The Detroit Pistons are making moves, both expected and unexpected.
Head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy acted quickly in the opening 24 hours of NBA free agency, nearing a deal to keep restricted free-agent center Andre Drummond on a five-year, $130 million max contract, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, and landing former Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ish Smith for three years and $18 million, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
At the very least, the moves keep Detroit in playoff contention. The eighth seed this past season, the Pistons made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the end of a run that saw the franchise reach six straight Eastern Conference finals and win a title during a string of eight straight appearances.
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The Drummond deal comes as no surprise, as the Pistons let Greg Monroe walk in free agency last summer in anticipation of paying big money to their 22-year-old center this July. The 6-foot-11, 279-pound UConn product averaged 16.2 points and a league-high 14.8 rebounds in 2015-16. Question marks surround his ability to become an elite rim-protector on the defensive end and inability to shoot free throws (35.5 percent), making him a Hack-A candidate down the stretch of close games.
Regardless, there is no doubt Drummond is worthy of a max contract at this point in his young career, and if the league addresses the Hack-A rules, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested it would this summer, he becomes an even more valuable asset to the Pistons, solidifying their interior.
We go live now to Drummond’s reaction:
As for the exterior, Smith offers veteran backcourt depth behind last year’s big free-agent signing, Reggie Jackson, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent in 2017. After playing for nine teams in his first five-plus seasons out of Wake Forest, the 27-year-old Smith found himself in a return to the Philadelphia 76ers this past season. He averaged 14.7 points, 7.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds, starting 50 games for a Sixers team tanking its way to the No. 1 draft pick.
Smith hasn’t been an exceptional shooter, converting just 30 percent of his career 3-point attempts, and he’s been careless with the ball in full-time duty, but he’s a capable scorer and playmaker, particularly as a backup point guard. Essentially, he’s a poor man’s Reggie Jackson, which allows Detroit to play its game — however flawed it may be — for a full 48 minutes. Considering the dearth of available guards in free agency, $6 million annually for Smith is not a bad deal, and he fills a need after the Pistons dealt the slightly more expensive Jodie Meeks to the Orlando Magic for a draft pick.
Do these agreements make the Pistons all that much better than the team that got swept by the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round? Not really, but they’re a young team building on a run that saw them finish 17-11 after a trade deadline that brought Tobias Harris into the fold.
All of that means something for a franchise fighting its way back into NBA relevancy. Likewise, neither of these deals puts Van Gundy in a financial bind moving forward, since Drummond was always going to get a max deal and Smith is relatively short money in the NBA’s burgeoning new salary cap era. As far as opening days of free agency go, Detroit should feel better than a whole lot of other teams.
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