Despite Pistons owner Tom Gores' willingness to spend, Detroit is not a destination for high-end NBA free agents. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./Detroit News)
Auburn Hills -- Pistons owner Tom Gores stood in a crowded corridor, flanked by reporters when he uttered the words heard around the world.
"We are prepared to spend," he said. "And we are prepared to do what we have to do to get this franchise moving forward. And yes, you can tell the world, we're ready to spend."
The fans heard his words. The agents heard his words and Gores walked out of the building a popular man with Piston fans.
The problem is the phrase, "spend it and they shall come," does not apply to the Pistons. Gores can make all the proclamations he wants, the problem is the Pistons are not a free-agent destination. High-end NBA players would rather flock to Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Chicago. They might come here if the funding dries up elsewhere or if other teams do not want them. So the Pistons are left with your old, tired and leftover.
Coach Lawrence Frank disagreed before being fired by the team last week. He said players weigh factors such as money, lifestyle, playing time and area.
"This franchise has money to spend," Frank said. "This is an attractive place for people."
That hasn't been the case. I've compiled a list of the best free agents ever to come to Detroit. It is strictly based on what these players contributed to the team once they got here. Players who played here, left and returned do not count.
It's led by guard Chauncey Billups followed by forwards Antonio McDyess and Terry Mills. Two of the All-Stars, believe it or not, were on the Pistons roster last season. They are Will Bynum and Charlie Villanueva.
A number of you question why Villanueva is on that list. OK. Who do you replace him with? Is it Kwame Brown, who was a bust here? How about Flip Murray or Darvin Ham? Do you want to go with flop Nazr Mohammed?
Many of the free agents the Pistons signed were old and had Detroit ties. The list includes Chris Webber (Michigan and Detroit Country Day), Ham (Saginaw) and Derrick Coleman (Detroit Northern). Mark Macon (Saginaw) signed after playing with the CBA Florida Beach Dogs.
There were other higher-profile names such as Brian Williams, who later became Bison Dele, and Joe Smith. Piston fans begged for Smith to come to Detroit after Minnesota released him following the 2000 season in a tampering scandal. He played 2000-01 with the Pistons and averaged 12.3 points and 7.1 rebounds. He re-signed with Minnesota the following season.
Dele signed a five-year, $36.5 million contract with the Pistons after bouncing around with four teams. He was drafted 10th in 1991 by Orlando but became available to the Pistons because he was eccentric and teams were tired of his awkward behavior. The Pistons bit and he lasted just two seasons here, averaging 14.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. He did not get along with Pistons management and walked away from the final three years of his deal.
His claim to fame with the Pistons was going on an oatmeal diet and coming into camp out of shape.
Current Pistons said they liked the building and they even brought up fan support. That one is laughable considering Pistons games look like WNBA games most nights. The fan base does not care about the team and the Pistons barely cause a ripple in the community.
Top players not coming
The Pistons have more than $20 million in cap space so someone is going to take that money. But I guarantee the next LeBron James or Kobe Bryant is not walking through that door.
They could end up with a guy like Atlanta forward Josh Smith, a guy who can really play when he wants but coasts way too much. He wants a max contract but seldom gives maximum effort. If there is competition, these type players are usually out of the Pistons reach.
Villanueva came to the Pistons with Ben Gordon in the biggest free-agent coup in Pistons history. I am being sarcastic and serious at the same time. Gordon lasted less than three seasons after losing his shooting touch. He never became that knock-down dead-eye shooter that made him so attractive with the Bulls. And guess what? He almost made my all-star list because there is not much left. Villanueva has been mostly a bench player and sat for long stretches.
The Pistons went after Villanueva and Gordon in 2009 because they knew they could not be major players the following season when big names like Chris Bosh and James left their teams to go to Miami.
Current Pistons players disagree that this is not a free-agent destination and they said they would encourage others to sign here.
"You have management that is serious about winning," Villanueva said, when I asked why free agents should want to come here. "The future is bright here."
Bynum became a free agent after the Pistons' final game in Brooklyn, but he said he wants to return.
"I would encourage others to come here," he said. "You have an owner who is serious about winning. You have great fans also. The future is bright here."
Gores has money to burn. But will anybody of worth take it?