The Pistons benefited from releasing Josh Smith. What other NBA players need to be cut for their team to soar?
By now everyone knows about the current dominance of the Detroit Pistons. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games with their only loss coming at the hands (and heart and brains etc.) of the unstoppable Atlanta Hawks. Detroit has been the third best team in the league since late December and the reason for their turnaround is simple and obvious: they got rid of Josh Smith. No other reason. That’s it. Sure, Stan Van Gundy has been coaching flawlessly, but we already knew he was a great coach. Sure, Brandon Jennings is suddenly the second-coming of Isiah Thomas, but we already knew the talent was there. It’s 100% Josh Smith.
The Pistons taught everyone a valuable lesson: If you have millions and millions of dollars lying around, give them to the person or persons that are ruining your life and tell them to leave you and your community alone for the rest of eternity.
Which brings us to a very important question: Are the Pistons the only team that needed to do this? Is Josh Smith the only player worthy of exile for the betterment of a franchise?
Of course not. Other teams should follow the Pistons lead and get rid of their own Josh Smiths. Here are my Official Josh Smith Wrecking Ball All-Stars. I am calling these players the “Wrecking Ball All-Stars” because, when I think of them, I imagine them tearfully singing Miley Cyrus’s modern classic “Wrecking Ball” to their team’s management after getting the boot.
NOTE: Josh Smith is the unquestioned leader of this team. Like Magic Johnson and Bill Russell before him, he has the rare privilege/honor of being the Player-Coach-Captain of a professional sports team (this will likely be the only time Josh Smith’s name appears alongside those of Magic Johnson and Bill Russell in the same sentence. Cherish it).
Co-Floor General and constant emotional spark-plug: Lance Stephenson, Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets were supposed to take a giant step forward this year and be a contender in the East. With the ever-improving play of Kemba Walker and the always reliable Al Jefferson, the future was looking very awesome for Hornets fans after their surprising-but-not-really-
Lance Stephenson was supposed to come in and be the final missing piece for an otherwise solid roster: an athletic, hard-working utility guy who does everything pretty well on both ends of the floor. He was expected to be a secondary ball-handler who, when not scoring or setting up his teammates, would at the very least provide an emotional spark and play lock-down defense. In one of my first articles (article on RFA’s in the east), I sang Lance Stephenson’s praises and discussed how not signing Gordon Hayward was a blessing in disguise for the Hornets because it allowed them to acquire Stephenson. Thank God hind-sight is 20/20.
Stephenson has been horrible this year. He doesn’t fit into the offense at all and, when given the opportunity to be a primary scorer, he’s failed miserably. He is shooting 38.6% from the field including an awe-inspiring 15% from three. This is the same guy who shot 49% overall and 35% from three last year in Indiana. He has scored 20+ points once, shot 50% or better four times, grabbed 10+ rebounds five times, and has recorded double-digit assists a solid zero times this season. The man was a triple-double machine last year and a game-changer down the stretch. He has been nowhere close to that this season. His defense has also been less-than-desirable. He has an overall PER of 10.33 which is inexcusably terrible for a player of his caliber.
The Hornets need to get rid of Lance Stephenson. They currently have a miserable record of 15-24 but are 9-5 in their last 14 games without Stephenson in the lineup.
The No Longer Elite Money Pit and Domineering Chucker On the Wing: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Don’t get it twisted. I’ve been, for the most part, a Kobe admirer since I was nine years old despite the fact that he’s an unbearable presence in the locker room and a complete jerk to a lot of his teammates (the most notable example being when he told Smush Parker that he wasn’t good enough to speak to him when Parker was simply trying to talk to him about life outside of basketball). My first basketball jersey was a Kobe Bryant jersey. My second fan letter was to Kobe Bryant (my first was to Reggie Miller). I know Kobe Bryant is one of the fifteen greatest players to ever play the game and I know that he’s one of the greatest champions in the history of history.
But something has to be said about a player who talks about playing “only for rings” who then accepts a two-year, 50 million dollar contract, thus ruining any possible chance his team has of winning rings. While Jim Buss rightfully deserves most of the blame for offering a past-his-prime All-Star coming off of a career-threatening injury such an exorbitant contract, Kobe definitely deserves some criticism. The best-case scenario for the Lakers now is bringing in a big free agent at the end of the season and evolving from a terrible team to a slightly better than mediocre team that loses in the first or second round of the playoffs.
But enough of that. Let’s talk about Kobe’s performance on the court this year. He’s currently averaging 22.7 PPG, 5.4 APG, and 5.6 RPG which obviously looks pretty respectable on paper. Dig a little deeper (or just watch a Laker game), however, and you will see a player who is making JR Smith look like a good decision maker.
Kobe is attempting 21 shots a game including over 5 a game from three. While I am a firm supporter of the belief that it’s better for a star player to go 5-20 than 2-7, it’s different when it comes to Kobe, at least this season. He’s connecting on less than eight of those overall attempts (good for 36.9% overall) and he’s only making 1.5 of his 5.2 attempts from three per game. His overall field goal percentage of 36.9% is by far the worst of his career (the second-worst being his rookie season when he shot 42% from the floor) and his 28.9% from three is the third-worst of his career but is easily the worst in terms of performance because in those other two seasons he was averaging far fewer attempts (2 per game in 1998-1999; 1.7 per game in 2001-2002).
Those abysmal numbers still don’t really tell the whole story though. Kobe Bryant, more than any other player I’ve seen during my lifetime, is settling for absolutely idiotic shots this season. Whether it be shooting fade-aways from 25 feet or launching deep threes with wide open teammates in the post, Kobe is taking more bad shots than good shots. He’s also way past his days of being an elite defender. The Lakers will never get rid of Kobe Bryant because he’s Kobe Bryant, but they need to do some serious rebuilding if they want to get back to the Lakers of old. This won’t happen until after Kobe Bryant retires.
The Supporting Cast: The Entire New York Knicks Roster and JR Smith
When I started writing this article, I intended to come up with a concrete, never-changing starting five. The issue is that this is impossible. Any Wrecking-Ball All-Star team isn’t complete without at least three members of the New York Knicks and former New York All-Infuriating Superstar JR Smith, so I decided that I would just round out the team with all of them. I’ve already said basically everything that needs to be said about JR Smith in previous articles. The current Knicks, however, have everything you would ever want in a Wrecking-Ball All Star team. Disgustingly overpaid big-men? They have that more than covered with Amar’e Stoudemire (23.5 Million this year) and Andrea Bargnani (11.5 Million this year). A Superstar who can’t lead a team and who seems to only care about himself? Carmelo Anthony is in a league of his own. Unjustifiably bold rookie who decides to question the leadership of aforementioned star player? Look no further than Tim Hardaway Jr. A bunch of rotation players who wouldn’t get any playing time for any other team in the NBA besides maybe the Sixers, Lakers, and Celtics? That’s basically the rest of the Knicks team. Have I ever mentioned my dislike for the New York Knicks? Much love, y’all.