Josh Smith, here dunking during an open practice, is one of the new players who will be counted on to help turn around the franchise. (Clarence Tabb, Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — There was no buzz. No hope for something big.
No one cared.
That was the case last season for the Pistons, who often played in front a bunch of empty seats at The Palace.
The announced attendance was typically 14,000. But everyone could see there was a lot less.
Pistons officials, however, hope the moves they made this offseason — namely bringing in Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith — will infuse new life into a slumbering franchise.
And from the outset, it seems like they have.
■ The Pistons are the league’s most improved team, according to an NBA general managers poll.
■ LeBron James called the Pistons up-and-coming.
■ Season ticket sales are up 23.8 percent, and group sales have doubled.
“I am happy to put the heartbeat back into (Detroit),” Smith said as he prepares for Wednesday’s opener against the Wizards. “I know we are going to win some games and people are going to come out and support us.”
Making a change
Smith remembers when The Palace was a pit for opponents — back when the Pistons advanced to six Eastern Conference finals and two NBA Finals, winning in 2004.
But he also remembers how quiet it got at The Palace when the Pistons became a shell of their former selves.
The Pistons have won 38 percent of their games (150-244) the past five seasons — all of which ended in losing records — and failed to make the playoffs the last four. They alienated a fan base with bad basketball and decisions, and an awkward transition from the Bill Davidson ownership group to Tom Gores.
There was also the public relations nightmare when players refused to play for coach John Kuester, who eventually was fired.
Still, the last two seasons, the Pistons ranked 28th out of 30 teams in attendance, averaging 14,783 and 14,413 fans, respectively.
So, armed with $25 million, a lottery pick and the financial means to hire a coach with experience, the Pistons forged ahead.
Pistons president Joe Dumars signed Smith, traded for Jennings and hired Maurice Cheeks.
“Sometimes you have to push the envelope, and this summer was a big push,” Dumars said. “Sometimes you can’t take baby steps. Sometimes you have to take the big step and that is what this summer represented.”
The good thing is Detroit is a passionate sports town.
The bad news is there are options — Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons, Michigan and Michigan State.
“What I learned is you have to win in this city,” Dumars said. People have choices. That is what makes it a hell of a sports town. I don’t know if you are in competition with them but you are in competition with having to win and be at the forefront of peoples’ minds.”
Now, the Pistons are hoping to no longer be an afterthought.
And with a renewed commitment, there’s a good chance they can make their game the one of choice.