When the Detroit Pistons signed SF/PF1 Josh Smith, everyone knew that spacing might be an issue, but we were all intrigued by a front court featuring Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and J-Smoove. On Monday morning, it all came to a screeching halt when Stan Van Gundy wielded his power in the most surprising way, by putting Smith on non-revocable waivers.
This surprised everyone for obvious reasons, the biggest being how much money the Pistons still owed Smith, $13.5 million each of the next three seasons (including this season). How can Detroit afford this and is it worth it? Detroit used a little know section of the CBA called the “stretch provision.” This allows a team to waive a player under contract and spread the remaining money of the contract out over two times the remaining years plus one. In Smith’s case, this means that the Pistons finish paying him $13.5 million for 2014-15 and then stretch the remaining two-years, $27 million over the next five years,2 or $5.4 million each year. Taking that much of a cap hit, while not ideal, is much more palatable than $13.5 million each year for the next two.
Van Gundy and the Pistons value this flexibility over any “assets” that they would have received in return for trading Smith. They would’ve had to absorb at least one bad contract from whoever they traded Smith to and possibly would have needed to throw in a draft pick to complete the deal. Detroit didn’t see that type of deal as worth it, and sent Smith packing with only marginal cap penalties in the coming years.
In three, four, or five years, this wasted money might be an annoyance because the Pistons will be hoping to be done rebuilding by then. But, over the next couple seasons, $5.4 million is not going to cause an issue for this front office. They are dead set on developing the likes of Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and possibly Monroe.
It isn’t often that a 29-year-old player that was formerly a regular competitor for an All-Star selection gets put on waivers. For 48 hours, teams will have to decide if they want to offer Smith a minimum salary deal, or slightly above that in order to entice him to join their squad. Once he clears waivers,3 he will be free to sign with any team in the NBA. Many teams will or have “expressed interest.” Smith still has value, despite his terrible offensive season so far, especially at a bargain basement price like $1.5 million. Smith can afford to take that much of a discount because he gets his full $13.5 million over the next two seasons no matter what.
Only teams that can make a real run in the playoffs will have any chance at signing Smith, for obvious reasons. Teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks have all been rumored to be trying to sign the power forward. Houston may have a leg up on the competition because they have the ability to go above and beyond the minimum veteran salary because they have their full mid-level exception left. Other teams closer to the cap and luxury tax can only offer the minimum contract to Smith.
As you can see below, the rumor of Smith being the poster boy for inefficient shooting (taking over for Monta Ellis of days gone by), is not exaggerated. His only green zones are places he rarely shoots from and definitely will not sustain with more shots. His yellow zones are encouraging if he can sustain those while getting his percentage at the basket up closer to the league average of 55.3%. They key is playing better near the basket.
This isn’t the only part of Smith’s game of course. He’s been known as a quality defender, even as a slightly undersized power forward. Basketball-Reference has Smith at 3.2 in defensive plus/minus. While not definitive, this shows that he still has the ability to defend well and be a plus overall player if the offense can be cured. It won’t be an easy task and really should be given to a capable head coach to deal with.
My first thought is that Dallas would be an interesting destination because they just traded Brendan Wright, have little front court depth right now, and have one of the best coaches in the NBA in Rick Carlisle. They’ll be competing with the odds on favorite in their in-state rival, the Houston Rockets. Daryl Morey attempted to trade for Smith in the off-season and have been attempting to upgrade at the four for a while.
Wherever Smith winds up, I think he might be the steal of the season. The hatred of him because of the offensive side of the ball has been extreme and likely deserved. But, when you put together the facts that his new team will be paying him very little, will have more ability to put him on the bench or in reserve units instead of the starting five, and how much he was miscast as a small forward in Detroit, the gamble looks like a worthwhile one.