When Maurice Cheeks removed Josh Smith from the starting lineup for missing a practice – called at the last moment, for the day following a back-to-back, after Smith had decided to stay in Atlanta to tend to his ill father – Smith bit his tongue.
But now that Cheeks benched Smith for the entire second half of the Pistons’ 106-82 loss to the Wizards on Saturday, Smith isn’t remaining quiet.
Smith, via David Mayo of MLive:
“It’s an honor for me to play, you know what I’m saying? So when anybody challenges — or anything about the fact that, you know, about me not wanting to play — then I take real offense to it,” Smith said.
Smith shouldn’t feel offended. He played lousy in the first half, scoring four points on seven shots – a night after the Pistons slumbered through a blowout loss to the lowly Magic.
But he should feel singled out.
Every Detroit player struggled against Washington. Smith didn’t strike me as any worse than his teammates. And though starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also began the second half on the bench, he eventually returned to the court. Smith never did.
It’s not clear why Cheeks chose Smith to bench, but the coach at least considered going further. Mayo:
He admitted he would have liked to bench the entire starting five to begin the second half.”If I could have, yeah,” Cheeks said, when asked that question. “The way the first half went, yeah. But the way the first half went, I really couldn’t.”
Why didn’t Cheeks just bench everyone? Especially after the Orlando loss, nobody would have claimed the starters didn’t have it coming.
If there were a reason to single out Smith, the team’s highest-paid player, it’s because he once singled himself out as the model for game-day focus. Smith after a November loss, via Mayo:
“When I prepare for a game, it starts during shootaround,” Smith said after the Pistons let a six-point halftime lead get away. “And I think everybody needs to have that same mentality.”
Yet, Smith reached the Verizon Center just 82 minutes before Sunday’s game, according Kyle Weidie of TruthAboutIt.net:
Is that enough time for Smith (and Chauncey Billups, Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum) to prepare for a game? Maybe, but that late arrival does not set a good example for the same teammates he previously chided for not following his lead.
If Smith and Cheeks aren’t an impasse, they’re heading toward one. Will either change their ways?
Smith, via J. Michael of CSN Washington:
“I’m an aggressive person. I’m not passive. So maybe a passive person that takes life that way won’t understand an aggressive person. I really can’t worry about what people perceive of me because they don’t know me on a day-to-day basis so I’m really not concerned about what people perceive about me at all.”
“To me it is over with. But you know some people hold grudges longer than others. I don’t know. I’m not saying he does. I’m not the type of person that really likes to go all the time in coach’s office and have a one-on-one sitdown. I’m more of a team morale guy.”
Cheeks has frequently defended his laid-back demeanor, saying he’s not going change his personality to conform to anyone’s view of what a coach should be. And good for him. But he has to find a way to meet Smith in the middle. Previously, Cheeks has. Smith returned to the starting lineup one game after the Atlanta incident. Cheeks has also tried to push Smith into more post-ups offensively and blamed his own scheme when Smith drifts to the perimeter. But this incident goes beyond those more-minor disputes. The Pistons have fired coaches and shed players in an effort to build a more harmonious team. It clearly hasn’t completely worked.If there’s any solace for the Pistons in this situation, Smith has a long history of battling coaches, and Cheeks has even more experience sparring with players. These two know the terrain.And yet they’ve both avoided the big blowup that destroys teams. I doubt this flare-up will even challenge to blemish that perfect record.