Josh Smith has been in the NBA for nine seasons. (Detroit News / Clarence Tabb Jr.)
The Sacramento Kings are continuing their pursuit of Pistons power forward Josh Smith, sources told The Detroit News on Thursday.
This is the second time in recent weeks the Kings have approached Pistons officials about Smith, 28, who was signed by Detroit last summer for four years and $54 million.
The sources requested anonymity due to the ongoing nature of the negotiations.
When the Pistons and Kings engaged in talks a few weeks ago, negotiations centered around trading Smith for Jason Thompson and possibly Derrick Williams or Jason Terry. But according to sources, Pistons president Stan Van Gundy balked at dealing Smith for what essentially came down to spare parts.
However, the Kings have a trade exception they acquired when point guard Isaiah Thomas signed with the Phoenix Suns for $7 million last week, and although it can't be used to absorb Smith’s remaining three years and $40 million, perhaps it can be a chip to entice a third team.
The Kings are looking for a third team to help facilitate a deal, from a talent standpoint or a money standpoint.
If the Pistons decide to move Smith, it means they’ve decided the bulk of Smith’s problems didn’t just stem from moving over to small forward, a position he hadn’t played since the early years of his career when he was a younger, lighter and quicker player.
It means they’ve decided that Van Gundy doesn’t see a way to better utilize Smith’s defensive gifts, which was one of the apparent advantages the Pistons entered last season with, before virtually everyone struggled to defend their position.
Van Gundy has been very careful to not label Smith the convenient scapegoat, in the way his 3.4 3-pointers a game made him an easy target for critics and fans, and feels he can be more effective in a better, more defined system on both ends of the floor.
For the first time since 2007-08, a team with Smith was better with him on the bench than on the floor, per 100 possessions (-3.8 points). But to be fair, Andre Drummond was a minus-4.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
He took the second-most most shots of his career (16 per game) and had the lowest PER rating (14.1 last year compared to 21.1 in 2011-12).
One reason the Kings could be so high on Smith — aside from Kings owner Vivek Ranadive’s supposed desire for big names — is something the Pistons don’t have: a defined pecking order.
Presumably, Smith would play alongside center DeMarcus Cousins and small forward Rudy Gay, the top two offensive options. In Detroit, Smith felt the need to take the offensive load because he likely didn’t see anyone on the floor as accomplished as himself, even if he didn’t always make the wisest decisions.
There’s a school of thought Smith rolled with the negative tide that began brewing early in the season, and there’s another that suggests he began it — something that’s tough for Van Gundy to measure since he wasn’t here.
Van Gundy could surmise Smith’s athleticism will only decline and perhaps rapidly, as it tends to do for players with such tread on their tires.
He could surmise Smith won’t learn how to compensate if he’s no longer the freakishly athletic player on the floor, although if he were playing alongside an improving defensive player in Drummond, and moved back to power forward, Smith could be more effective.
With their recent signings, the Pistons have around $51 million in committed salary for next season, not factoring in restricted free agent Monroe, whose return is far from a done deal.
Terry’s game appears to have fallen off at age 36, as he averaged just 4.5 points in Brooklyn last season before a season-ending injury, and has expressed an interest to return to Dallas, where he spent eight years.
Terry is due $5.8 million next season, the final year of his deal. Williams, drafted second overall in 2011, hasn’t lived up to his billing. He is due $6.3 million before hitting restricted free agency next summer.
The Pistons aren’t averse to trading Smith, but it’s clear Van Gundy won’t just give Smith away, especially with Monroe’s status up in the air. If it’s just a salary dump the Pistons are looking for — not likely — Sacramento’s previous deal could appeal to them.
But the Kings will have to try harder to acquire Smith, even if the Pistons want to move him for better-fitting players.
Smith can be had, just not for a bargain-basement price.