This month, Complex Sports is featuring "You Suck But I Love You," a series of open letters from one of us about our favorite (and terrible) NBA team. Thus far, we've listened to Doug Sibor bare his soul about the awful Boston Celtics, and Maurice Peebles spill his heart out for the Philadelphia 76ers. In the wake of Josh Smith's dismissal from the 5-23 Detroit Pistons today, Complex editor and Michigan native Gus Turner shares his thoughts on the sorry state of Detroit basketball.
With the release of Josh Smith, life for Detroit Pistons fans like myself just got a little bit easier. As many of us knew, the unholy matrimony joining Smith and the Pistons was ill-advised from the start; when Smith was signed, the greatest praise Detroit fans could muster was cautious optimism: "He'll be good as long as he doesn't shoot threes", "The talent will correct the inevitable spacing issues between Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond", "Maurice Cheeks will figure things out", etc. Here's what J-Smoove had to say about that:
Thankfully, the witch is now dead. Detroit's front-court is considerably less clogged; the team will gain some much-needed cap space; and Stan Van Gundy can stop taking the beta-blockers he needed after any ill-advised three that Smith ever launched, which was every three that Smith ever launched.
Of course, there is one detail to the news that is particularly disconcerting if you're a Detroit fan: the $40.5 million remaining in Smith's contract that the Pistons are now being forced to eat. Even worse, this considerable wrinkle was apparently avoidable:
Pistons, I'm told, ultimately passed on multiple offers from Kings because SVG felt he needed to coach Josh Smith first to give it a shot— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) December 22, 2014
Van Gundy's insistence on coaching Smith is understandable; every good coach believes that they can be a difference-maker for a player's career. However, as the de facto GM, Van Gundy needed to act more objectively. Any smart executive would've seen the smoke and put out the fire; unfortunately, Van Gundy was too blinded to notice the flames underneath his feet. Honestly, it isn't a good sign when the only team that wants to make a deal with you is the Sacramento Kings. Team owner Vivek Ranadivé insists that 4-on-5 basketball is "a thing" based on the success he had coaching his child's youth team—that idea redefines bad basketball in the same way that Smith redefines bad shooting. Unfortunately, as a result of Van Gundy's unwillingness to take the money and run, Detroit will be paying Smith from now until 2020, a span during which he will play exactly—hold on a second, let me figure out the numbers here—zero games in a Pistons uniform. It's hardly a clean break.
If only Smith's lingering contract was Detroit's lone setback, though. There's the matter of the Jodie Meeks deal, which is also butt. Right now, Meeks is getting paid $6 million a year to shoot 38 percent from the field and 23 percent from downtown. 23!
GIF: Jodie Meeks with the classic attempt at a game-winning three pic.twitter.com/Wn07UpuWR9— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) December 22, 2014
Granted, Meeks has only been with the team for a week due to an early-season injury that sidelined him for the first 22 games. Still, however, like Smith, the enthusiasm mustered upon Meeks' arrival in Detroit was decidedly lackluster. Anyone with two eyes and a basic recollection of Quentin Richardson's career with the Phoenix Suns could tell you that Meeks' numbers last season were inflated by Mike D'Antoni's offense. And, y'know, also the fact that Meeks was sharing the court with players like Xavier Henry, Kent Bazemore, Wesley Johnson, and Steve Blake. Basically, someone had to shoot. Earvin Johnson could've averaged 15.7 PPG for these Lakers. I'm not talking about Magic, either.
None of this is to mention Caron Butler's bloated deal, Greg Monroe's consistently bad defense, Andre Drummond's free-throw shooting, or the fact that the Brandon Knight-for-Brandon Jennings trade looks worse and worse by the game.
Still, though, despite their obvious shortcomings, I can't help but love the Detroit Pistons in the wake of Smith's dismissal. If Stan Van Gundy is ready to shed dead-weight, then sign me up. He should dump Butler and Jennings while he's at it. There should be no question about Monroe's trade availability; the former first-round pick is certain to be as good as gone over the offseason, and the Pistons can't afford to lose another asset for nothing.
Detroit has been unintentionally bad for five or six seasons now. It's time to drop the pretense and start collecting L's like they're holographic Pokémon cards. As we all know, there's no dead zone more arid than the NBA's middle-ground, a fact only made more abundantly clear after we lost our first-round draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets in the 2014 draft. If we had been smart and swallowed our pride, we'd have more to build with right now than Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But, hey, we fought hard for all 29 of those wins last season, right? And that's what matters, right? Uh, nah. I'd rather choke more for Okafor.
The only reason that Josh Smith ever signed with Detroit was because of Joe Dumars' bull-headed refusal to bottom out. Instead, Dumars desperately clung to his job by making ill-fated signings in a dogged effort to "win now." The Pistons owe a great debt to Joe Dumars both as an executive and as a player, however, the new administration shouldn't insist upon maintaining Joe D's stubborn approach to team-building. A decade later, it's safe to say that the superstar-less championship squad Dumars built in the early 2000s was a complete anomaly. Names win titles in the NBA, from LeBron James to Tim Duncan to Michael Jordan to, yes, Isiah Thomas. It'd be nice if the Pistons had a realistic hope for landing a big-time free agent, but right now, Detroit mostly appeals to 20-something SJWs, broke hipsters looking for cheap rent, and Quicken employees. I would gladly live in Detroit. Kevin Durant? I doubt it. Instead of hoping for a miracle, we need to do what the Thunder did to land Durant: score a prime position in the draft.
I trust that Van Gundy is smart enough to realize the drastic philosophical changes that must take place in Detroit. Why? Because Smith's release signals that the jig is officially up. The Pistons are finally ready to start slowing down.