Updates from Monday, July 21
Detroit Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy reached out to forward Josh Smith to tell him that reports of the franchise engaging in substantive trade talks with Sacramento centered on Smith have been inaccurate and – barring an unexpected turn of events – Smith will be in training camp with the Pistons this fall, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Updates from Thursday, July 17
Ken Berger of CBS Sports reported on the latest in trade talks for Josh Smith:
Renewed discussions between the Kings and Pistons on Josh Smith have not progressed yet to the point where a deal is imminent, source says.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) July 17, 2014
Earlier, Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News reported on the latest news regarding Smith's status with the Pistons:
Here's what I do know: Kings GM wasn't too enthralled with the deal. If anything, seems like it's being pushed by coach Mike Malone— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) July 17, 2014
SVG has met with Josh Smith and hasn't made any promises about keeping him. He'll move Smith but he wants value— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) July 17, 2014
Updates from Wednesday, July 16
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports that Josh Smith is once again the subject of trade talks:
Sources told ESPN.com that the Kings have continued to express interest in Smith and the parties are on the hunt for a third team to could help facilitate the deal.
Sources say the Kings continue to give the addition of Smith serious consideration, largely because the discussions to date have not required them to part with any players in their long-term plans and would also add a versatile and athletic defender to a roster that badly needs one, given how much Kings coach Mike Malone is known to preach defense.
When Stan Van Gundy took over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, a looming question was how he was going to reshape the roster despite onerous, previously existing contracts. If early reports are any indication, Van Gundy may have found a taker for one such deal.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported Tuesday that the Pistons and Sacramento Kings have engaged in preliminary talks surrounding forward Josh Smith:
One source insists nothing imminent, but I'm told Pistons and Kings have discussed a trade that would send Josh Smith to Sacramento— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 24, 2014
As Stein notes, the two sides are not nearing a deal at this time. Because no iterations of the trade currently involve a draft pick, the Kings are more focused on their plans for Thursday night than consummating a player-for-player deal that can happen at another time.
One possible framework Stein highlights has forwards Jason Thompson and Derrick Williams going to Detroit for Smith. A Thompson-Williams package works under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, as does one featuring Jason Terry substituted in for Williams.
However, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com is reporting that talks between the two sides are dead:
Rumored Sacramento-Detroit trade is "dead" according to a team source. Talks were ongoing for a few days, but Detroit nixed it this morning.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 24, 2014
While Thompson especially is a usable NBA rotation piece, the Pistons would only make such a trade as a blatant salary dump. Smith is due $40.5 million over the next three seasons after inking a four-year, $54 million deal in Detroit last summer. Brought in as a ploy from former general manager Joe Dumars to re-enter the playoff picture, Smith's deal became almost instantly toxic.
The 28-year-old forward averaged 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting a career-low 41.9 percent from the floor, often succumbing to his worst habits. Never a strong jump shooter, Smith set a career-high with 265 attempted threes while making just 26.4 percent. Among players who attempted at least 250 threes in a season, only Antoine Walker in 1999-2000 shot a worse percentage, per Basketball-Reference.
The Pistons, expected by some to be an Eastern Conference playoff team, scuffled to a 29-53 record. Coach Maurice Cheeks was fired midway through the season, and Dumars left his front office post after more than a decade. The mercurial Smith (and especially his contract) were often scapegoated by Pistons fans and media alike, something to which he demurred late in the season.
“If you played the game, if you know X's and O's, it's not all my fault,” Smith said, per Matt Moore of CBS Sports. “I'm not gonna say I'm perfect, by far, but I'm not the guy you can point the finger at. I'm a firm believer in you point one finger at one person, point three back at yourself.”
As the Kings and any other possible suitor are banking, part of Smith's struggles were due to inexplicable roster design. For almost his entire career, Smith has been better when playing the power forward role. Because the Pistons already had Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond entrenched in the frontcourt, the Pistons were forced to shoehorn Smith into a role he did not fit.
The result went about as expected. Smith fell back on poor habits as offensive spacing became tough to come by, jacking up contested mid-range jumpers and threes early in the shot clock. One of the league's most dynamic finishers near the rim, Smith actually shot more mid-range jumpers than any other spot on the floor.
Smith works best when he's able to use his largely average shooting ability to draw defenses in for an assist opportunity—not when he's chucking up the ball. Detroit's roster limitations partially forced him into his lowest assist total in a half-decade.
Should a trade go through, Sacramento would slot Smith into a power forward role next to DeMarcus Cousins. Rudy Gay's decision to opt into his contract for 2014-15 gives the Kings little reason to play Smith out of position, outside limited minutes when Mike Malone wants to go big.
Dealing Smith also allows Van Gundy an opportunity to lock up Monroe long-term without sacrificing the Pistons' future finances. Monroe, a restricted free agent, is expected to command a long-term deal this summer averaging eight figures a year.
Matching a high-priced offer sheet for Monroe, who fits with Drummond much better over the long term, is difficult when the similarly skilled Smith is also on the books. Thompson, Williams and Terry all have contracts that expire after next season, allowing the Pistons to be a major player in the summer of 2015, as noted by Detroit-based sportswriter Dave Hogg:
Not surprised by the @ESPNSteinLine reports about Josh Smith trade talks. SVG wants to keep Monroe, but Smith's contract makes that harder.— Dave Hogg (@Stareagle) June 24, 2014
With Kings management under an edict to compete for a playoff spot, Van Gundy may have found the only muse willing to make the Smith-Monroe decision for him. If any formal offer is on the table, he should think long and hard about taking it.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter @tylerconway22.