Josh Smith was considered by most to be the second-best free agent on the market after Dwight Howard. Smith, a versatile, but enigmatic forward, inked a four-year, $54 million deal to complete a long, athletic front court. And, man, did Smith sound like he loved Detroit from the start.
"I didn't have any other options. This is the team I wanted to play for, so everything else I wasn't worried about," said Smith.
Brandon Jennings was acquired in a trade for Brandon Knight, who played admirably in two seasons with the Pistons. Jennings got three years, $24 million from Detroit to try and get the Pistons to the postseason.
"Things that I can bring to the table - just a lot of energy, of course I want to win, I've helped the Bucks get to the playoffs twice already," Jennings noted. "So, I just want to bring that winning mentality back into Detroit again."
Rasheed Wallace, who helped the Pistons win a world title in 2004, retired after an injury-plagued season with the New York Knicks. Cheeks brought him on board to be an assistant coach.
And the principal catalyst to Detroit's championship run from almost 10 years ago, Chauncey Billups, signed a very team-friendly deal to try and teach these young guys how to win ball games.
"I just feel like if I can come back here and try to help lead some of these young guys, lead the team back to respectability, I think that's a big, big deal," said Billups.
This new group will play alongside Greg Monroe, a talented big man, and Andre Drummond, a talented even bigger man. The Pistons drafted Kentavious Caldwell- Pope, considered by some to be the best two guard in the draft.
There is plenty of talent in Detroit and improvement is expected. It might take time to fully integrate the new personnel and a good start will be needed.
Almost any start will be better than last season's 0-8 beginning.
2012-13 Results: 29-53, 4th in Central; Missed playoffs.
ADDITIONS: HC Mo Cheeks, F Josh Smith, G Brandon Jennings, G Chauncey Billups, G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G Peyton Siva, F Luigi Datome
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Brandon Jennings SG- Chauncey Billups SF- Josh Smith PF- Greg Monroe C- Andre Drummond
KEY RESERVES: G Rodney Stuckey, G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G Will Bynum, F Kyle Singler, F Charlie Villanueva, C Josh Harrellson, F Jonas Jerebko, F Luigi Datome
FRONTCOURT: This group is incredibly big and long.
Smith carries career averages of 15.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.1 bpg and 1.3 spg. He is incredibly talented, but can grate on a coach. His 28 percent three-point shooting average is pathetic, but it doesn't stop him from jacking up long-range bombs. Smith attempted a career-best 2.6 three-point attempts a game last season. If Cheeks and Wallace can contain Smith to some degree, he'll be a huge asset. Smith is a plus-defender when he wants to be and a great help defender.
Monroe has averaged 15.7 ppg and 9.6 rpg over the past two seasons. He's played in and started every game but one during that time frame. The Pistons have been tough to watch over the last two seasons, but Monroe hasn't. He's a potential All Star and is a free agent at the end of the season, so a monster year is very possible.
Drummond looked dynamic at points in his rookie campaign. He got derailed by injuries, but posted respectable numbers of 7.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 1.6 bpg. Drummond made the All-Rookie second team and he exceeded expectations in season one. Can he duplicate those stats, or improve on them in season two? His development is crucial to Detroit's success.
BACKCOURT: Over four years, Jennings has scored at a really impressive rate. He's averaged 17.0 ppg and flirted with 20 a night two seasons ago. Jennings isn't a great shooter (39 percent and 35 percent from three-point range), and he's not a great distributor (5.7 apg over his career). Jennings won't need to score at the rate he did in Milwaukee and maybe Cheeks, a borderline Hall of Fame point guard, can make him a better floor leader.
Billups will probably start alongside Jennings, at least in the beginning. He admitted when he signed with the Pistons that he didn't enjoy playing two guard while with the Los Angeles Clippers, so who knows how that will work. One can't imagine he takes the starting point position from Jennings. As much as Billups doesn't want to be a nostalgia trip, the Pistons don't want him impeding Caldwell-Pope's development. With Detroit being a playoff contender, it will need Billups in the lineup and at 37 with some injury issues in recent years, that may not be likely.
BENCH: The Pistons have great guard play in their second unit with Stuckey, Bynum and Caldwell-Pope.
Up front, Detroit is a little thin.
Singler started 74 games as a rookie last season and averaged a respectable 8.8 ppg. He shot 35 percent from three-point range.
Datome could be an interesting piece. The Italian played well in the European Championships and, at 25, is ready for the NBA. Competing for Europe in the EuroBasket during the summer should help him prepare for the grind of the NBA.
Villanueva is a free agent after the season. He's been a disappointment in Detroit, but he can shoot and will see minutes due to the lack of frontline depth.
COACHING: Cheeks has been very ordinary as a head coach. He's never got past the first round of the playoffs in three appearances. His most notable memory as a coach was probably helping a 13-year-old girl with the National Anthem when she forgot the words.
But Cheeks spent time under Scott Brooks with the Thunder the last few seasons. The Thunder made it to the NBA Finals and the expectations are lower than when Cheeks helmed the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers.
His hiring of Wallace was inspired. Yes, Wallace could be a little mercurial as a player, but no one ever questioned his knowledge of the game. Wallace can give Monroe and Drummond an edge.
OUTLOOK: With five teams penciled in the postseason in the Eastern Conference, Detroit could easily contend for one of the three remaining spots. They have enough talent in their starting lineup and off the bench at the wing slots to make the playoffs.
Detroit has the potential to be a special team defensively, especially up front. Smith is a good defender, and Monroe is adequate. Drummond could be a difference-maker at the center spot and as a rim protector.
Call me an optimist, but the Pistons look like a playoff team. They won't break past Miami, Indiana, New York, Chicago or Brooklyn, but Detroit could be the best of the remaining lot.