The Detroit Pistons announced they have waived Josh Smith.
Smith had two years and $27 million left on the four-year contract he was signed to by Joe Dumars when he was in charge. New coach/GM Stan Van Gundy wanted to move Smith the minute he got the job but the offers reportedly were not to his liking so he decided to wait and see if Smith's value grew during the season under his leadership. It didn't happen. Smith shot 39 percent from the field and 24 percent from beyond the arc while putting up a team-leading 14 shots per game in Detroit. The Pistons got out to a 5-23 start and are tied with the Knicks for second worst record in the East.
So Van Gundy decided it was time for a change. From the Pistons press release:
"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."
The Twitter-verse immediately went into speculation mode over where Smith will land once he clears waivers, with the Rockets, thanks to his friendship with Dwight Howard, looking like the front-runners. The Kings and Heat are reportedly interested as well. Any contender with a thin front court will also be intrigued by Smith, as he was at least an average power forward in his time in Atlanta. The move to small forward and the volatile situation within the Pistons' big man rotation did him no favors but in the right situation, he could thrive.
The question is, should the Spurs be interested?
The fit is not as poor as people might expect, at least from a skill set perspective. Smith can't shoot and that's a huge strike against him. But Tiago Splitter can't shoot either and the Spurs have been able to survive the spacing issues on offense with him playing next to Tim Duncan and have locked down on defense with the two sharing the court. Even at small forward plus/minus models rank him as an above-average defender. The eye test shows he made a lot of mistakes in the perimeter but those will disappear or at least be reduced when he's moved to power forward full time. He could be a solid option as a starter but it's hard to see the Spurs go that route.
The best option for San Antonio could be to decide to get experimental and try Smith as a backup center if they were to sign him. He's only 6'9 but springy enough to allow only 47.6 percent at the rim in 6.6 contests a game, numbers that compare favorably to Anthony Davis, among others, and are much better than Aron Baynes'. Playing with the bench unit next to Boris Diaw would allow Smith to stay close to the rim, where he used to be a match up nightmare. For all his flaws as a Piston, he's passing has been a bright spot, as he has an assist percentage of 26.5 percent, a mark that would rank him third in the Spurs, behind Parker and Ginobili. He could be an asset to the pass-oriented second unit.
That being said, there have been no reports about the Spurs showing interest in Smith and it's easy to see why. For him to be of help the Spurs would have to find the right lineups to hide his weaknesses. That means the aforementioned shift to center Smith might not be willing to make and might not be well-suited to undertake. It's unlikely he starts next to Duncan and having him on the court as a small forward on defense next to Diaw or Bonner and as power forward on offense presents some challenges as well. To find minutes for Smith, Marco Belinelli and Aron Baynes would have to play less. Those are a lot of changes to make and a lot of risks to take for someone who another team is paying millions of dollars to stay away.
Smith is likely not interested in moving to San Antonio either. The Spurs have over $3 million left of their non-tax payer mid-level exception and have no luxury tax concerns, so they could offer more money than every contender. But Smith is still getting paid by the Pistons. Signing with the Kings, for example, likely means a starting gig. The same applies to the Rockets. If he has a good season, he could command another big contract in the summer. That probably won't happen if he signs with the Spurs and comes off the bench. And if he couldn't get along with Van Gundy, it's almost impossible to see him survive Pop without at least some flare ups that would contribute to his reputation as uncoachable.
There was a rumor about the Spurs being interested in trading for Smith when he was still a member of the Hawks. The team is going through a tough time right now so any possibility of change is intriguing. It's still impossible to see the Spurs pursuing Smith at this juncture, unless they know something about his situation as a Piston we don't know. Stephen Jackson, a guy Pop loved, was waived before the playoffs because of attitude issues; that's how much the Spurs care about chemistry. And there's no inside connection to him the way there was between Parker and Boris Diaw when the french power forward was waived by the then Bobcats.
In all likelihood, whether the Spurs are interested or not will prove to be moot. Despite the terrible past two years, there will be plenty of suitors vying for Smith's services and he could find more playing time, a more relaxed environment and reduced expectations elsewhere. That's OK. As alluring as his unique talents are, the Spurs will be fine without Smith. Increasing the locker room's volatility for a chance at being the latest team to try to change a gifted but mercurial player set in his ways just isn't worth it.
This article originally stated that the Spurs had their entire mid-level exception. It has been edited to reflect that's not the case.