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Pistons Cut Josh Smith, And It Must Be About More Than Basketball

Josh SmithThere is no way Josh Smith—6-foot-8 with as much athleticism as anyone in the NBA—was cut by the Detroit Pistons today over basketball-only issues. Not possible, and for several reasons.

One, Smith can play. He has never been as consistent a player as one would like, which speaks more to maturity than anything else. Still, even in his inconsistency, Smith has a career average of 15.4 points a game. He’s spectacular above the rim. Defensively, he’s a punishing shot-blocker. Smith is the only NBA player to average at least 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal per game since blocks and steals became an official league statistic four decades ago, according to STATS LLC.

Two, he’s only 29 and has never suffered a major injury. So he has several years where he can be an asset to a team. He entered the league straight out of high school. Jay Bilas of ESPN called him a future bust because he didn’t see the desire in Smith necessary to succeed in the NBA. Smith has lasted 11 years, which sort of squashes Bilas’ prediction that hurt Smith and his family on a night they should have been celebrating.

Three, the Pistons signed Smith last year to a four-year, $54-million contract. Teams almost never release a player with that kind of guaranteed financial commitment.

So, why, then would a struggling team like the Pistons depart with a young talent like Smith? Has to be attitude. Has to be a concern about team chemistry. This is what coach Stan Van Gundy said, trying hard to not expose Smith’s misbehavior: “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.”

In 28 games, Smith averaged 13.1 points while shooting 39.1 percent from the floor. Not great. But, again, it’s more than that. Players struggle. The Pistons could have sought a trade to acquire some talent or a second-round draft pick for Smith. But what they essentially did today is wash their hands of him.

And this is not the first time that has happened, which means a lot.

Smith, for all his talent and still-untapped potential, showed immaturity during his nine years with the Atlanta Hawks. He played at an all-star level in 2007-08, when he averaged 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.7 blocks. Those are outstanding numbers, numbers most players cannot produce across the board.

But Smith bickered with coach Mike Woodson, who is a disciplinarian who demands effort and playing “the right way” at all times. Sometimes, their disputes took place right on the court for all to see. Sometimes they were behind closed doors. But they existed, and Smith’s refusal to acquiesce to the coach without mouthing off usurped the authority of Woodson.

And it caused friction within the locker room. In other words, while players like him as an individual, he was not the best teammate because he seemed to believe it all revolved around him. When he did not make the ’08 NBA All-Star team, he practically moped about it.

When it became time for Smith to get a new contract, the Hawks let him walk with no compensation in return.

Now this. Smith will be signed by another team, and soon. He’s that talented and young and can add so much to a team—if he turns his grumpiness into professionalism.

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