As reported this morning by Vincent Ellis and confirmed by the team in a press release, the Pistons have waived Josh Smith. Detroit will utilize the stretch provision to minimize the cap hit from releasing Smith, assuming he is not claimed off waivers. According to Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors, the move will cost the Pistons the full $13.5M cap hit this season, and then spread the remaining $27M left on his deal in $5.4M increments evenly against the Pistons' cap through 2019-20.
Josh Smith played 105 games in a Pistons uniform, to the tune of a 33-72 record, and manufactured some of the least enjoyable Pistons basketball in my lifetime. While Smith isn't completely to blame for the Pistons struggles in the last two years, he's certainly the easiest target. His penchant for jumpers 20-feet beyond his range and his steady decline in most areas of the game, combined with his team-high salary instantly drew the ire of Pistons fans. Smith's tenure in Detroit was doomed from the start, when Joe Dumars insisted that Smith could play SF, something he had never done successfully. His pairing with two inept coaches in his first season didn't do anybody any favors either. Cheeks and Loyer routinely floated Smith out at the SF position, putting him in place to launch long twos and float helplessly off of shooters on defense. Smith didn't do himself any favors either. Whether or not he truly was a toxic presence (all indications are he truly was), his poor body language and blank facial expressions didn't endear him to the fans. Despite being one of the highest paid players in franchise history, it never seemed like it bothered Smith that his teams were terrible. Whether that's true or not, the majority of Pistons fans are glad to see him go.
After factoring in Josh Smith's $5.4M cap hit, and assuming the Pistons don't pick up their $947k option on Tony Mitchell, the Pistons have $36,203,240 in salary commitments for the 2015-16 season. If you believe ShamSports' 2015-16 salary cap projection of $66M, the Pistons figure to have close to $30M in cap space if they don't trade any players under contract next year for players on expiring deals. Cap space has been an enemy of the Pistons in offseasons past, but the opportunity for Stan Van Gundy to craft a team that plays how he wants it to intrigues me. With definite, glaring needs at PG, SF and possibly PF going into next season, there won't be a shortage of players for the Pistons to spend their new-found cap space on, such as the following players:
PG: Goran Dragic (U), Rajon Rondo (U), Reggie Jackson (R), Brandon Knight (U)
SF: Kawhi Leonard (R), Jimmy Butler (R), Wes Matthews (U), Tobias Harris (R), Gerald Green (U)
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge (U), Paul Millsap (U), Greg Monroe (U)
As a side note, yes, Butler and Matthews are technically SGs, but both have the size to play SF and Butler has done so extensively in the past. Any combination of the players above offer the Pistons a sizable upgrade at their respective position. So while it may hurt to have Smith on the books through the '19-'20 season, releasing him offers the Pistons a chance to immediately revitalize the roster via free agency. With a player or two from the group above, and a likely top-5 pick, the Pistons have an opportunity to compete in the near future. It's far from a guarantee, but the Pistons are closer to competing now than they were 24 hours ago.
For the rest of the 2014-15 season, waiving Josh Smith is the first official signal that Stan Van Gundy meant it when he said it's time for the team to start developing their young players. With Smith gone, the Pistons have more minutes in the frontcourt for players like Jonas Jerebko and Tony Mitchell. Jerebko may not exactly be young, but should he continue his strong play, his expiring contract could bring the Pistons a young player or a 2nd round pick at the trade deadline. Smith's departure also means more touches for everybody in the offense, but most likely, more touches for Andre Drummond. Early returns on the young big man's post game have been discouraging, but with the pressure to win now 100% off, Detroit won't be afraid to watch him grow. Josh Smith had the highest usage rate on the team and took 14 shots per game; expect a few of those looks to now go to Andre.
The move also signals likely changes in how the backcourt shares minutes. Brandon Jennings, who was signed in the same off-season as Smith, is firmly on the trade block. He's not a candidate to be waived like Smith was, but you get the feeling that Van Gundy will jump at the first reasonable offer for the inconsistent point guard. More minutes are waiting for 2014 second round pick Spencer Dinwiddie, who SVG mentioned by name when he announced that the team was looking to get more minutes for young players. In limited minutes so far this year, Dinwiddie has struggled to score, but shown his potential as a passer. With more time and a longer leash, Dinwiddie may also display the scoring talent he showed off in his two-plus years at Colorado. More minutes for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should also help the Pistons figure out just exactly what they have and what they don't have.
The important thing to remember here, is that it's a new day, and this time the sunrise didn't cost the Pistons nearly as much. Josh Smith is on to what will likely be greener pastures on a Western Conference contender, which means this once-proud franchise can now continue seeking the same. Josh Smith is gone, and watching a Pistons game no longer means collective groans every time the worst shooter in NBA history rises up. We're all one step closer to enjoying Pistons basketball again.
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