Pistons’ Sluggish Start Prompts Change

VIDEO: Josh Smith’s early season highlights with the Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A blockbuster free-agent/trade summer doesn’t always deliver the desired results come the start of the regular season, at least not immediately.

The Detroit Pistons are living that reality after just seven games. Pistons coach Mo Cheeks benched veterans Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith at the start of the second half of Tuesday night’s rout at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, inserting youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler in their places, respectively.

This season was supposed to mark a shift in fortunes for the Pistons, an escape from the grips of the lottery and a move back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. The summer additions of Billups, Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings was the masterstroke that was going to jumpstart that process.

But so far … it’s just not happening. The Pistons are 2-5 and showing no signs of being the playoff outfit some of us assumed they would be. In addition to chemistry issues that need to be sorted out, they’re also the worst defensive team in the league.

Losers of four straight games, Cheeks is rightfully trying to get out ahead of what could be a bigger problem. If his intent was to light a fire under his veterans, mission accomplished. If it was to point out to veterans and youngsters alike that no one is safe from being removed from their spot in the starting lineup or rotation, no matter how big a name or reputation they have, then he should be commended for taking that sort of stance this early in the campaign.

Cheeks said he wasn’t trying to send a message by singling Smith and Billups out, but did offer up specifics for Smith to shake out of his mini-funk, telling Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:

“He has to get involved in the offense, get some offensive rebounds, run the floor, get some post-ups,” Cheeks said of Smith. “Get your hands on the ball and things will change for you.”

To his credit, Smith handled it like a pro, something that his critics probably didn’t expect given his history of clashing with authority during his formative stages in the league. Instead, he put the onus back on the leaders in the locker room and pointed out their lack of focus and attention to detail on the defensive end:

“Just gotta cheer my teammates on. You can’t focus on decisions people make, higher than you. You have to adjust around it and as long as I’ve been in this league, that’s what I’ve been willing to do — learning to adjust.”

With investment the Pistons have made in Smith, knowing that they have to make decisions on the long-term futures of young bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, everyone needs to maintain the proper perspective on things during the start.

Smith is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks so far this season. He’s been a factor. The Pistons, however, need him to be a force. They need him to lead the way in the frontcourt. They need his play, his all around abilities and particularly his penchant for facilitating from the point-forward position, to bolster the production up front.

With Jennings returning from injury, Smith was bound to lose some of that freedom he enjoyed in the first few games of the season. So ultimately, it’s up to Cheeks to make sure all of the pieces fit and the Pistons don’t lose any more ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

So if a change is needed after this sluggish start, even a minor one at halftime of a road game in mid-November, so be it. Better to fix it now than have to worry about it later.


  1. J says:

    Trade Monroe and stuckey (maybe) for a defending SG and defending SF (and a scoring SF if stuckey is included)

  2. jamiitata says:

    Monroe or Drummond needs to go to the bench. This article clearly reinforces the idea of Smith as a Point Forward. He does a lot of great work in the paint, working inside out and outside in. He needs to have the opportunity to touch the ball more. That hard when it is always two point guards on the floor. Plus the 2nd unit is lacking. Drummond used to be the ace in the hole, now the pistons are playing all their cards up front. There are no front court players to back them up on the bench. Two more notes: will bynum should be 1 on the pg depth chart and stuckey should be traded/released/waived/etc…

    • Paul says:

      Not they don’t, they are both deserving of a starting role. Monroe is in contract year, he needs to play his butt off, so there is no way he goes to the bench. Drummond is play very well, and just loaded with potential, a future all-star. And obviously you can’t be Smith on the bench with his big contract and being their best player. So they all need to start.

  3. Bird33 says:

    Never mind the Pistons’ opponents, the fact is they are underachieving given the talent they’ve added. I feel for Chauncey Billups, but it goes to show how hard an Achilles tear is to come back from (ahem, Black Mamba). Smith, though, I have no sympathy for. Look at his stat lines; without fail he is hoisting 3-pointers, lines like 1 – 5 and 0 – 3. This is what drove Atlanta fans crazy with Smith, who still thinks he is a long range bomber, presumably leaving the rebounding to Greg Monroe and Adnre Drummond, great way for a veteran to influence the youngsters. With Jennings and Smith, the Pistons have 2 of the most talented knuckleheads in the league, and that’s the problem.

    • Paul says:

      You obviously don’t know a darn thing about his situation in Detroit. Leave that Atlanta stuff where it belongs, the past. Smith plays SF in Detroit, meaning he needs to play on the perimeter. So he’s not as often in the paint where he can get rebounds, and Drummond/Monroe are VERY good rebounders so of course his numbers will drop. Smith is on a mini slump, like the article mentioned. His numbers were better, in the 18pts 7rbs 2blks range before the slump. He had been playing well so lets leave the criticism alone shall we…

  4. pistonsfan says:

    Umm, yes, they are 2-5, not a good start. But if you look at their opponents so far: Wizards, Grizzlies, Celtics, Pacers, Thunder, Blazers, Warriors. They won against WAS and BOS, and lost to the others, who are, except for the Blazers, top 10 teams in the league. I know Memphis is struggleing, but they were in the Conf. Finals last year so, obviously they are good. The Blazers had the home court advantage in their game, and besides i think Detroit hasn’t beat them since 2007 in Portland. So, maybe its an excuse, but that is why they are just 2-5. They’ll be just fine in April. 7-8th seed.

    • MV3 says:

      Blazers are top 10 this year. they underrated as hell. if they tighten up there defense there a contender, and they have the players to do so.

  5. LBJKIN6JAMES says:

    I still don’t know why Jennings and Smith signed with Detroit…really stupid idea. their talents could have been better utilized on another team

    • pistons fan says:

      Not everybodys a ring chaser you know.

    • Paul says:

      Jennings was traded to Detroit, it wasn’t his choice. And Detroit made the best offer to Smith, so it was a no brainer for him. Houston showed some interest, but it needed to be a sign and trade deal which was complicated so Atlanta backed off and the conversations were put to rest. It is what it is, now both of them need to help Detroit win.