Free agent Smith making smooth transition to Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — When free agency began, most of the attention in the NBA went to the big names such as Kevin Durant and Al Horford.

Pistons president Stan Van Gundy didn’t aim as high.

He started with his biggest need: backup point guard.

Ish Smith was the first target the Pistons reached out to acquire, and they brought in a piece they believe is going to change the outlook of their bench this season.

While changing teams can be difficult — Smith started for the 76ers last season — his transition was made easier by knowing Philadelphia natives Marcus Morris and Darrun Hilliard were with Detroit and having competed in college against starting point guard Reggie Jackson.

“Everybody’s made the transition easy,” Smith said. “I’ve been the one (who is quiet and reserved) and they say do what you do because we need that. That helps me to move in that transition a little easier.”

Smith is 28, so he’s one of the oldest players on the roster, which doesn’t have a player over the age of 30. As a point guard and his maturity, he’ll take on some of that leadership mantle, but he’ll try to balance that with waiting to get the lay of the land before he tries to rock the boat.

Pistons' Van Gundy putting puzzle pieces together

Some of that orientation was made easier during the team’s week-long trip to Malibu, Calif., this summer. It wasn’t all about basketball; rather, it was some bonding time with owner Tom Gores and some time to get to know the rest of the roster.

“For me, being one of the new guys, Malibu was one of the biggest things,” Smith said. “Coming to a team that’s building and growing — they had a great year last year — I just wanted to get some camaraderie and some team-building things.

“It’s so much better than I thought. When I was in Philly, we played them four times and you see (the chemistry) from the outside looking in. When you get here and see the hard work everybody puts in and the dedication to win.”

With a three-year contract, Smith is looking to grow some roots in Detroit — his 10th team in his career — after bouncing around and trying to find a consistent role.

One of the more positive changes will be going from a last-place team to one that’s made the playoffs and looking for more.

“We have depth and the coach to push us,” Smith said. “Sometimes Coach can get on us and take it the wrong way, but at the end of the day, he’s doing what’s best for the team. Hopefully, we pick that up really quick so we can hit the floor running when that first game comes.”

While Smith and Jackson already have built the foundation of a relationship, working together — potentially even playing at the same time — is an exciting possibility.

“I told Reggie, ‘You’re 1A and I try to come in and be 1B. I don’t want to have any drop-offs,’ ” Smith said. “When he’s playing at a high level, that second unit has to take a lead from up 10 to up 15.

“Hopefully I can use being a starter and playing starters’ minutes and take that to a backup role.”

If the first practices at camp are any indication, Smith already has made an impression on Van Gundy.

In initial scrimmages, Smith has impressed, but that was the reason Van Gundy had Smith high on his list of free agents.

“He’s pushing, he’s in the paint and has a great energy — I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Van Gundy said. “He’s going to be really good.

“More than any of that is Ish’s personality and the fact that he’s not a ‘me’ guy and has great concern over everybody else. Everybody gravitates to those guys who are clearly more interested in the team and their teammates than they are in themselves.”