Just when Pistons fans were beginning to panic, Joe Dumars made his move.
Saturday afternoon, Dumars reached a contract agreement with his number-one free-agent target, Josh Smith. The contract is for a reported four years and $56 million, although the deal can not be made official until July 11.
The move came as a surprise, as most NBA observers felt that the Rockets were trying to work out a sign-and-trade deal with Atlanta in order to add Smith to a roster already containing Dwight Howard and James Harden.
Smith has been a power forward for most of his nine-year NBA career, and is one of the game’s best shot blockers. His career average of 2.1 blocks is fourth among active players and 20th in NBA history. He’ll now be teamed up with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in a defensive front that will feature three strong rebounders, two scoring threats — he and Monroe — and a pair of shot blockers in he and Drummond.
The difference is that the 27-year-old will be moving to small forward — a position where Joe Dumars knew he badly needed an upgrade. At 6’9″, Smith will present matchup problems for many wings on both ends of the floor, although he will have to prove that his highly rated defensive skills can translate to guarding quicker players on the wing.
Dumars also wanted to upgrade Detroit’s transition game, and Smith will certainly help there. He’s extremely talented at getting to the rim on the break, and is one of the NBA’s best dunkers.
There’s one place where Smith falls short of Dumars’ wish list, and it is a big one. The Pistons desperately need 3-point shooting, which is one of the reason they preferred Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Trey Burke in last week’s draft. Smith brings a lot to the table, but he’s a horrendous 3-point shooter. He was bad enough that, in 2009-2010, Hawks coach Mike Woodson got him to stop taking them — he only tried seven all season, and missed them all.
That didn’t remain the case under Larry Drew, however, and Smith took 201 threes last season, hitting at just 30.3 percent. He also hit just 51.7 percent of his free throws last year, but that is likely to have been a fluke, since he came into the season at 67 percent for his career.
At $14 million per year, Smith takes up a large chunk of Detroit’s cap space, but they still need more pieces. Jose Calderon signing with Dallas means the Pistons don’t have a pure point guard on the roster, with Brandon Knight looking more comfortable at shooting guard. The free-agent choices are limited, especially after Golden State’s Jarrett Jack reached an agreement with Cleveland on Saturday afternoon.
Jeff Teague of the Hawks is a restricted free agent, so the Pistons would either have to overpay him or risk Atlanta matching their offer. Boston All-Star Rajon Rondo may be available in a trade as the Celtics enter a rebuilding phase, but they would almost certainly demand Monroe and Knight as part of the deal.
Rondo and Smith have been friends since high school, and have talked about wanting to play together in the NBA, but both have had troubles with coaches in the past. Would teaming them up make their behavior better or worse?
Rondo is also coming off ACL surgery, and while he’s expected to be ready for training camp, the Pistons would be taking a chance by picking him up before he was able to return to the court.
Either way, Dumars has made the big splash that the organization promised the fans. It’s not a guaranteed success, and there are still holes to flll, but it calms the fears of the Pistons striking out this summer and ending up having to cobble together another below-par roster for another terrible season.