- Adrian Wojnarowski
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The visionary for this Detroit Pistons championship renaissance stays in the shadows, satisfied with letting everyone else take the bows for a run that has never sufficiently saluted his genius. Joe Dumars runs a franchise upstairs, the way that he played downstairs. So unassuming, so good, sometimes it's easy to mistake his greatness for good fortune.
The Pistons could stand losing Larry Brown, but never Dumars. Once the glue of a Pistons championship glory, always.
"It's incredible what Joe has done in Detroit," Nets president Rod Thorn says. "And he's always going to do it in a low-key manner, never wanting to draw any attention to himself."
Dumars had always been the silent sidekick to Isiah Thomas, an All-Star guard remembered most fondly for maybe the greatest NBA honor that didn't come with a trophy and a luxury car: The defender whom Michael Jordan most hated to have covering him.
As Brown returns to Auburn Hills as the Knicks' coach Friday night, there begins a fresh round of myth-making with Brown, the falsehood that he was the most indispensable mind of the Pistons' championship. If Dumars had the slightest ego, the Pistons' run to Game 7 of the NBA Finals could've been long before imploded with the self-destructive, self-absorbed games that Brown played with his future. Dumars stayed out of the fray, eyes on the ball when his coach's had wandered to Cleveland and New York.
Yes, Brown did his finest work in those two seasons, but this was Joe Dumars' creation, as much as any title team ever belonged to a general manager. As much as any GM has ever done, Dumars has created a franchise in his own selfless, team-first way. They're a reflection of him, and that's hard to do in this climate. Almost impossible, really.
These Pistons ought to be the model for every general manager without that No. 1 pick to draft a franchise star. They weren't built to win simply for Brown's short attention span, but the long run. Richard Hamilton. Chauncey Billups. Tayshaun Prince. All young enough, and all signed for years to come. And Ben Wallace isn't leaving there.
Along the way, revisionist history has him taking a team that couldn't get out of the Eastern Conference playoffs and winning a title.
Well, it never would've happened unless Dumars had so deftly maneuvered his roster to make that deadline trade for Rasheed Wallace in 2004.
"Wallace put them over the top," Thorn said.
Everyone knows the story about how Dumars so shrewdly constructed these Pistons. He picked Jordan's pocket one last time, getting Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse. When Grant Hill wanted to leave Detroit for Orlando, the sign-and-trade with the Magic brought back Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins. Prince had been of those four-year college players who scare general managers because they fear that there must be something wrong if they hadn't come out of school early. Maybe Darko Milicic won't work out, but Dumars had the eye to draft 6-foot-11 Mehmet Okur, now a star for Utah, whom Dumars simply couldn't afford to keep under the cap.
This Pistons' machinery has moved on without Brown. Truth be told, they've lost little with him leaving, staying stingy on defense but gaining a far more accommodating offensive system under Flip Saunders.
Just because his players love the freedom of his offense doesn't mean it's better, but so far it's impossible to argue with the results. For a relentlessly professional locker room, the mere absence of the Brown soap opera is perhaps the most welcome reprieve. With him gone, it's no longer all about the coach's genius, but back to what it should be: The Pistons' players as stars in a player's league.
The measure of Saunders' system will come in the playoffs, when they start chasing the Eastern Conference championship. Right now, they're the best team in the East -- with Indiana and Miami a distant second. If it's Detroit-San Antonio in the spring again, everyone will just be reminded again: Larry Brown was great, but Joe Dumars is the MVP of this championship chase. He built the Pistons for the long run, well beyond Travelin' Larry's staying power.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj10@aol.com. His book, "The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty," can be purchased on Amazon.com at this link: The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley And Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty.