In their respective senior year of high school basketball seasons, Josh Smith (2004) and O.J. Mayo (2007) were among the nation's elite.
Rivals.com ranked the 6-foot-8 Smith as the third overall prospect in the country behind Dwight Howard and Shaun Livingston, while Mayo ranked No. 4 in his respective class behind Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon and an athletic point guard from Chicago named Derrick Rose.
Smith opted against his oral commitment to Indiana and went straight to the NBA, while Mayo found himself in heaps of trouble in his one year at Southern California before declaring for the 2009 NBA draft.
Both players have had successful NBA careers. Smith has appeared in 52 playoff games, led the NBA in Defensive Win Shares in 2011-12 and is known as one of the most athletic, versatile defenders in the league with career averages of 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals. Mayo has seen his successes on the offensive end, averaging 15.2 points in 383 career games, including a career mark of 38.2 percent from beyond the arc.
This offseason Smith and Mayo signed deals with the Pistons and Bucks, respectively, becoming the two highest paid free agents to enter the Central Division (Andrew Bynum to the Cavs may have been the most notable). And the pair of former McDonald's All-Americans and NBA lottery picks are out to prove their worth for more than their individual accolades, but rather how their new teams perform on the court.
The Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis wrote a column yesterday on how Smith's edge, part of which stems from the perceived notion that he's selfish and tough to coach, could help the Pistons' young core, which includes bigs Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe and new point guard Brandon Jennings.
“Just be the guy that I am, creating positive energy around this locker room," Smith told reporters, "making it carefree where guys are not putting that much pressure on themselves, just having fun.”
For Mayo, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner wrote, Mayo is looking for some stability after spending four up-and-down seasons in Memphis and playing on a one-year deal with Dallas last season.
"The last two years were kind of like a one-year deal," Mayo said of his situations with the Grizzlies and Mavericks. "Automatically you put some sort of pressure on yourself to perform at the best level.
"Now I have a comfort level. I have a three-year deal and I'm happy the Bucks gave me that opportunity. I'm very blessed."
Both Smith and Mayo will have to shake off some of the notions those on the outside have of them, but as quality free-agent signings go, these two could have an impact on how the Eastern Conference Playoff picture shakes out by year's end.