A Job Well Done

Joe D says goal to ‘fundamentally change’ Pistons met over a jam-packed summer

Joe Dumars, Josh Smith
Joe Dumars and one of his free agent signings, Josh Smith.
Pistons photo (NBAE/Getty)
The roster churned by more than 50 percent over the off-season and the Pistons will have at least two new starters in 2013-14. Summer blueprints never play out exactly as planned, but Joe Dumars goes into training camp fully satisfied that the objectives he carried into a summer when he was armed with more than $20 million in cap space were met.

“What we wanted to do was fundamentally change our team in a way that we felt gave us a chance to win,” he said Thursday with training camp less than three weeks away. “We wanted to be able to put a really talented team on the floor and we feel good we’ll do that. Now it’s just bringing it all together, forming a chemistry on the floor and playing winning basketball. But in terms of putting the pieces together, we got accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do this summer.”

The marquee additions were Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, two young veterans whose interactions since joining the organization have given Dumars the confidence that they’re coming to the Pistons at the right time in their careers.

“Josh Smith and Brandon are very similar in that way,” he said. “This is a fresh start. This is only their second team for each one of them. They’ve only known one team. It’s truly a new beginning for them. Brandon is looking forward to a fresh start, looking forward to having teammates he’s never had before. We think Josh is a really good fit for us. His personality, his skill set, where he is at in his career, we feel like it’s really an excellent time for him to make that transition to a new team and for us to have someone like him coming in, we just feel it’s right. It’s the right fit for us.”

Smith and Jennings will be joined in the starting lineup by the franchise cornerstones plucked from the 2010 and ’12 drafts, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, giving the Pistons a dramatically bigger and more athletic lineup than they’ve fielded in years.

Throughout the summer, Dumars has only had to take a few steps from his desk to the office window that overlooks the Pistons’ practice facility court to keep tabs on Drummond, who has done extensive training at home base under the direction of new assistant coach Rasheed Wallace.

“Andre has had a good summer,” he said. “We know and he knows that he has work to do to become the player we would all like to see him turn into and the good thing about that is he’s done that this summer. He’s put that kind of work in. As long as he continues to work hard the way he’s doing right now, he’s going to keep getting better.”

The addition of Wallace to the staff raised a few eyebrows in basketball circles, though no one who crossed paths with Wallace through his playing days ever questioned his basketball IQ or ability to communicate with players. The big question was whether Wallace would have his heart fully invested in a profession that demands long hours and an immersion in the minutiae of videotape study and scouting reports.

So far, so good.

“Rasheed is as passionate and as engaged as he’s ever been,” Dumars said. “Once he steps between the lines, he’s energetic, he’s smart, he’s bright, he understands how to challenge guys. He’s still physically good enough to bang and work out with these guys and I think it’s going to be a plus for all of our young big guys who are out there to have to go against a guy like him on a daily basis.”

One of Wallace’s daily mantras to Drummond is the necessity that he becomes a master communicator defensively, the way Wallace’s booming voice bounced off the walls of NBA arenas during defensive stands for the Goin’ to Work Pistons that went to six straight conference finals. With eight new faces on the roster, it might take some time before Maurice Cheeks strikes the right balance among possible lineup combinations offensively, which will put the onus more squarely on their defense early in the season. With the added size and athleticism, Dumars likes the defensive potential of these Pistons.

“I know we talk about offense and how we’re going to fit and those types of things,” he said, “but what’s not being talked about is we have a chance to be a good defensive team. We all know you live and die in this league with your defense. We’re not just going to run up and down the floor and simply outscore people every night. We have to be able to defend and we think we’re set up to be a pretty good defensive team.”

I’ll have much more from Joe D next week when we’ll roll out a five-part series that looks at the newly constructed roster on a position-by-position basis.