Josh Smith: ‘We’re definitely a playoff team’ (Do Smith and the Pistons know anything about each other?)

Joe Dumars has given five $50 million contracts or extensions. Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups proved to be worth the money. Ben Gordon, most definitively, did not.

Now, Josh Smith becomes No. 5 (while wearing No. 6 on his Detroit Pistons jersey).

When the Pistons agreed to terms with Smith, I wrote he might resemble Gordon more than the other three. Dumars knew a great deal about Hamilton (extended), Wallace (re-signed) and Billups (extended) when committing so much money to them. Gordon, because he played for another team before signing in Detroit, was more of an unknown.

Smith, by the same logic, is also an unknown to Dumars. Perhaps, Dumars has learned from the Gordon debacle and has done better due diligence this time.

But Wednesday’s press conference introducing Smith did nothing to alleviate my concerns.

“I was watching tape of him the other night, and I didn’t even realize, when you guys played the Lakers, you were guarding Kobe,” Dumars said. “I didn’t even know he was guarding two guards at the time. So, I can’t say I did all of my homework.”

“It went pretty well,” Smith interjected. “You’ve got to ask me that.”

“Don’t make me lie,” Dumars said. “I don’t know.”

Maybe that’s a meaningless and funny anecdote – and hey, learning Smith is better equipped to play on the perimeter than we think would hardly be a problem. But that back-and-forth also feeds the perception Dumars is reckless in free agency, placing too much emphasis on talent and not enough on fit.

“With the addition of me, I feel like we can be a contender,” Smith said. “We can – we’re definitely a playoff team. But we can be a contender if we work hard at it.”

Smith makes the Pistons better. I have no doubt about that. I could maybe even be talked into him making them a probable playoff team.

But a definite playoff team? No way.

The Pistons finished 24 games under .500 last season, and although their young players should get better, they also lost their best point guard. Smith alone doesn’t “definitely” fix enough problems  to get the Pistons into the playoffs.

And the Pistons, no matter what Smith thinks, don’t fix all his problems.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of a good organization that has a lot of die-hard fans,” said Smith, who spent his nine seasons playing in front of a notoriously disinterested Atlanta fan base.

The Pistons have had a lower attendance than the Hawks each of the last two seasons.

When they’re winning, though, the Pistons will draw fans, and Smith’s versatility could help them win.

“The NBA is becoming less and less about specific positions,” Dumars said. “Most of the time, what you see right now is people put their best players on the floor, and you figure out, as you get out there, how to match up.”

That is true. Rigid positional definitions are falling by the wayside. But Dumars failed to mention how conscious teams are of putting complementary skillsets on the court together. Teams still value lineups that provide shooting, floor spacing, passing, interior defense, perimeter defense, etc.

Dumars also brought up LeBron James, really taking the discussion off the rails. LeBron is the best, most complete player in the game. Five LeBrons would form the best lineup of all time. Five Chris Pauls or five Dwight Howards, though both those players are among the game’s best, would struggle. The Positional Revolution isn’t only about getting talent on the floor, but also about assembling talent that meshes regardless of position labels.

Today’s press conference focused on best-case scenarios, and that’s what it should have done. For a July day, it’s nice to sit back and imagine Smith and the Pistons headed toward a happy ending.

“When I first met with Joe, he had me sold from the word go,” said Smith, who added he saw Detroit as his only option in free agency.

It doesn’t matter whether that’s true. For $56 million, the Pistons are buying Smith’s loyalty, and he’s saying what he should. Reality can come later, but ideally, it never will.

Diehard fans packing The Palace to cheer on Smith, LeBron-like versatility and a star player completely dedicated to the Pistons – that’s what the Pistons sold today. I’m not buying, but I am hoping.

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Tags: Ben Gordon Chauncey Billups Joe Dumars Josh Smith Kobe Bryant Lebron James Rasheed Wallace Richard Hamilton

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