The Case for Josh Smith

It’s a natural tendency to view NBA players in binary terms. This player is better than that one. This player is a leader. That player is good. The player over there is not.

And after the Detroit Pistons waived Josh Smith (hat tip to Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press for breaking the news:, Smith is being discussed in those binary terms.

Much of that is deserved: a post about Smith, because he is so flawed, must start with all the problems with Smith.  He shoots under 30% from 3, and displays a general refusal to focus his offensive game on the blocks, instead jacking shots beyond the foul line and arc with relative reckless abandon.  In a game built around the 3, he’s something of a throwback to an era of less productive offenses. He’s at least somewhat of a malcontent.  Believe he will be saved by Lionel Hollins? That did not work under Stan Van Gundy. And as Brooklyn has seen with Andrei Kirilenko and Gerald Wallace (and the league has seen with Lamar Odom), there is precedent for the toolsy, multifaceted talents whom don’t rely on their jumpers to be effective cratering as they age, as once that athleticism and activity level begins to wane, the uniquety of their games dissipate, there’s no shooting prowess to sustain them, and … you know the rest.

Still, I think the Nets should take a chance on Smith.  Everything in the NBA is dependent on its facts, right? Did Kobe Bryant evolve from winner into loser, or did his teammates change? Rudy Gay did not fit in Toronto with Lowry, DeRozan, and Ross needing the basketball — he has thrived on a Sacramento team that NEEDS a wing who can make plays with the basketball.  Deron Williams is overpaid and seen as an albatross. Hypothetically, if he was owed $3 million through 2017 instead of $63 million, the viewpoint would change, right?

The facts as would be true if the Nets sign Smith eliminate many of the concerns and issues with Smith, and make it a risk worth taking.

The 4 year, $56 million salary Smith had in Detroit was absolutely outrageous.  It ate up $14 million in the coveted summer of 2016. Smith was underperforming, markedly so. The deal paid him like a near max player, which is overly generous for a player who cannot shoot, and who likely must be surrounded by shooters to be effective.

As a Net: Smith would not be overpaid.  The concern that Smith saddles you with a bad contract is not existent. Sure, Smith at $14 million per, over 4, is a huge issue.  Smith on a 1 year deal: essentially a 5 month deal given the timeline?  Suddenly, a lot of that risk is not present.  If Smith wants 2 years, or a year 2 partial guarantee? Kick him to the curb. But on a 1 year, $1-2 million deal, the Nets are essentially signing Smith to a 15th’s man salary, in the hopes he has an impact. If he is atrocious, cut him on the spot. Is that flier not worth cutting Brandon Davies?

And that’s the thing. While Smith is no Joe Johnson, Johnson serves as local proof that it is a mistake to allow a contract to define a player’s skill level. Such has happened with Smith. 4 years and $56 million ties a franchise down, 1 year and $1-2 million? That’s just pebbles invested in him, on the chance he is able to provide some value.

Over a six season stretch in Atlanta (5 with Johns0n) prior to signing in Detroit, Smith shot between 45.7 and 49.2 % from the floor.  Can he get back to being that type of player? A player who is able to make players better with his playmaking, while mixing it up inside with some postups, duck ins, and forays to the rim?

Which leads to another point. Smith was totally miscast in Detroit.  In Atlanta, Smith primarily played the 4. He could beat larger 4’s off the dribble, which opened up his post and inside game, and his playmaking for teammates. Often from 2008-2013, the Hawks had nominal point guards, and relied on Smith’s playmaking for the offense to hum. However, as a lumbering 3 in Detroit, suddenly he could not beat defenders off the dribble, and to compound things, Greg Monroe has taken his paint real estate. The Nets can eliminate that concern by playing Smith at the 3.

Given the issues that arose in Detroit, there are some concerns that Smith may “rock the boat,” in Brooklyn and compromise team chemistry.  That’s a very valid concern for the Nets … were they 20-6 through 26 games. They’re 11-15: is there a boat to rock? It’s one thing to worry about an addition affecting the chemistry when everything is going well, in the worry an injected personality has a bad affect.  That worry is not present here. Also, it cannot be understated that restricted free agents out of the draft are playing for their first big contract, and such created tension between Monroe and Smith, given their shared position and shared place of real estate.  While Mirza Teletovic is playing for a summer deal, there are distinct differences in that Teletovic occupies a different space of the floor than Monroe and Smith, and (while less convincing) Teletovic’s development is likely less important to Brooklyn than Monroe’s to Detroit.

The chemistry concerns in Detroit: not really in play in Brooklyn. 

Finally, it is hard to see the Nets getting a better player than Smith in a free agency signing: at this stage, guys are not on NBA teams for a reason.  The Nets just signed Darius Morris to a contract to fill their roster: there’s a better player out there, on paper, than Smith?

Again, perhaps Smith is permanently a shell of himself.  And, i no way shape or form should the Nets extend a commitment to Smith beyond 2014-2015: if that means someone else gets him, so be it.

If the Nets can get a former foundational piece for a perennial playoff team on a minimum salary, solely under contract for this season, they should do it. So many of the problems with Smith would not be in play, and the risks minimized, mitigated, and managed.

He’s overpaid? Not on a minimum salary over a season. He’s miscast as a 3? Not if the Nets play him at the 4. He’s a chemistry problem? The Nets are desperate for a talent infusion and have no delicate boat to rock. He’s cratered? The Nets would essentially be risking nothing but passing on Brandon Davies’ development (if he is the odd man out) and taking a one year chance on Smith. Again: if Smith wants any money in 2015-2016, he should be told “find another taker.”

Best case scenario, the Nets sign Smith, he has a resurgence, and becomes a key rotation piece in Brooklyn.  Worst case, he becomes immediately despised in the locker room, causes problems, and the Nets, having just committed a single season to him, kick him to the curb and move on, The losses incurred: a bit of Prokhorov’s cash (why should you care?); Davies’ development (is he really in the Nets longterm plans); and the Nets looking lost on the floor (isn’t that already true?)

Smith probably will not be a Net. Other teams appear interested while Brooklyn does not (and have more to offer contention wise). And another team may give him a 2 year deal — something I also maintain the Nets absolutely should not think of doing.

However, what the Nets should do, is try. 1 year, $1-2 million dollars, no guaranteed money once July 1 hits.

Remember: context is everything. 4 years of $56 million of Josh Smith at the 3 is an albatross.  1 year and $1-2 million of Smith at his natural position for a team needing SOMETHING to give it a boost?

It’s a reasonable gamble the Nets should try to take.

pf more inside plus slower bigs


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