Josh Smith, long the darling of basketball anarchists, has more than a few supporters jockeying for his services this upcoming season, and as Matt Moore reports, your Pistons are leading the charge. The high flying center that plays power forward in a small forward’s body is the most coveted Free Agent that doesn’t have two first names (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul) and has already indicated a preference for an obscene amount of money. The debate as to whether Smith is truly a max contract player isn’t much of a debate at all, since it seems he is the only person who actually believes this to be true, though there is no doubt there are enough insecure GMs in the league that will assuredly throw that kind of money at him to pack a few extra seats. Is Joe Dumars that kind of GM? Is this a directive from on high by the new ownership? Are they simply paying lip service or throwing spitballs to a wall? It is hard to say, but it is difficult to believe Smith represents the kind of “veteran missing piece” that will elevate the Pistons to future contenders. As Moore reminds us, the Pistons last major splash in free agency (unless you count signing the mutinous corpse of Tracy McGrady) was an inexplicable double signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. To put it lightly, that move has continued to cast a shadow over the judgment of Joe Dumars, who was at one time the mighty executive that toppled the Lakers with a team of gritty spare parts. His second rebuild hasn’t gone as well and with the knowledge that he won’t survive to see his current crop of draftees hit their strides, he may be willing to shake things up with a marquee signing.
Enter Josh Smith! A all-world athlete, a shot-blocking demon. He can run the floor, finish in transition, dunk right on top of you, and also take way too may midrange jump shots. He’ll make a few so he’ll take some more. Smith has the tendency to pout and throw tiny tantrums, to force the issue when things don’t go his way. Last year he scored about 17 points a game and pulled down about 8 rebounds, not paltry numbers, but not quite dominant either. On the other hand, the idea of a Smith, Monroe, and Drummond frontcourt running the open floor is tantalizing. But on the other other hand, what little chemistry the young Pistons would hope to forge together would be at risk by the presence of a player being paid superstar money that just isn’t capable of putting the team on his back. Not to disparage Smith as an immature team killer (I don’t know the man), but I just don’t see this as a fit. And in all likelihood, neither does he. The pundits say it is far more likely he will end up in Texas, whether in Dallas or Houston will probably depend on Dwight Howard. Anything before Howard makes up his mind is prologue for Smith.
The Pistons are not an attractive destination for the mega free agents because the Pistons are embroiled in a prolonged stretch of losing. They are the worst team in their conference, and any superstar that arrives in town is going to have all the pressure in the world to pull them out of hell and back to relevance. Josh Smith knows as well as any casual observer that he is probably not the man for that job. He’s a very good player, but he’s not a game-changer. The Pistons should be wary of conflating the two.