August 7, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Finally, this is a Pistons team that should be fun to watch

Pistons introduce Brandon Jennings
Pistons introduce Brandon Jennings: Jennings, a free agent, signed a three-year, $24 million deal. He previously played for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Auburn Hills — Joe Dumars is gambling again, and frankly, it’s good to see. The Pistons have missed it, the fans have missed it. Pretty much everyone missed it, as the team slid into irrelevance.

This is one way to climb out. If you gamble, you gamble on talent, and you gamble with a plan that worked before. You trade for Brandon Jennings and sign Josh Smith, two gifted and enigmatic players. You monitor the market for the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, who could be available in trade by December.

In one eventful offseason, the Pistons have advanced from irrelevant to thoroughly intriguing. A playoff berth must follow, and with this roster, I think it will. Maybe Dumars is being pushed by his own job uncertainty, or simply adjusting. But he’s aggressively doing what he did before, seeking potential in unpolished pieces.

It’s been a productive, proactive stretch for Dumars, who introduced new point guard Jennings Tuesday. He re-made his roster without surrendering either of his pillars, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. If he’d landed Rondo, I’d call it superb. (For the record, Dumars said his big moves are done unless something “came out of the clear blue.”)

For now, I’ll call the offseason very good, and very necessary. Dumars is betting on immediate impact, and it sure looks like playoffs-or-bust.

“At some point, you gotta go all in,” Dumars said. “Sometimes you have to push the envelope as hard as you can, and this summer, with our cap space, was a big push. Sometimes you can’t take the baby steps and you gotta take the big steps.”

In other words, he couldn’t wait to see if Brandon Knight, 21, can grasp the point guard role, so he traded him for Jennings, 23, who shows dazzling flashes and wild inconsistencies. Dumars also doled out $54 million for the talented Smith, who carries questions about attitude and effort. And he brought back two original hard-edge guys, Chauncey Billups as a player and Rasheed Wallace as a (noisy) assistant.

Dumars has done this before with great success, with second-chance guys like Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace. That doesn’t mean it’ll work again, because that group was uniquely motivated. But after four brutal seasons, with The Palace echoing apathy and the owner wanting more, these are the types of moves Dumars had to make. His contract is up after this season, and with Tom Gores saying little publicly, patience no longer is a wise strategy.

Back to edgy

Smith and Jennings may be prone to bouts of shot-happy selfishness, but you have to take risks when you run an NBA franchise not situated in Miami, Los Angeles or New York. That means drafting and developing talent, and plucking it when possible.

“I can’t say that’s been the plan, but I will say this — Detroit has never been afraid to have guys that bring a little edge, who play with a chip on their shoulders,” Dumars said. “We’re not afraid to go down that road. It’s a formula we’re very comfortable with.”

After the Pistons’ 2004 championship and long playoff runs, amid the instability of an ownership change, Dumars turned safe and soft. He grabbed the easiest free agents available — Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva — and worked through a succession of innocuous coaches — Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank.

Uncertainty spawns caution. Desperation demands aggressiveness.

You could argue new coach Maurice Cheeks was a safe pick, too, but at least he has experience and a point guard’s mentality. Dumars wasn’t cautious in the draft, taking Kentavious Caldwell-Pope instead of Trey Burke. That wasn’t a gamble readily endorsed, but the other ones are. Eyeing his new imposing frontline of Smith, Drummond and Monroe, Jennings even joked he’d be happy to bring “Lob City to Detroit.”

New Pistons know playoffs

Knight is a solid young player but the Pistons were starting to see the ceiling on his point-guard potential. Jennings has shown different ceilings, scoring 55 points in the seventh game of his pro career, but also heaving too many bad shots (39.4 field-goal percentage).

Dumars got Jennings ($24 million, three years) and Smith for less than they reportedly wanted, and if that adds to their edge, nothing wrong with that. Smith led the Hawks in scoring and reached the playoffs six times in nine years. Jennings led the Bucks in scoring and reached the playoffs twice in four seasons. He was more eager to shoot than distribute and had occasional disputes, but said he’s ready to change.

“Of course I have a chip on my shoulder,” Jennings said. “But this year, I think you’re really gonna see a whole different player, just with all the talent around me. I can actually be myself, and be who I was five years ago.”

Five years ago, Jennings spurned college basketball and played in Italy before getting drafted by Milwaukee No. 10 overall. He was impetuous and impatient, and in some ways, still is. He’s also quick and fearless, with more advanced point-guard vision than Knight.

The Pistons are far from a polished product, but they’re a legitimate playoff contender now. After worthwhile gambles, they’re actually starting to look like a team worth seeing again.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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New Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings plans to become a great friend, and facilitator, to center Andre Drummond. / Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News