Free agent Josh Smith was officially introduced by the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday after signing his four-year, $54 million contract with the club.
The former Atlanta Hawks forward was said to be seeking a max-level deal as free agency approached, but the market did not yield quite as much riches for the nine-year veteran who is still just 27 years old.
“This was my only option,” Smith said per USA Today. “I didn’t have any other options.”
But he said the Pistons are a playoff team, not someday … right now.
“We’re definitely a playoff team and we’re definitely a contender,” Smith said.
Smith isn’t the only new veteran face in Motown, as the team brought back 2004 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Chauncey Billups on a two-year, $5 million deal.
“I never wanted to leave here,” Billups said in January 2011. “Everyone knows that. I wanted to retire here.”
Billups, who will be 37 in September, brings a different sort of point guard mentality to the Pistons, who have young Brandon Knight slated to play the 1 next season. He won’t be counted on to play huge minutes, but rather will be a rotation guy who will also be asked to mentor Knight and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Perhaps the most important new addition for the Pistons, though, is Italian sharp-shooter Luigi Datome, who agreed to a two-year, $3.5 million deal on Tuesday. Detroit desperately lacked shooting last year and Datome brings that to the Pistons.
The 25-year-old averaged 16 points and 5.5 rebounds last season while winning Italian Serie A MVP honors for Virtus Roma. He shot 42 percent from 3-point range and was a 93.6 percent free-throw shooter. On a team that will have Smith (51.7 percent from the stripe) and Andre Drummond (37.1 percent free-throw shooter), it will be good for the Pistons to have someone who can actually make a free throw.
The 6’9” Datome is considered one of the best 3-point shooters in Europe and was drawing interest from several teams, notably the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress said Datome is a good athlete and a great shooter and could be a solid member of any rotation, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Here’s some film of Datome from the Italian League:
One player who won’t be around for the Pistons is Kim English. The second-round pick out of Missouri in 2012 struggled in the Orlando Summer League and he was released on Thursday, per the Detroit News. In four games in Orlando, English was 8-for-34 from the floor and just 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
But are the Pistons a playoff team?
It’s been four seasons since they have been, when they sneaked into the Eastern Conference postseason mix in 2008-09 with a 39-43 record. Since then, the Pistons went just 57-107 under coach John Kuester and 54-94 under Lawrence Frank, with each getting two seasons.
New coach Maurice Cheeks has already added Rasheed Wallace to his coaching staff to work with young big men Drummond and Greg Monroe and now has added Billups as an unofficial player-coach to teach the young guards how to succeed in the NBA.
Smith brings the Pistons much more athleticism, even if he will put up shots that will occasionally—OK, regularly—make Detroit fans shake their heads in exasperation.
But the Pistons are moving in the right direction and with the Boston Celtics beginning a rebuild, the Milwaukee Bucks taking a step back, the Philadelphia 76ers blowing the whole thing up and the Toronto Raptors continuing to be, in fact, the Toronto Raptors, Detroit could make a move for one of the lower-tier playoff spots in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14.
However, there’s a lot of “if” that goes with those expectations.
Smith will have to find a way to fit in at small forward after playing the 4 most of his career in Atlanta. He has the athleticism to do it, just not the outside shot a team might prefer to have from a wing player. Monroe and Drummond will have to figure out how to co-exist in the post in a way that allows each young big to play to their massive potential.
Knight and Rodney Stuckey, assuming Stuckey stays around, will have to learn how to be more distributor and less create-for-yourself at the point, but the presence of Billups may go a long way toward achieving that goal.
The Pistons did retain free agent Will Bynum, who has been a spark off the Detroit bench, and they are adding Datome as a shooter. Assuming Jonas Jerebko can re-emerge as a contributor after spending last season exiled to the end of the bench by Frank and Kyle Singler can contribute as a member of the second unit after being miscast as a starting 3 last year, the pieces are there.
Detroit won’t be better than the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls. But a sixth seed isn’t out of the question for this group, which would be a nice way for the Cheeks era to start.