Camp Questions: Fresh Starts

Pistons see Smith, Jennings arriving at right times in their careers

Josh Smith
(Editor’s note: We’ll count down the seven days until the opening of training camp with a critical question the Pistons will be looking to address during the preseason. Today: Will fresh starts draw out the best in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings?)

Everyone acknowledges Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are capable of the spectacular. It’s in the day-to-day grind of the consistent where greatness has eluded them.

Their resumes explain why the Pistons coveted them when they hit the free-agent market last July, yet their own teams put on less than a full-court press to retain their services. Was that due in significant measure to the collective disappointment experienced in each city when their franchises were perceived to have stagnated, Smith’s Hawks falling out of the playoffs three straight years in the second round before getting bounced in the first each of the past two, Jennings’ Bucks making two first-round exits in his first years in Milwaukee?

The Pistons are banking on each player being energized by new surroundings, to a degree, but beyond that they’re betting that the talent level they can provide Smith and Jennings – Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond at the core of it – exceeds what they’ve been able to experience to date.

How Smith and Jennings perform for the Pistons will go a long way toward determining how the summer of 2013 is viewed, the most significant summer for the Pistons since they attempted to rebuild on the fly with cap space in 2009 and wound up with Ben Gordon, who badly underperformed his five-year levels in Chicago during three seasons in Detroit before being traded, and Charlie Villanueva, entering the last season of his five-year contract in what has been a tenure that likewise hasn’t met expectations.

The Pistons locked up both players at a price point that fell below what most expected they would get. According to widespread accounts, Smith got $54 million over four years and Jennings $24 million over three – a considerable outlay, to be sure, but a bargain if the Pistons get the best of two players who, at 27 and 24, figure to have their best years ahead of them.

Smith and Jennings both made strong cases for the All-Star game a year ago. They’ve put up big numbers consistently over the course of their careers – nine years for Smith, four for Jennings. Both came to the NBA without so much as a single year on a college campus. Jennings, who came out of high school three years after the 2005 collective bargaining agreement mandated American players be a year removed from high school before entering the draft, spent a year in Italy, while Smith went directly from Oak Hill (Va.) Academy – also Jennings’ alma mater – to the NBA.

The Pistons believe they’re getting both players at a right place-right time intersection. More importantly, perhaps, the players themselves exude that belief. Smith and Jennings come to the Pistons with a little chip on their shoulders and the Pistons welcome the edge they’ll add to a young locker room where the voices of earnest young stars Monroe and Drummond are finding their pitch.

We’ll get to Monroe and Drummond in our next two installments of Camp Questions.