AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Kobe Bryant’s injury problems gave Jodie Meeks an opportunity.
Meeks started 70 games last season, averaged a career-high 15.7 points and shot 40 percent from 3-point range for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Detroit Pistons are hoping for more of the same after signing the 6-foot-4 guard to a $19.5 million, three-year deal. Although it was an awful season for the Lakers, Meeks took advantage of the extra playing time – and extra shots – while Bryant was limited to six games because of Achilles tendon and knee injuries.
”Unfortunate for Kobe, but fortunate for me – I got to expand my game,” Meeks said. ”Got a chance to run some point guard and really show people what I could do.”
The Pistons probably won’t need him at the point much, but they were looking for help on the wing after last season’s team floundered despite an impressive front line.
Only one Detroit player in 2013-14 – Kyle Singler – shot over 34 percent from 3-point range while playing major minutes. The Pistons couldn’t take advantage of big men Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith because of the team’s inability to produce outside the paint.
”From a skill standpoint on the perimeter, shooting was our primary focus, to the point that there really wasn’t anybody we were interested in that wasn’t a very good range shooter,” said Stan Van Gundy, Detroit’s coach and team president. ”We really wanted to change that.”
The Pistons also have agreed to deals with free agents Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday night because the team had not announced the deals.
Those players are expected to be introduced Tuesday. Monday was all about Meeks, who was the team’s first big addition after Joe Dumars stepped down as team president this year and was replaced by Van Gundy.
”We’re really excited,” Van Gundy said. ”Obviously, our first signing of the offseason – as a new management group, our first signing period.”
The 26-year-old Meeks also has played for Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but he set career highs last season in minutes and field-goal attempts – and the higher volume of shots didn’t cause him to become less efficient offensively. He shot a career-best 46 percent from the field.
The Pistons should now have plenty of options on the perimeter, with Meeks, Butler and Augustin joining holdovers Singler, Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
”You can never have too many shooters,” Meeks said.
The biggest issue still facing the Pistons is probably the status of Monroe, who is a restricted free agent.
”The Monroe situation has taken center stage, remains center stage and will be center stage until it’s resolved,” Van Gundy said. ”It’s really not anything going on there right now. There’s not really a whole lot more that can go on. We’ll just see where the situation takes us.”
NOTES: Van Gundy was asked about the fact that LeBron James will be in Detroit’s division again now that he’s returning to Cleveland. ”I’d prefer the Western Conference. I’d actually prefer more Europe – have him sign in a European league, I thought would have been good,” Van Gundy said. ”But look, they’re right down the road, they’re close by. Hopefully it turns into a great rivalry.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.