Rivalry Check is an ongoing series in which we preview 10 of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons got to work on their team once the Dwightmare was over, signing athletic big man Josh Smith to a 4-year, $54 million deal. Former Knick Chauncey Billups signed a 2-year, $5 million deal to re-become the face of the franchise. Billups will have to get right to work on his “on the floor coach” position, chiefly mentoring Brandon Jennings. Detroit received Jennings in a sign-and trade, good for 3 years and $24 million. The Pistons also re-signed Will Bynum for a 2-year, $5.7 million deal to sure up the back-up point guard duties. The Pistons’ most intriguing free agent move was the signing of Gigi Datome, a sharpshooting forward who was MVP of the Italian League last season, to a 2-year, $3.5 million deal.
As for the draft, Detroit took Georgia SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the 8th pick, North Texas PF Tony Mitchell with the 37th pick, and Louisville PG Peyton Siva with the 56th pick.
Departures: Jose Calderon joined Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks after his short stint as Detroit’s point guard. Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell, and Kim English also became free agents. Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Viacheslav Kravtsov went to Milwaukee as part of the Brandon Jennings sign-and-trade deal.
Season Outlook: The Pistons have certainly improved from the cellar-dwellers that they’ve been for the past two seasons, but they are still a fringe playoff team along with Washington and Cleveland. Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith have the talent to bring them that far themselves, but both have looked un-coachable at times in the past.
That’s why their success this season is dependent on Chauncey Billups. He’ll have to be what Jason Kidd was for the Knicks last season. He doesn’t need to have personal success on the floor, but he does need to bring his maturity and experience to a roster that sorely lacks it.
Biggest Challenge: The Knicks were 4-0 against the Pistons last season, the most notable win coming in London. Despite the Pistons’ roster overhaul, I don’t see the results changing. Brandon Jennings will be the x-factor for the three match-ups this upcoming season. Detroit will be dependent on his ability to get the rim against a less athletic Raymond Felton. Carmelo Anthony may be challenged at times with the athleticism, length, and shot-blocking ability of Josh Smith, but Melo should be able to get his share on drives to the rim. JR Smith can have a field day on the offensive end against an inexperienced Caldwell-Pope and the deteriorating legs of Chauncey Billups.