Will to Win

Bynum, back in the fold, enthused by Pistons’ off-season overhaul

Will Bynum
Will Bynum re-signed with the Pistons as a free agent.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
They grew up nearly 30 years apart but a stone’s throw from each other on Chicago’s hardscrabble south side. If Will Bynum had chosen to attend the school across the street from where he lived at the time instead of Crane Tech to the west, he’d have worn the same DuSable High uniform Maurice Cheeks donned in the early ’70s.

There were a few moving pieces that had to fit to bring Bynum back to the Pistons – the only NBA team he’s known, save for a 15-game trial with Golden State as a 23-year-old undrafted rookie – but perhaps none was bigger than Cheeks being hired as head coach.

Cheeks wanted Bynum back, he said, and Bynum believed their shared roots would be conducive to an environment that would lead to a healthy and productive relationship.

“Definitely,” Bynum said after his signing to a reported two-year contract became official earlier this week. “He grew up in the same territory I grew up on. We’ve got a lot of similarities and probably a lot of ways we look at life is the same, too.

“I think he’s going to have a big impact – a former player understands players extremely well. I think it was a perfect fit for us. He said he wanted me back. One of the first things he said when he got the job here was he asked about me. That was important to me. It meant a lot, especially growing up in Chicago and me looking up to him and knowing he grew up in the same area was big.”

It’s a pretty good bet that the chemistry Bynum developed with Andre Drummond last season, proving a devastating pick-and-roll team, made the idea of bringing Bynum back to the fold more alluring for Pistons management. Bynum’s ability to attack the paint could be more fully exploited by the off-season additions of shooters like Chauncey Billups, Gigi Datome and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and lob targets who’ll attack the rim along with Drummond in Josh Smith and second-round pick Tony Mitchell.

The upgrade in athleticism isn’t lost on Bynum, who said that a few years ago, “I was the most athletic guy on the team. C’mon, man. This is, like, crazy. It’s going to be fun.”

Bynum said he knew that Billups was considering a return to the Pistons when he and Joe Dumars agreed on his deal to return. They were teammates briefly before, Bynum’s first season with the Pistons coinciding with the November 2008 trade that sent Billups to Denver. They went through a training camp, preseason and two regular-season games.

“When Chauncey left, it was a downer,” Tim Anderson, Bynum’s teammate at Crane Tech, told me in 2010. “Chauncey was showing him how to be a professional. He showed him how to walk on the court.”

“I wanted to learn from him,” Bynum said. “He’s always been one of the toughest players I had to guard. Whenever I used to pressure him, he used to just take me to the post. I don’t normally struggle against people in the post, but he was crafty. When I was first coming, I was looking forward to learning from him and then I was here like four days and he was gone.

They’re both at different points of their career now, but Bynum still believes Billups has much to offer as a mentor, let alone as a player.

“Not just me, everybody on the team,” he said. “We need that positive influence in the locker room to help build chemistry.”

Bynum believes Smith will influence the way that chemistry coalesces and he’s intrigued by the impact he’ll have on the court. They go back to Bynum’s playing days at Georgia Tech when Smith and another Atlanta teen prodigy would swing by campus.

“That was the icing on the cake with Josh,” Bynum said. “I played against Josh when I was at Georgia Tech. Him and Dwight (Howard) used to come up and play with us in the summertime. I know him and some of his family, his agent. Josh just needs to be playing with the right people. It’s going to be exciting.”

After getting a taste of the playoffs in his first season with the Pistons, Bynum has experienced four straight years that ended with the regular-season finale. He knows the expectations for 2013-14 are vastly different.

“I’m looking forward to the winning side of these years,” he said. “It’s been tough for me going through losing seasons, but right now, in the direction we’re going, it’s big. There’s a lot of talent on this team and we just have to put it together and get some wins.”