Smith Destined to Detroit

Like Rasheed Wallace 9 years ago, Smith brings talent & edge to Pistons

Josh Smith
Josh Smith addressed the local media today at The Palace.
Pistons photo (NBAE/Getty)
If you don’t believe in destiny, maybe the story of how Josh Smith became a Detroit Piston persuades you otherwise. Smith was drafted into the NBA a matter of days after the Pistons won the 2004 NBA title. The Atlanta Hawks took him 17th with a pick they got from … the Pistons.

It was partial payment for the Hawks shipping Rasheed Wallace to Detroit, cementing the roster for a team that would play in six straight Eastern Conference finals and back-to-back NBA Finals. A few weeks before free agency opened on July 1, new Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks made an overture to Wallace to join his staff, where he’ll now be coaching … Josh Smith.

The parallels go one layer deeper. Joe Dumars wanted Wallace nine years ago mostly for his versatility – a player as coveted for his defense as his offense, where he put up points in multiple ways – but also for the jolt of personality he’d provide a locker room of great foot soldiers.

After drafting a string of players – Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler, Andre Drummond – whose report cards were filled with gold stars for playing well with others and good citizenship, Joe D felt the current Pistons needed exactly the edge Rasheed Wallace lent to Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace. And he saw an immensely talented and preposterously versatile free agent – coveted for his defense as well as his offense, just as Rasheed Wallace was a decade ago – who would be the catalyst for a similar chemistry conversion available to the Pistons in … Josh Smith.

“I do see some real similarities,” Dumars said after Wednesday’s introductory press conference for Smith at The Palace. “We’ve talked about that internally as bringing that type of guy with that type of edge. This guy’s got edge, now. So Boy Scout, he is not. And I think that’s exactly what this team needs right now.”

As clearly as Dumars saw the fit, Smith saw it, too. The Pistons made their intent clear by meeting with Smith at 9 p.m. Pacific time on June 30 – free agency officially opened at midnight Eastern time July 1 – in Los Angeles. The meeting started at a hotel and adjourned to the Beverly Hills offices of Pistons owner and Platinum Equity founder Tom Gores.

It didn’t end until nearly five hours later, and no dollar amounts were discussed at that meeting. But Smith basically said Joe D had him at “hello.”

“When I first met with Joe, he had me sold from the word go,” Smith said. “I’ve always wanted to be part of a good organization that has a lot of diehard fans.”

Dumars went into the meeting ready to sell the Pistons, but Smith went into it selling himself. By the time they wrapped up, Dumars was confident the union would come off, though he was leery of both Houston and Dallas outbidding the Pistons.

He and assistant general manager George David subsequently met with Andre Iguodala, Tyreke Evans and J.J. Redick, but they were always backup plans. Jose Calderon’s camp, Dumars said, was eager to return, as well, but couldn’t pass up the four-year Dallas offer and Dumars wasn’t ready to act until the Smith agreement was in place.

“The meeting was interesting,” Smith said. “He was selling himself. I said, ‘No, no, no. You don’t have to sell yourself. We want you here. He said, ‘I really want to be in Detroit.’ ”

Smith, an Atlanta native, was drafted into the NBA straight out of high school. Except for the one year he spent at a Virginia prep school, he’s never left his hometown.

“When he get in town, he and his father were excited that, ‘OK, I’m in a new home. I’m going to be living in a new city,’ ” Dumars said. “ ‘I’ve never been away from Atlanta and I’m excited.’ ”

Smith was attracted, he said, by the presence of Monroe, 23, and Drummond, 19.

“I look at myself as fitting right along with those guys,” said Smith, a nine-year veteran even though he’s still only 27. “I feel we can do some special things together in that frontcourt and I feel like it will be pretty hard for teams to score on us. With all that length and athleticism, we’re going to be a scary team defensively.”

Smith won’t be hesitant, even as a newcomer to the locker room, to assert his presence, hinting at bringing the element Dumars was looking to add into the locker room.

“I think I’m well respected in this league,” he said. “I think if I were to say anything, no matter where I was playing, it would be heard. But there’s nothing like having young guys that are willing to listen, that want to get better, that went to take that next step. And that’s what the most intriguing thing was for me – knowing these players want to get to that next level. They work hard and it’s all about being able to be policed. As long as we get everything established where we can say things to each other and people don’t take it personally, I look at it as being beneficial.”

And like that other guy Joe D added nine years ago, Josh Smith wears a head band, too. Destiny.