Dumars: Pistons must rebuild softened roster

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Joe Dumars knows what went wrong with the Detroit Pistons last season.

Now he just has to find a way to fix it.

Detroit finished 27-55 — its worst record since 1994 — and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

"Any time you don't have the season you expect, there is going to be disappointment," Dumars said Tuesday in his annual postseason meeting with the media. "This is the first time in a decade that we've had a season like this, and we learned a lot from the experience."

Dumars won two championships as a player on teams that were built around defense and hard work, then built the 2004 title winners in the same mold, but didn't see that intensity in this year.

"We had some slippage in terms of the toughness and grit that we've had for the last 10 years," Dumars said. "We drifted some from what we were when we were successful."

Dumars has several ways to change that, starting with the No. 7 pick that Detroit received in last week's lottery.

"The key with that pick, and with any player we add to this team, is that we have to find guys that can fit into the type of team we want," he said. "We know there are several players out there with the basketball skills to help us at No. 7, but until we get them in here, work them out and talk to them, we don't know which of them are going to be a good fit for us."

Dumars made no secret of the team's priority with the lottery pick.

"There's no question that we are looking to add a young big player," he said. "We're not going to pick someone just because they are young and big, but we need a player like that who works with our team."

That doesn't mean he's locked into keeping the pick, though.

"In this job, you always have to keep your options open," he said. "If someone comes to me with a great offer, I'm going to strongly consider it, and I may go to other teams with what I think is a great offer. You do whatever you can to make your team better."

After the draft, Dumars will face a free-agent market that will be waiting for the NBA's biggest decision in decades — where LeBron James decides to play. Despite that, Dumars doesn't think he can afford to wait for all the dominoes to fall before he makes his moves.

"If there's someone out there that gets caught up in that, and we have to wait to go after them, we'll wait," he said. "But you still have to go out there and build your team. There are a lot of moves that we can make that won't depend on that, and we'll be making them. Trust me, the GMs are talking the same way they always do at this time of the year. Things are going to keep happening, no matter what one person does."

Dumars is dealing with a different situation after the death of longtime owner Bill Davidson and the team now up for sale, but doesn't think it will affect his ability to make moves.

"I've always been able to sign players, and I still am, but I've always had to discuss it with someone else first," he said. "In the past, that was always Mr. D, and now it is a different group of people, but we'll make that work. That's the key — if things change with ownership, I just have to make them work."

Regardless of that situation at the top, the Pistons won't be players for the big-ticket free agents. They used up their cap space last year on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, both of whom had disappointing debuts with the Pistons.

"I wish we could have gotten more from Ben and Charlie, but they were both fighting injuries and adjusting to a new situation," he said. "I really think both of them will be better this year."

Dumars was also willing to give head coach John Kuester a second chance despite the poor start to his coaching career.

"I thought Kue did a pretty good job, given all of the circumstances," he said. "I haven't brought this up, because I don't want to hide behind it as an excuse, but let's be honest — this team was decimated by injuries, especially early in the season. I think if Kue gets a healthy team for 82 games, he will do a very good job with it."