that all signs point to New Jersey going big here, it would likely be another big body who could help.
6. Houston's Tracy McGrady and No. 25 pick for Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace
This is the least favorable option for the Pistons, but worth noting.
The Rockets flirted with moving McGrady at the trade deadline, but they couldn't find a deal that worked for them. Would the Pistons be able to help them out?
McGrady, like Anthony, is a go-to scorer, and at 29 years old, he still has some gas left in the tank. He averaged 27 ppg in the Rockets' last playoff series with Utah.
The key advantage for the Pistons? They would get some important, long-term cap relief down the road -- enough to make a run at a max free agent.
But there's a significant downside here. McGrady has never led a team deep into the playoffs. He also has a history of back problems and has missed significant portions of several seasons.
This deal would be a no-brainer for the Rockets, who would seriously upgrade their guard position and, with Wallace, would put the perfect complement next to Yao Ming.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.