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.