Josh Smith, the enigmatic but immensely talented small forward from Atlanta, skipped the team he grew up watching, signing a four-year, $56-million contract offer from the Detroit Pistons.
While Smith reportedly considered rejoining the Hawks, he chose Detroit over Houston and his hometown team with whom he has had a sometimes-turbulent run over nine years.
Certainly Smith was impressed that the Pistons made him their primary target, meeting with him one minute after midnight last week, when free agent discussion could begin. He cannot sign the new deal until July 10.
A former NBA slam-dunk champion with dynamic athleticism, averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Hawks last season.
But his time was marked by surly behavior at times, run-ins with coaches, questionable effort and a penchant for firing up three-point shots that puzzled fans and the organization because his perimeter game is average.
Smith will be playing for new coach Maurice Cheeks, who replaces fired Lawrence Frank. Detroit has not made the playoffs in four years, and while the addition of Smith should inject some excitement within the franchise, the Pistons remain a young team.
Smith, 27, will start at small forward alongside 20-year-old center Andre Drummond and power forward Greg Monroe, who is 23. And the team’s backcourt likely will be second-year player Brandon Knight and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the eight pick in the recent NBA Draft.
For Smith, the change of teams could take his career to another level. He will be the most talented player on the Pistons, and will be relied on to score points in bunches. He will have to continue to be a solid rebounder and shot-blocker, while either becoming a more reliable shooter from deep or minimizing the number of jump shots beyond 15 feet that he takes.
The Hawks plugged in Paul Millsaps, a hard-working, rugged forward who had some good years in Utah playing a relatively limited role.