Pistons release Josh Smith. WHAT?

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Josh Smith has been one of the most infuriating players to watch in the NBA.

His high level of ability is wasted by a propensity to shoot jumpers and inconsistent effort. Adding to the problems, the Pistons have frequently used him at small forward, where even his plus defense goes to waste as he struggles to chase smaller players around the perimeter.

But those problems will no longer be Detroit’s, at least on the court.

The Pistons took a good shot – better than any of Smith’s – at one-upping the Michael Malone-firing Kings for the NBA’s most shocking move of the season.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons announced today the club has requested waivers on forward Josh Smith.

“Our team has not performed the way we had expected throughout the first third of the season and adjustments need to be made in terms of our focus and direction,” said Stan Van Gundy, Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Detroit Pistons.  “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.  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.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Pistons owe Smith the rest of his $13.5 million salary for this season, and they’ll pay the other $27 million he’s owed in $5.4 million installments for the next five years. That means Smith will count against Detroit’s cap until 2020.

As much as this move brings into question Smith’s value – and does that in spades – it should also call into question Stan Van Gundy’s ability to run a front office. He reportedly discussed a Smith trade with the Kings in the offseason, but that never went anywhere. During the season, Van Gundy tried to trade Smith, but unsurprisingly, there were no takers.

Obviously, Van Gundy felt trapped between a rock and a hard place – teams don’t  lightly waive players with more than $35 million of guaranteed money remaining – but he probably put himself there. The big question: Why now? What are the Pistons going to do with the freed cap space that couldn’t wait for the chance that Smith at all repaired his trade value?

Or was Smith just that toxic?

Greg Monroe’s camp reportedly wanted Smith traded, but that was before Monroe signed the qualifying offer and appeared headed out of town as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Could this be a last-ditch grand gesture to persuade Monroe to stay?

It seems desperate, but the 5-23 Pistons probably are.

Smith is now anything but. He remains a talented player, and he’ll have a chance to rehabilitate his image in a better environment. With Andre Drummond and Monroe crowding the paint, he never looked comfortable in Detroit. He’s guaranteed to keep his money, and he’ll pick his next team.

This is a win for Smith and admission of failure by the Pistons, though maybe one they had to make.