By Noah Trister, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN HILLS (AP) – The Detroit Pistons have little use for all those clichés about taking the season one game at a time. This group is already looking at the big picture, and the goal is obvious.
“I don’t expect anything less than the playoffs,” said forward Josh Smith, who signed with Detroit in the offseason. “We’re a confident bunch. You see it all over everybody’s faces — the need to win.”
The Pistons have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, but the stakes are raised now after a busy offseason. Detroit signed Smith and guard Chauncey Billups and also traded for point guard Brandon Jennings.
Add holdovers such as big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and there’s plenty of potential for improvement.
“If you see our starting lineup, there’s nothing but athletes,” Drummond said at media day Monday. “We’re going to run a lot of guys out of the gym, is what it looks like.”
That’s the best-case scenario. There’s also the possibility the Pistons won’t become a cohesive unit after so many changes. Detroit made a coaching switch after going 29-53, bringing in Maurice Cheeks to replace Lawrence Frank.
“Everything is new here,” Cheeks said. “No disrespect to anybody else, but everything is new here. Habits are created starting tomorrow.”
Smith says he’s looking forward to playing with Drummond, the athletic big man whom Detroit took in the first round in the 2012 draft. Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward, averaged 17.5 points for Atlanta last season.
The most important addition might be Jennings, though. The Pistons gave up Brandon Knight — another recent first-round pick — to get him.
Jennings is talented but a bit unpredictable. He shot 40 percent from the field last season, easily the worst mark in the NBA for any player who took more than 1,200 shots. Of course, he also averaged a career-high 6.5 assists per game.
“Him and I just had a conversation,” said Cheeks, himself a former point guard. “I just told him I’m going to try and help him with the game itself. He’s a scoring point guard, which I think most point guards are today — they are scoring point guards.
“You don’t want to restrict the ability of someone like him being able to score the ball, but he has to be able to run this basketball team.”
Jennings didn’t say much about that talk with his new coach, but he clearly understands the pressure he’ll face.
“I’m not going to share what he said, but it was actually a very good meeting,” Jennings said. “He said the team goes as far as I go.”
If the Pistons start winning, it would go a long way toward boosting the team’s sagging attendance. But it’s hard to anticipate what roles certain players will be in.
Billups, for example, will surely be a mentor to Jennings, but he’ll also compete for playing time in the backcourt. Rodney Stuckey returns after averaging 11.5 points per game last season.
The Pistons also added Italian star Luigi Datome, who could provide some extra outside shooting.
This is one team that might be worth watching even in the preseason — just to see who is playing in what spot and how often.
“This is going to be a competitive camp,” Cheeks said. “I think this is what training camp is all about — being able to compete and figure out who plays where, how many minutes guys play.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.