Connect with us


NBA PM: The Pistons’ Motivation to Cut Smith

Josh Smith wasn’t the root of the Detroit Pistons’ problems, but his departure was necessary at this point.

Yannis Koutroupis



The Pistons’ Motivation to Cut Smith

One of the worst kept secrets in the league was that the Detroit Pistons were unhappy with Josh Smith and eager to trade him. Smith, signed by former general manager Joe Dumars to a four-year contract worth $54 million in 2013, went from being known as an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year snub to overpaid and inefficient seemingly instantly after putting his name on the dotted line that summer. Because of that, though, the trade market was extremely bare for him. Only the Sacramento Kings showed any real interest, and they were only offering veterans with multiple years left on their deals in return.

So, in one of the more shocking moves of the season so far, the Pistons exercised their right to stretch Smith’s contract and waive him from the roster. He’s going to be paid the rest of the $13.5 million he was owed this year as scheduled, and then the remaining $27 million will be paid to him in annual payments of $5.4 million over the next five years. After clearing waivers in 48 hours, a mere formality, Smith will be an unrestricted free agent – free to sign with any team of his choosing. The Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and aforementioned Kings have all expressed interest in him, with the Rockets reportedly the most serious suitor. Smith’s childhood friends Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo will serve as lead recruiters for their respective teams. For a more detailed look at Smith’s next destination, make sure to check out Lang Green’s breakdown.

On the other side of the equation is the 5-23 Pistons, who just let one of their more talented players walk for free in hopes that it could be addition by subtraction.

“This was a total team decision through discussions with ownership and Stan [Van Gundy] and our organization,” Pistons general manager Jeff Bower said to Matt Dery on Detroit Sports 105.1. “Basically we’re not happy with where we’re at with our record at 5-23 and realize we need to make changes. In those changes roles will have to be shifted, usage will have to change and we need to be able to really stress the development of our players as well. We felt given the 10-year history of Josh, given the changes that we needed to make with our team that in all fairness to him and for our team that this was probably the best way to move forward. In the process, what it does is allow Josh to be a free agent and be available to pick a situation that he best fits into and is most comfortable with, [that] can utilize his versatility and skills. It also allows us to move on with the changes we need to make as well we create significant salary cap room that we can use this summer as well. There were a lot of steps and a lot of things that went into this decision. We feel out of respect to Josh and the interest in our team this was the best solution for everyone involved. We appreciate Josh for all the things he has done for the Pistons during his time here and wish him well as he explores other opportunities.”

Smith was having a historically inefficient season for the Pistons, shooting .391 from the field, .243 from three, .468 from the charity stripe and turning it over 2.6 times a night. To his credit, he was averaging a career-best 4.7 assists a game, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals, and those numbers help create a belief that he can help some of the contending teams that are vying for his services. But they weren’t enough to convince Van Gundy – who has full control of the Pistons’ personnel moves – that he could fit into his system when combined with his shooting struggles. He was giving him 32 minutes a night in attempt to make it work, but it clearly wasn’t.

With a rare in-season break of four days between games, Van Gundy was ready to go in a different direction and didn’t want to have a $13.5 million player who was brought in to play a feature role disgruntled on his bench as he did so.

“This was about our team and moving forward with it, changing roles that we felt had to be changed, again having people in roles that they fit and accept is so crucial for them being successful,” Bower said. “We felt this was best for Josh and best for our team obviously to move ahead in this fashion because of the whole composite effect.

“Stan had earmarked these days to get back on the practice court with a full set of objectives and areas of improvement that we’re really looking at making progress in during this time frame. The ability to move forward at the beginning of this time frame with the practice days that we have ahead of us that all kind of fit together from the standpoint of when you do something like this or when you pull the trigger on a move like this. We wanted to maintain all of our assets moving forward. When you’re making personnel changes, you’re forced to give up assets that are valuable down the road and in future transactions. In this scenario we were able to keep all our assets, create another one of significance and give Josh the freedom to move on without any road blocks.”

The Pistons rank 28th in the league in points per 100 possessions at 97.6. Their 49.4 true shooting percentage as a team is dead last and they’re giving up 105.8 points per 100 possessions, which puts them just outside the bottom five in the league.

Truthfully, the solution to their problem probably isn’t on their roster right now. But they had a real mismatched set of pieces that could potentially fit together a bit easier with Smith gone. And, the added cap relief from his departure is going to be a much needed tool for Van Gundy to further put his imprint on the team this summer. The Pistons go from having a guaranteed total of $39.47 million on the books next year to $31.3 million, giving them around $37 million in cap space to utilize.

“Obviously all our problems didn’t go out the door,” Bower said. “Josh was not the target and the only problem. Given where we are, though, and given the need for us to re-distribute roles and re-distribute shot opportunities and usage rates of our team, that became the dominant thought. Our ability to shift the ball around and to shift how players are used is something that we didn’t feel was fair to Josh, to totally minimize his role or reduce his role and we did feel that we had to make changes similar to that to move forward. This, along with conditions of the CBA, providing stretch option for us, really minimizes the effects of waiving for him and creates another asset for us to capitalize on the next two summers.”

Bower mentioned Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Singler and Spencer Dinwiddie specifically as guys who the team really wants to evaluate over the rest of the season, but made it clear that the goal is to get to the playoffs. The Pistons, despite their horrific start, are only seven games back of the eighth-seeded Boston Celtics, who just traded their star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks. Van Gundy has never coached a team that finished with a record worse than .500 and would like to keep that streak intact if at all possible, even as unlikely as it may seem at this point.

As important as those three young players are to the Pistons’ present and future, the spotlight is really going to be put on Greg Monroe, who is set to become a free agent at season’s end. Monroe was a restricted free agent this offseason and despite multiple teams trying to facilitate sign-and-trade deals and just sign him outright, the Pistons were unwilling to let him go. Yet, they weren’t willing to meet his desired price tag on a long-term deal either, so he settled for a qualifying offer.

Inevitably, like most players who are on expiring contracts, rumors started to swirl about Monroe. He denied wanting out at all costs, and this looks to be a sign from Pistons management that they are open to the prospect of inking him to a long-term deal. If Monroe can thrive with Smith gone and help get the Pistons back on track, a four- or five-year pact could still be feasible between the two parties. Monroe is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game this year, right around his career average, but should be a significant boost in minutes, touches and spacing as the team takes a new direction.

The other byproduct of this move is the message that gets sent to the remaining Pistons. Smith seemed to have security with his high-dollar deal, but he’s gone and there’s nothing stopping Van Gundy from sending other guys packing if he thinks it’s for the betterment of the team. Guys are either going to get on board or be sent off. No one is safe and sometimes it takes that kind of threat to turn a team around.

Royce White Hopes to Play Again

Former Iowa State standout Royce White, infamously deemed “the worst first round pick ever” by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey (the man who selected him) is currently out of the league and the game of basketball all together. He received a brief opportunity with the Sacramento Kings last year, but at just 23 years of age there’s reason to wonder if we’ll ever see him in the NBA again.

White’s talent has never been questioned. Blessed with great size, strength and court vision, White is undoubtedly one of the best 400 players in the world when he’s in shape and focused on basketball. However, White’s a man with a variety of other interests. He’s always been quick to correct people when they label him as a basketball player, pointing out that he’s much more than just that and is not defined by it. He also battles with anxiety, and has used his success in the game of basketball to become one of the more visible advocates of mental health rights.

However, White does miss the game and hasn’t given up hope of one day making a return to the game that he does love to play.

Based on the results of his first stint in the league, which featured some very public clashes with the Rockets over the management and plan for his anxiety, White faces a long road to get back in to the NBA. The D-League could offer him a really great platform to showcase his abilities and prove his dedication, though.

Being a professional basketball player, in the NBA especially, is very demanding. If White can show that he’s up to meeting those demands, and gets back to peak conditioning level that he was at when he exploded onto the scene during his lone season at Iowa State, his hopes very well could turn into reality. The NBA is a forgiving league. There will be a team willing to give him a second chance, but it has to be earned – and it’s going to be much more difficult to earn it this go around.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.


Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future

Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.

James Blancarte



On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.

Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.

Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.

Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.

“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”

Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.

“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”

Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.

“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.

While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.

“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.

Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.

There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.

“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”

Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.

“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”

Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.

“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.

Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.

“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.

When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.

Continue Reading


Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers

Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.

Spencer Davies



The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.

The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.

With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.

Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.

“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.

Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.

Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.

Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.

LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.

“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”

The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.

The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.

Continue Reading


NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start

Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.

Joel Brigham



There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.

“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”

Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.

“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”

That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.

“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”

As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.

“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”

Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.

“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”

He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.

“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”

The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.

“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”

That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.

“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”

Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.

“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”

He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.

Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.

Continue Reading

The Strictly Speaking Podcast


Trending Now