Josh Smith and the Pistons both look good after divorce
Josh Smith and the Pistons didn’t part ways in good terms but everything might work out for both parties.
The Detroit Pistons and Josh Smith had a very nasty and public divorce. Smith got waived despite having two years and $26 million still left in his contract after this season, a move that signaled yet another chapter of clashes with coaches in Smith’s career. He wasn’t solely to blame, as first Joe Dumars brought him in and then Stan Van Gundy retained him even after it became clear he wasn’t a fit in Detroit. It was a terrible situation to be in for both the player and the team and both parties are better off going their separate ways, as it became all too clear on Friday.
Smith played his first game as a Rocket, coming off the bench and logging 32 minutes against the Memphis Grizzlies in a win that put Houston at the top of the Southwest division. Smith scored 21 points on 21 shots, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out three assists. In the overtime period he had two crucial consecutive offensive rebounds. Considering he had just joined the team, it was a great debut that illustrates how big his acquisition could be for a Rockets team that lacked proven frontcourt depth.
Smith played at power forward full time and with Trevor Ariza starting and Corey Brewer coming off the bench at small forward, it looks like he will exclusively play there. At that spot he still has a quickness advantage over most players he goes up against and even when the Grizzlies, who were without Zach Randolph, decided to go small and put Vince Carter on him, he made some plays and used his size to crash the boards. The fit isn’t perfect. Smith still took six shots outside of the paint, which is not a good idea based on his history. Since the Rockets encourage three-point attempts, the possibility of him chucking up outside shots looms. Yet at least in his debut, Smith looked like a good, cost-effective gamble for the Rockets.
While Houston was beating the Grizzlies in Memphis, the Pistons were dispatching of the Pacers in Detroit. Smith’s departure cleared the way for Stan Van Gundy to give plenty of minutes to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe together. Drummond and Monroe are now backed up by Jonas Jerebko and Anthony Tolliver, after the team traded forward Tony Mitchell to the Suns for the latter. The Pistons now have a big man rotation that fits the talent of their two starting big men more seamlessly than Smith ever did.
How greatly Smith being waived will affect the Pistons’ chances of retaining Monroe remains unclear. Monroe is playing on the qualifying offer after failing to reach an agreement on an extension with the Pistons this past summer. He reportedly wanted Smith off of the team. It’s possible the trust issues between franchise and player are too big to be mended, in which case Monroe will leave as an unrestricted free agent this upcoming summer. The Pistons can still offer him the most money, however, and Van Gundy will have the entire season to evaluate how well he fits with Detroit’s long term plans and to repair the strained relationship.
It’s obviously too early to make any definitive judgments on whether the Pistons made the right decision by releasing Smith and whether Smith was right to choose the Rockets over other teams that were reportedly interested. Detroit is still on the hook for Smith’s contract and the Rockets might find out the hard way that signing a shot-happy, traditionally inefficient player and placing him on a three-point oriented offense is not the best idea.
Yet at least for one night, the upside for every party involved was obvious. Smith could regain his reputation as a game-changer defensively, the Rockets are now deeper and the Pistons are slowly untangling the web of bad decision that characterized the franchise in the late stages of Joe Dumars’ tenure as general manager. That’s as good an outcome as can be expected after such an ugly situation.