The Detroit Pistons may have too many cooks in the kitchen.
With both Greg Monroe and Josh Smith best suited to the power forward position, something has to give. Last season, Smith ended up playing more of a small forward role—and it showed.
The 28-year-old posted the worst field-goal percentage of his career (41.9 percent). He averaged 3.4 three-point attempts per game, a career high. The 6.8 rebounds he averaged were his lowest mark since 2005-06. The numbers don't lie in this instance.
Worse yet, Smith's presence may be taking its toll on restricted free agent Greg Monroe, a 24-year-old star in the making.
Grantland's Zach Lowe reported that, "Multiple sources say Monroe’s camp has made it known Monroe will sign the one-year qualifying offer if Smith remains on the roster."
Lowe admits that, "Monroe’s camp denies that," but he further explains, "That kind of empty threat is not atypical from top restricted free agents. It’s really their only form of leverage."
The idea here is that Monroe supposedly won't re-sign to a long-term deal unless Smith is first moved.
And it's an idea that's been refuted by team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy.
"Greg's never said anything to us about not wanting to play with Josh," Van Gundy told USA Today's Vince Ellis this week.
Per Ellis, "Van Gundy added that Monroe's agent, David Falk, hasn't made such a request."
Request or no request, there's a strong argument to be made that Smith and Monroe can't coexist. It has nothing to do with their ability to get along and everything to do with basketball itself. This is an on-the-court problem—the kind that a conversation or two won't smooth over.
Smith isn't a good perimeter shooter. He's at his best closer to the basket, from the mid-range at the very worst. He also excels in up-tempo situations where his speed and athleticism can overwhelm slower big men.
This is not the making of a small forward.
At the 3, Smith is faced with quicker defenders who are all too keen to keep him on the wing, far away from the basket.
That's not just a bad situation for Smith. It has ripple effects on the entire team, including Monroe. Given Smith's limitations from long range, defenders can sag off him and clog the paint—in turn, interfering with Monroe's own ability to operate from the post or mid-range.
It's a spacing nightmare, and it translated into a middling team offense last season.
Detroit ranked 14th league-wide in points scored with 101 per contest, and that was in spite of ranking 11th in pace, according to Hollinger stats. The Pistons ranked just 20th in collective field-goal percentage (44.7 percent), thanks in no small part to Smith's 41.9 percent from the field.
According to Hollinger stats, the club ranked 24th in effective field-goal percentage.
There are plenty of directions in which to point fingers. Point guard Brandon Jennings had the worst season since his rookie year. Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope experienced the growing pains of his own rookie year.
But we can conclude this much: The attempt to play Smith and Monroe alongside one another is ill-advised from almost any angle.
Including on the defensive end.
Inept as Detroit's offense sometimes seemed, this team ranked 27th in points allowed, giving up 104.7 per contest. The Pistons also ranked 27th in opponent field-goal percentage, allowing a 47 percent success rate.
That shouldn't be the case for a team with two rim protectors like Smith and Andre Drummond. But again, part of the problem was that Smith was forced to defend players on the wing instead of patrolling the interior.
His 1.4 blocks per game was the lowest mark of his career.
This isn't about Smith being a bad player, though he's seemingly fallen short of his potential throughout an up-and-down career. This is about a fine player being asked to do things he just isn't equipped to do. That's plain to see for just about anyone watching, and it should be apparent enough to Van Gundy himself before long.
Van Gundy has good reason to avoid any perception of internal strife. The more it looks like Smith is on the trade block, the less leverage the organization will ultimately have in trading him. If teams on the other end of negotiations believe Smith's days are numbered, they'll be more inclined to lowball the Pistons in an attempt to get Smith on the cheap.
Detroit has to make it seem like it's willing to make things work—even if it's abundantly clear things aren't working at all.
To be sure, there's certainly a world in which Monroe is the one who doesn't remain a Piston over the long haul. Though he's younger than Smith, Detroit would probably be able to survive his loss. And the team would certainly be better off if Smith could move to the interior—where he spent far more of his time during his nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.
If Monroe is intrigued with offers he receives elsewhere, Detroit could even arrange a sign-and-trade so as to get something in return.
The average Pistons fan would probably prefer that Smith be the one to go, but they should recall that he was the one playing out of position last season—in effect taking one for the team so that Monroe could retain his big minutes.
There are good arguments for keeping Smith or Monroe, either one. But there isn't much of a case for keeping them both.
With or without requests being made by Monroe's camp, the writing is on the wall.
Someone has to go.
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