By: Will Burchfield
Ish Smith likes to talk. He’ll be the first to admit it.
And he couldn’t contain himself last year, bolding declaring on media day that the Pistons had “a really good chance to be champions.”
They finished eight games below .500 and missed the playoffs.
At this year’s media day, on Monday at The Palace, Smith struck a more cautious tone.
“We did a lot of talking last year,” Smith acknowledged with a chuckle. “We did a lot of, ‘Why not us?’ It was big expectations. Now everybody’s like, let’s see what happens. We got nothing to lose, to be honest with you. What expectations does anybody have for us? What we have to do is take it personal. Go out there and play the game, have fun with the game and compete.”
Smith commended the moves the Pistons made in the offseason, adding a number of three-point shooters and picking up Avery Bradley from the Celtics. He likes the makeup of the roster heading into training camp.
Then again, he was saying the same thing at this time last year.
“We have a talented team. Why will it be different? We’ll see, it starts (Tuesday),” said Smith. “Each day we have to grow, but coach did the things that we were supposed to do to get better. I think individually we got better, working on our games. I’m not going to do the whole ‘Why not us?’ talk.
“We’re going to see what have to do to get better, because we most definitely have to get better to compete with those two guys at the top.”
Those two guys would be Cleveland and Boston, the cream of the Eastern Conference crop. The Celtics finished atop the conference in the regular season. The Cavs represented the East in the Finals. Then they pulled off a summer blockbuster, swapping All-Star point guards in Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas.
So, who’s the team to beat?
“I don’t know. I guess it’s the first time I’m speechless because I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” said Smith, careful not to pick a side.
“Those teams did what they’re supposed to do, but forget about them. What coach did this summer and how he got us prepared and got us ready, we got the right pieces in for us to get better. What we have to do now is just put it out there on the floor and see if we can contend with those guys, because the goal is to win the East. That’s the goal for every team coming in,” he said.
Stan Van Gundy said the Pistons wanted to improve their roster in three key areas this offseason — and he feels they succeeded.
To add more toughness, they acquired Bradley, “one of the truly best perimeter defenders in this league,” said Van Gundy.
To improve their woeful three-point shooting, they added Bradley, Langston Galloway and Anthony Tolliver.
“We brought in three guys who all averaged a couple of made threes per 36 minutes at 39 percent or better. There’s 40 of those guys in the league, and we went out and got three of them,” said Van Gundy. “And then in the draft we got Luke Kennard.”
And lastly, to deepen their cast of secondary ball-handlers, the Pistons picked up Bradley, Galloway, Kennard and center Eric Moreland, who Van Gundy called an “outstanding passer for a big.”
Of course, talk is cheap. Smith and the Pistons found that out the hard way last year.
If this team is truly better, they’ll have to prove it in the win column.