Where Will Josh Smith Land?
In one of the biggest moves of the NBA season, the Detroit Pistons have waived Josh Smith. In a released statement, coach Stan Van Gundy explained that the team has had to shift directions due to their slow start and that they are committing to player development. The 10-year veteran, Smith, clearly doesn’t fit that future, and it seems Detroit preferred to give minutes to their young guys instead. Smith is owed $27 million over the next two years from Detroit, but the Pistons have used the stretch provision on him, meaning they can stretch out those $27 million over five years (double the initial timeframe plus one).
Smith will most likely be a free agent on Wednesday. Waiver claims last 48 hours, but in order for a team to claim Smith, they’ll need to have one of the following $13.5 million in cap space (Smith’s salary for this year), a disabled player exception worth $13.5 million, or a trade exception worth $13.5 million.
According to Jared Dubin of the Mid-Level Exceptional, only the Philadelphia 76ers can claim Smith. Considering they are in full tank mode, the probability of that happening is zero. Therefore, the question becomes where Smith might end up once he becomes a free agent on Wednesday. The answer: a contender.
Once Smith clears waivers, the Pistons will be on the books for all of the $27 million regardless of where he signs or for how much. That will incentivize Smith to sign as big of a contract as possible. Considering he’s a 10-year veteran, he might also chase a championship instead of money. In the end, it’s probably a combination of both. Let’s look at what Smith can do and where he might fit in best.
Josh Smith is not a great basketball player. He has certain limitations and flaws, such as bad shot selection and a tendency to shoot freely. But he also has a lot of skills that could be useful to a contender. Check out his averages for this season:
Smith can still play defense and run the floor, he can rebound, he is an underrated passer, and he has experience. If a team believes that they can keep his shot attempts in control, they can take a chance on Smith giving them that defensive presence. Let’s take a look at some of those teams in order of highest likelihood to land Smith.
The Houston Rockets make a lot of sense in this scenario. They had tried to get Smith in the summer of 2013 via a sign-and-trade with Atlanta in what is described as a mutual interest between the two parties. Smith also has a great relationship with Rockets star Dwight Howard, and Houston can offer him their entire biannual exception worth around $2 million. They can also offer him a starting spot in place of injured Terrence Jones.
Rockets are feeling good about their chances in Josh Smith sweepstakes, and with good reason: chance to win, good role & cold, hard cash.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) December 22, 2014
Their styles aren't exactly a perfect match, as seen below.
|Distance||% of Shots Josh Smith||% of Shots Houston|
|< 5 feet||40.4%||37.2%|
Both the Rockets and Smith like to shoot about 40% of their shots from within five feet of the basket, but the similarities end there. Where there's a huge difference is obviously the mid-range shot, but if Houston can persuade Smith to cut down on the mid-range shooting, they could potentially make a happy couple. It’s not out of the question that Smith accepts that role. He has never played with someone as explosive as James Harden or as dominating as Dwight Howard, so it’s conceivable he could improve his percentages with more open shots and more room to drive.
He also won’t even have the opportunity to jack up shots at his current rate (14 per game) considering the number of possessions Harden and Howard use. Plus, he's still a great defender -- a lineup of Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza, James Harden , and Patrick Beverley is probably as good as it gets in the entire NBA.
The Mavericks can’t offer nearly as much money as Houston can, but they also present an interesting choice. The Mavs have a great core of players and have the best offense in the entire NBA. Although Smith would likely hurt their efficiency, he can probably improve their 21st-ranked defense. They also can’t afford to offer him a starting spot, considering their starting frontcourt of Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons is nailed in.
But they're still an appealing candidate. Smith admitted earlier this year he had fantasized about playing with high school teammate Rajon Rondo, who Dallas just acquired via trade. And although they can’t offer him a starting spot, they can certainly offer him a big enough role. Dallas lacks backup bigs and Smith can backup the aging Dirk Nowitzki. He can also play in a small-ball lineup that includes Nowitzki at center, which would likely be the preferred lineup when center Tyson Chandler is resting.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers, just like the Mavericks, can only offer very little money. They also don’t have Rajon Rondo or Dwight Howard to court Smith into signing with them, but they're a championship contender with a well-liked coach. The Clippers also have Mike Woodson, who coached Smith in Atlanta during his best basketball years. In Los Angeles, Smith will have to come off the bench behind Blake Griffin, and I’m not sure he wants to do that. This is a bit of a stretch but the Clippers will certainly try.
Multiple rumors have been surfacing about the Kings trying to trade for Smith, and his lower price tag will now make him even more appealing to the Kings. Owner Vivek Ranadive has shown he isn’t afraid to experiment, and Smith will likely be pursued aggressively. The Kings can offer more money than most other suitors, but aren’t likely to be a title contender even with Josh Smith in the lineup. They can offer him a starting spot, a lot of playing time and a lot of love, but will that be enough to pass on playing for someone like Houston or Dallas? Likely not.
The Best of the Rest
The Miami Heat have reportedly expressed interest, the Lakers will likely be in play because they’re the Lakers, and the Cavs might express some interest as well. The Heat can offer sizable money -- especially if they get a disabled player exception for Josh McRoberts’ season-ending injury -- and can offer him a huge role. In the East, it’ll be easy to persuade Smith that they could potentially be a playoff team that makes noise, but they aren’t nearly the contender Dallas or Houston would be. There is also Pat Riley, who has shown he can be a great salesman and has a history of helping players improve their reputation.
The Lakers have the flashy lights, a false promise of making him a big part of their future, and can offer him good money. But why would anyone want to spend the last years of their prime in that situation?
The Cavaliers could certainly try to sell him on championship hopes and the idea of playing with LeBron James, but he’ll be playing for the minimum and backing up a really good power forward in Kevin Love. Minutes will not be guaranteed and hard to come by, which is far from an ideal situation.
It seems Houston is by far the favorite here, and that would certainly be a very interesting team to watch if Smith lands there. But Dallas and the rest of the suitors are bound to make this an interesting pursuit. Teams will be banking on the fact that Josh Smith has shown flashes in the past and that they can change his playing style, but teams have been doing that for the past 10 years without success. Can Josh Smith change for the better? We will have to wait and find out.