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 don’t 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 couldn’t — and didn’t — 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 isn’t 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, we’re 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. “He’s an edgy guy, and he’s going to have his moments. But I felt like we needed that. We have some nice guys.”
Which isn’t 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. It’s just that this league isn’t about earning merit badges.
“Boy Scout, he is not,” Dumars said, smiling. “I think that’s 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 that’s still recovering from Dumars’ last, failed foray into big-money free agency.
Smith was the only player besides LeBron James to average at least 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists last season. He’s also one of the league’s better defenders, confident enough to brag about checking Kobe Bryant in one breath and in the next say of the Pistons, “I think we’re 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 — he’s 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 owner’s 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 would’ve liked to re-sign.
The Pistons still need a veteran point guard — Brandon Knight isn’t one yet, obviously — if they’re going to make the playoffs this year and save some people’s jobs in the process.
Namely Dumars, who says he’s 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 isn’t 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 wouldn’t happen until this winter at the earliest, and probably won’t 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. It’s gonna take more than one talent like this to get us back to where we’ve been in the past.”
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, they’ve even brought back Rasheed Wallace as an assistant.
They might have to install a seat belt for his second-row assistant’s chair, but Dumars says he’s 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, they’ll come in every day and there’ll be somebody that just never lets up on them,” Dumars said. “I mean, he doesn’t ever come in and just be quiet. Every day he’s pushing, challenging. ...
“Sometimes as an organization, you have to just put that in the mix. Where we are right now, it’s imperative that we do that. We have to put Josh Smith in the mix, and Rasheed in his role in the mix. It’s time for that right now. Maybe two years ago it wasn’t.”
But if not now, maybe never. And that’s putting it nicely.