The first day of NBA free agency has ended and what have we learned?
The Pistons reportedly met with at least three players on Monday, including Joe Dumars offering Hawks forward Josh Smith a four-year contract while the echoes of midnight church bells were still bouncing off the hills. Of course, other media reports indicated that they only discussed a four-year deal to bring "J-Smoove" to Detroit, but that no official offer was made. The first day of free agency is like that -- the truth changes on an hourly basis, depending on which side is trying to get their version out at anyone time.
That said, it is pretty clear that the Pistons are focusing their early efforts on a pair of big names -- Smith and Denver's Andre Iguodala. They wouldn't be trying to sign both, but since they have competition in both cases, including Smith and Iguodala's current teams, they need to give themselves as many options as possible.
Detroit also reportedly met with Sacramento shooting guard Tyreke Evans, probably thinking they could get him as a second player to go along with Smith or Iguodala. That idea, though, met with a stunning end when the New Orleans Pelicans -- yes, it does sound strange -- offered Evans a four-year contract worth 44 million. That immediately moved him well out of Detroit's price range, and changed the entire free-agent market in one fell swoop. Every player on the market is now going to start thinking of their own cost in terms of what Evans has been offered, which will make things a little more expensive early in the signing period.
Detroit going after Smith, Iguodala and Evans is not a surprise. After picking shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in last week's draft, Dumars stressed that the Pistons needed to get much faster and more athletic at shooting guard and small forward. Last season, the Pistons were woefully lacking in that area, and were blown out time after time by teams that have adopted the NBA's newest trend -- big, athletic wings who can run the floor, handle the ball, create their own shots and knock down 3-pointers. The prototype, of course, is LeBron James, with Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant also top examples of the style.
Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton did that for Detroit in the championship years, but by the end of last season, the Pistons were trying to fill those roles with players like Brandon Knight (too small), Jonas Jerebko (too slow) and Kyle Singler (not ready). The most success they had was when they played Khris Middleton at shooting guard late in the year. Middleton wasn't ready either, but at 6-foot-7 and with athletic ability, he was able to handle the role better than the more limited players.
Caldwell-Pope was drafted specifically for that reason. He's a big, athletic guard who has a deadly pull-up jumper when the offense is running, and who can step back and hit a 3-pointer in the halfcourt set. That skill-set -- Dumars described the Pistons as "desolate on the wings" -- is why Detroit passed on Trey Burke without hesitation. Detroit does need a point guard -- they are reportedly meeting with Jose Calderon in an attempt to bring him back -- but Dumars knew that they needed players who can run the floor and spread the halfcourt in order to open things up for Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
Smith and Iguodala both fall into that category. Both players certainly have the speed and athleticism to do what Dumars wants -- if you have any doubts, they both have numerous dunk compilatons on YouTube -- and they are among the best on-the-ball defenders in the league. That's something else the Pistons haven't had since trading Prince.
Neither of them have the perfect game for what the Pistons need, though. Smith has been playing power forward for the last several years, so moving back to the wing would be an adjustment for him. He also adds a lot with his rebounding and shot blocking, but he wouldn't get as many opportunities to use those skills at small forward, especially playing alongside Monroe and Drummond.
Iguodala, on the other hand, is used to playing on the wing, although as a shooting guard rather than as a small forward. With Brandon Knight and Caldwell-Pope needing minutes at the 2-guard, Detroit would need Iguodala to play the 3. That will be a physical challenge for a player who turns 30 early in the season. He hasn't shown many signs of aging, but his passing and defensive numbers slipped last season. Those are two of his biggest strengths, so the Pistons have to hope that was a fluke rather than the beginning of a trend.
The biggest problem for both players is that they are terrible 3-point shooters. Iguodala shot 31.7 percent last season on 3.6 attempts a game, while Smith shot 30.3 percent on 2.7 attempts. In 2009-10, Mike Woodson got Smith to stop shooting threes -- he only tried seven all season -- but he went back behind the arc as soon as Woodson left. Last season, he took 201. In an ideal world, Maurice Cheeks would try to get those numbers back down, but the Pistons desperately need wing players who can hit 3-pointers, so they are in a bit of a Catch-22. A wing who needs to get to the basket -- Smith and Iguodala's strength -- isn't a great fit with Monroe and Drummond.
Despite the weaknesses that Smith and Iguodala possess, though, the Pistons badly need to get one of them. This is a very week free-agent crop for the type of player Detroit wants, and if it doesn't get one of those two, it will have to start looking at players like Kevin Martin and O.J. Mayo. Both would improve the Pistons, but Dumars needs to get more out of his 22 million in cap space than marginal improvements.
That's why Detroit also didn't buy out Rodney Stuckey's contract and probably won't use the amnesty clause on Charlie Villanueva. There's not enough talent out there to spend over 30 million on, and it gives them some extra space for the summer of 2014.
The end of Stuckey and Villanueva's contracts will give the Pistons 17 million for what should be a deeper free-agent class. The first 10 million of that will almost certainly go to Monroe - 14.5 million a year sounds about right for his second contract - but that would still give Detroit the money to add another piece through free agency.
Rebuilding the Pistons isn't going to be a quick process. They've been stuck in neutral because of the contracts given to Villanueva and Ben Gordon, and to a less extent by the ones given to Prince and Stuckey. They've also been constantly changing coaching philosophies, because of the failures of Michael Curry, John Kuester and Lawrence Frank.
Now they are getting another try. They've got another coach in place, some young building blocks and the cap space to make major upgrades. They just need to find the right player, and convince him to be patient enough to help create a winning team instead of walking right on to one.