Pistons contemplated Smith move in summer but waited
Stan Van Gundy had the opportunity to trade Josh Smith over the summer but balked, under the premise he wanted to judge Smith by his own experiences and not Smith's reputation.
It took 28 games for Van Gundy to ascertain Smith isn't his cup of tea, as the Pistons surprisingly cut Smith Monday morning, leaving themselves on the hook for $27 million over the next two years, plus the money he's owed this season.
Smith, 29, averaged 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds this season, his second with the franchise after nine years in his native Atlanta. He arrived as an ill-fitting piece in 2013, as an attempt to jumps a young team's rebuilding process, but the experiment failed miserably.
The Pistons, who have lost 17 of 19 games, are 5-23 and in last place in the Central Division.
"The reason nothing was done in the summer…you've got to know your team and players before you start shipping people around," Van Gundy said after a two-hour practice Monday. "At that point, I didn't know. And I didn't anticipate this. We went into the season expecting to be much better. It hasn't worked out that way. To stay on the same course would be bad leadership."
Van Gundy said the team's underperforming — numerous times citing the Pistons' 5-23 record—led to Smith's release more than anything else. He said there was no confrontation that led to the surprising move, which caused ripples through the NBA.
"We all know in this league and there's no hiding it, when you're making the big bucks and you're the guy, and you don't produce, fans and media look at you like what's going on?" said point guard Brandon Jennings. "And that goes for anybody in this league."
Van Gundy's opening statement released by the team said it wanted to move in a different direction, seemingly without the specter of Smith's presence on the floor, considering he commands so much attention.
"We are shifting priorities to aggressively develop our younger players while also expanding the roles of other players in the current rotation to improve performance and build for our future. As we expand certain roles, others will be reduced," Van Gundy said. "In fairness to Josh, being a highly versatile 10-year veteran in this league, we feel it's best to give him his freedom to move forward. We have full respect for Josh as a player and a person."
Van Gundy tried his best to soften the blow of such a move, but it was clear they wanted to remove Smith from the equation.
"It's a positive based on where we are now," Van Gundy said. "If we were .500 I would look at things differently. I wasn't looking to get rid of Josh Smith. I wanted to change some things with the group we have now with the young team we have."
Smith will have suitors, including the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings. The Kings made a play for Smith last summer, but Van Gundy wouldn't sign off on the deal.
The team found the market for Smith hadn't been as fruitful as expected.
Perhaps this is the first step in Van Gundy tearing the team down to build it in his image. The focus turns to the younger players, who didn't have the stature to command the minutes to develop with Smith on the roster.
Greg Monroe will move to the starting lineup, and will start alongside Andre Drummond to see how those two pieces fit with consistent playing time. Who knows if Smith being jettisoned will change Monroe's mind about his upcoming unrestricted free agency next summer, or if he feels the organization moving on from Smith is a step in the right direction.
But it's apparent the organization didn't like the way things were going, in a season where the Pistons were expected to make the playoffs with Van Gundy being on the sidelines.
Smith had been on the trading block all season and had posted career-lows in crucial categories (39 percent shooting, 47 percent from the line), which probably contributed to his low value on the market and Van Gundy's willingness to convince ownership to eat a huge chunk of a contract a previous regime (but same ownership) signed Smith to more than a year ago.
The franchise will use the stretch provision on Smith, which was implemented in the 2011 CBA. The provision allows the franchise to "stretch" the remainder of Smith's contract starting next season for twice the remaining years, plus one year, to soothe the hit on the salary cap.
Smith is owed $13.5 million in each of the next two years, but that number will be decreased to a $5.4 million cap hit over the next five seasons. Whatever money Smith is owed from this season's pay schedule will be offset by the likely veteran's minimum contract he'll sign once he clears waivers in the next 48 hours.
Van Gundy stated before Sunday night's game in Brooklyn that personnel moves would be dictated with only the future in mind.
His words seemed to forecast today's move, one that was a surprise in execution but not in intention.