July 11, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Josh Smith won't let Pistons be passive anymore

Josh Smith is one of the most versatile players in the NBA and the man the Pistons wanted in free agency. (Getty Images)

Auburn Hills Nice guys dont always finish last.

But the Pistons have done enough of that lately for Joe Dumars, the nicest of the Bad Boys, to know this rebuilding project of his at The Palace needed a few more rough edges.

That sounds a bit counter intuitive, I realize, given some of the insolence and insubordination this franchise has endured in recent years. But as quiet as The Palace has grown amid the sparsely-attended games and successive 50-loss seasons, so has the roster, in a way.

Out with the old, and in with the new? Of course. It couldnt and didnt happen soon enough, honestly. But the Pistons youth movement also brought with it a passivity that was at times painful to watch the past couple of years, and not just for the fans.

Josh Smith, the newest free-agent addition, is a lot of things, and not all of them good. But passive isnt one of them, and that, Dumars insisted as he officially introduced the talented, temperamental forward to Detroit on Wednesday, is part of his plan, too.

When we sign him, were accepting everything, said Dumars, who targeted Smith at the start of free agency and eventually landed him with a four-year, $54 million contract the richest deal of his 14-year tenure as president. Hes an edgy guy, and hes going to have his moments. But I felt like we needed that. We have some nice guys.

Which isnt necessarily a bad thing. Nor is this to say Smith is a bad guy not at all. But he has had his moments, as Dumars acknowledged, clashing with coaches and teammates on occasion in Atlanta, where he spent his first nine NBA seasons. Its just that this league isnt about earning merit badges.

Boy Scout, he is not, Dumars said, smiling. I think thats exactly what this team needs right now.

So long as it comes in manageable doses, that is. And in the kind of versatile, athletic package the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Smith presents to a team thats still recovering from Dumars last, failed foray into big-money free agency.

Versatile talent

Smith was the only player besides LeBron James to average at least 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists last season. Hes also one of the leagues better defenders, confident enough to brag about checking Kobe Bryant in one breath and in the next say of the Pistons, I think were gonna be a scary team defensively.

And while he might be an awkward fit offensively for this team get ready to cringe when he starts jacking up too many jump shots as a small forward hes exactly what Pistons owner Tom Gores said he needed, too.

He wanted a big-time talent in here, Dumars said of his boss. So this is big for all of us, for a lot of reasons.

Not the least of which is the owners anxious desire to see his team in the playoffs next spring after a four-year hiatus, the last two on his dime.

Dumars says he has coveted Smith for a long time. And after a five-hour meeting at Gores office in Los Angeles, Smith says he was sold on the Pistons. He might not have had a ton of free-agent options. But Dumars was concerned Houston might orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal for Smith if the Rockets failed to land Dwight Howard. Dallas also was in the hunt, though the Mavericks ended up with Jose Calderon, the point guard Dumars wouldve liked to re-sign.

The Pistons still need a veteran point guard Brandon Knight isnt one yet, obviously if theyre going to make the playoffs this year and save some peoples jobs in the process.

Namely Dumars, who says hes far from finished with his offseason to-do list. He still has some cap room left, even after adding Italian League MVP Luigi Datome and re-signing backup point guard Will Bynum. And he still has the expiring contracts of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey to dangle in trade talks.

Another blockbuster deal isnt out of the question, either, though the one the Pistons really need to make dealing Monroe and multiple draft picks for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo likely wouldnt happen until this winter at the earliest, and probably wont happen at all.

Still, as Dumars said, Once you get a talent like (Smith), it becomes important as an organization to keep yourself open to do whatever it takes to get the next one. Its gonna take more than one talent like this to get us back to where weve been in the past.

Imparting knowledge

In the meantime, Pistons fans will have to take some solace in the fact their team is at least getting back to making a little noise again, both free agency and, presumably, on the court. If nothing else, Smith at least makes the Pistons a more entertaining team to watch.

And for good measure, theyve even brought back Rasheed Wallace as an assistant.

They might have to install a seat belt for his second-row assistants chair, but Dumars says hes eager to see Wallace a terrific one-on-one post defender as a player, and a guy who understood the game better than he ever got credit for work with the Pistons big men, particularly Andre Drummond.

But I think more than that, theyll come in every day and therell be somebody that just never lets up on them, Dumars said. I mean, he doesnt ever come in and just be quiet. Every day hes pushing, challenging. ...

Sometimes as an organization, you have to just put that in the mix. Where we are right now, its imperative that we do that. We have to put Josh Smith in the mix, and Rasheed in his role in the mix. Its time for that right now. Maybe two years ago it wasnt.

But if not now, maybe never. And thats putting it nicely.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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