Josh Smith averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists last season for the Hawks, who he's helped take to the playoffs the past six seasons. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Showing up at someone’s door at the first opportunity lets you know how badly you’re wanted, and at the very least, Josh Smith’s signing with the Detroit Pistons indicates the franchise hasn’t lost the cachet through the league as some have suggested.
That, and offering $50-plus million tends to make Detroit a more attractive destination, as the Pistons were able to sell Smith on a vision to contend sooner rather than later.
Next to Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, Smith was the best free agent on the market and the Pistons snapped him up, even if the price was a little steeper than some would’ve preferred.
While Smith doesn’t take the Pistons to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, his mere presence alone makes them the most athletic frontcourt in the conference, which counts for more than just style points.
Style points, that Pistons fans wanted in the draft when they clamored for Michigan’s Trey Burke, they could have in the high-flying Smith, one of the league’s best finishers above the rim.
Make no mistake, they’ll need more than just the stat sheet-filling forward, as they shouldn’t be done with free agency or perhaps more importantly, the trade market.
More to the point
Brandon Knight is the only point guard on the roster and the other one who plays the position, Rodney Stuckey, is being shopped by management, as evidenced by Pistons President Joe Dumars offering Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva for Toronto’s Rudy Gay.
Whether it’s Will Bynum returning, who would think to be salivating at the thought of throwing back-breaking lobs to both Smith and Andre Drummond, or someone else the Pistons have their eyes on, it’s a position that has the proverbial gas light on.
They can’t go too much farther along without one, be it a starting-caliber point man or someone to back up Knight. And although Smith arrives with a hefty price tag, the Pistons still have around $8 million or so to spend, more than enough for another significant signing in free agency if they choose.
Shooting, which is one aspect Smith doesn’t provide, is still a significant need for a team that ranked in the bottom third in three-point attempts and makes last year.
Assuming Smith plays small forward — or at least starts there — floor spacing will be at a premium, with the other unstated assumption Smith doesn’t do much wandering behind the tempting 3-point line.
His 201 three-point attempts (61 makes, 30.3 percent) last year were a career-high, a stark contrast to his 2010 season, when he took a sabbatical from bad shots (seven attempts) and became more effective.
Smith led the league in defensive win shares in 2012, a fancy metric used to determine how many wins a given player contributes to his team in a season, and finished just outside the top 10 this season.
One would think that came up in the Pistons’ five-hour pitch to Smith a week ago, along with what the expectations were to be if the two sides came to an agreement.
What Smith brings to the Pistons’ locker room is the stated and unstated expectations of making the playoffs next season.
While we can all take shots at the Atlanta Hawks’ lack of playoff success, Smith hasn’t missed the postseason in the last six years and his 52 playoff games are far more than any other Piston under contract combined.
Stuckey’s 21 playoff games, accumulated in his first two years, come closest. Knight, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Jonas Jerebko and Villanueva all have seen their seasons end without having the NBA Playoffs logo on their home floor.
And despite some prodding by those who are looking to next year’s draft as the end-all be-all, wanting the Pistons to forgo competing this season to tank along with some other notable teams — the Boston Celtics, cough, cough — bringing in a player of Smith’s caliber shows your fan base about your aim to win now, as the empty seats at The Palace spoke volumes during this painful rebuilding process.
At worst, Smith’s acquisition makes the Pistons a more exciting team, more dynamic and less apt to be overwhelmed by some of the athletic teams in the league.
At best, Smith makes the Pistons a more versatile team in terms of what they can do with personnel, if they want to trade a key component in a package to acquire another elite player.
Showing up at Smith’s door on July 1 let Smith know how serious they were about him, and the money they eventually offered a player who hasn’t yet been an All-Star comes with some big-time expectations.
Expectations to lead by example is first, as Smith is no longer burdened by the pressure of playing in his native Atlanta, no more taking the lion’s share of blame when things go haywire.
And on the Pistons’ side, there’s the expectations of being markedly better this season, of not being done this summer with a long-awaited makeover.
The franchise raised expectations when they showed up at Smith’s door. Who’s porch are they headed to now?