The Curious Case of Josh Smith and the Detroit Pistons
By Dustin Bailey
*Photo via USA Today
When the Pistons released Josh Smith on December 22nd , many people, such as myself, were left scratching their head. How could a player with all-star talent go from leading a good, but not great Hawks squad, to being sent away for nothing within such a short time span? Surely, there had to have been an offer for a 2nd round pick and a terrible expiring contract, right? The move at the time seemed egregious. How can Stan Van justify letting a player walk, who you still have to pay, and get nothing in return? What could Detroit possibly gain from such a move?
Wins. Not only wins, but 7 straight wins against some tough competition. What Van Gundy and the Pistons banked on was a principle that I didn’t: addition by subtraction. While, I believe, the situation was still handled incorrectly if you consider the pieces they were offered during the summer, including a package from Sacramento of Jason Thompson and Carl Landry, things have worked out swimmingly. By removing the most inefficient player on the team and increasing the usage rates of more effective players the team has benefited.
The Pistons who had 5 wins with Smith on the team has now amassed 7 straight victories, including an impressive buzzer-beater over the defending champion Spurs. Additionally, now that Greg Monroe has slid into the starting lineup, he’s been showing flashes of the talent he believed he was worth. With games like the one he had Wednesday against Dallas, when he dropped 27 points on 11-15 shooting and snagged 17 boards, it’s easy to see why he didn’t agree to an extension over the summer.
Detroit is now 12-23 and, remarkably, only 3 games out of the 8th seed of the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. It’s hard to project whether or not this short term success can be sustained, but it is evident that the Pistons are playing differently. Van Gundy said “They've worked harder. They've been more attentive. A lot more together. We don't have guys that are getting concerned about who's in the game, or their playing time, or their shots”. Suddenly this is a must-watch League Pass team and a fun group to root for as the playoff race intensifies post all-star break.
The pride of Detroit next gets red hot Atlanta at home, where either Atlanta’s 7-game road winning streak ends or the Pistons 7 game winning streak is broken. It should be a great game between the two teams that have flourished since they departed from Josh Smith. Coincidence? Only time will tell.