By: Brian Chapman
By now every Pistons fan has come across the ESPN story from last week reporting that the Pistons have reopened trade talks with the Kings to send Josh Smith to Sacramento for next to nothing. The package is actually Jason Thompson and Jason Terry or Derrick Williams or something completely different that involves a third team, but really it appears to be nothing more than a salary dump, a headache dunk and a three-point percentage rate addition by subtraction. It seems most fans are in favor of this Josh Smith trade to the Kings even if they don’t know what they’ll get in return because it will mean that Smith’s errant long jumper and salary will be out of Detroit.
But wasn’t there another player that annoyed Pistons fans just as much last year? Another player with poor shot selection? Another player who laid brick after brick from beyond the arc? Another player who signed a multiyear contract last summer? A player whose defense was non-existent, unlike Smith’s.
You know. Brandon Jennings.
I know that I have not seen a single trade rumor about Jennings, but as a fan I think it’s fair to ask, if you could only trade one player, would you rather trade away Josh Smith or Brandon Jennings? Even Smith though Smith is making about twice as much money per year as Jennings and has an extra year on his contract; I’d rather find a trade partner for Jennings. Especially if I’m going to get next to nothing in return.
Without Jennings, the Pistons can still survive with Will Bynum and DJ Augustin. Neither one is a star point guard, but Jennings isn’t either and at least Augustin is a handpicked Van Gundy point guard. Augustin has run the Van Gundy offense for as many days as Jennings (zero), but at least Augustin is much more dependable from three-point land than Jennings at around 40% last season. In the Stan Van Gundy offense, shooting and making three-point shots is a huge component. Sometimes it seems like that’s all his point guards ever do. The last thing I want is for Jennings to shoot off balanced, one-legged three-pointers six times a game and call himself running the offense. Throwing alley oops to the big man (Drummond in Detroit and Howard in Orlando) is another significant component of Van Gundy’s offense and no one did that better than Will Bynum last year.
Without Smith, the Pistons would have Greg Monroe (assuming he doesn’t sign for a max deal that the Pistons don’t match.) There’s nothing wrong with Monroe and I like him. When he was drafted I thought the best case scenario was for him to become the next Emeka Okafor and he has nudged past that level on the court. He is a great passer, has solid post moves and is a good rebounder, but he is not the athlete or the defender that Smith is.
Smith can elevate and block the shot of a driving guard or forward in the lane. He can also guard power forwards, small forwards and even shooting guards and some centers on defense. On the contrary Monroe can only guard centers and power forwards, but not if they want to creep out to the three-point line. Offensively Smith can get out on the break and finish with authority to ignite the crowd. Smith can also stretch the floor a bit with a 12-15ft jumper. Monroe can’t stretch defenses because he has no mid-range jumper and only put up about two shots per game from the area inside of the arc and outside of the paint. Smith, on the other hand, took about twice as many of those shots last year. Since we know Drummond isn’t going to stretch the floor even to the free throw line, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have two starters that can only operate inside of the paint if Smith is an alternative that is already on the roster.
When it comes to Smith’s long range game, we all know that seeing him jack up bricks at a high rate is completely unacceptable. However, when you play small forward in the NBA, you have to shoot at least a couple of threes per game. What people often forget is that when Smith played as a power forward for short stretches in a game or even for a week at a time during the season, he was at his best and, more importantly, he was better than Monroe. If Monroe was out of the picture and Smith was the full time starting power forward, I think the Pistons would get a lot more of the good Smith at power forward and less of the three-point hurling Smith at small forward.
So what’s my solution? If the Pistons are going to trade Jennings or Smith and get nothing but dead contracts in return, they should keep Smith and trade Jennings away instead. Jennings will never be a high level player in Van Gundy’s system. It’s just not going to happen. Maybe Van Gundy can twist and arm to get second round pick thrown in as a bonus. Then he should work out a sign and trade to ship Monroe out for an expiring contract and an unprotected 1st round pick in 2016 or 2017. (I think the Pistons are much more likely to get an unprotected 1st round pick for Monroe than Smith.)
This would give the Pistons a starting lineup of Augustin, Meeks (or KCP if the Summer League was not a mirage), Butler, Smith and Drummond that at least allows Van Gundy run his offensive system, a No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference that gives the fans competitive basketball, an expiring contract for the summer of 2015 and either three 1st round picks over the next two drafts or four 1st round picks over the next three drafts to load up on young talent.
Whether you’d rather see Jennings or Smith shipped out, one thing is for sure. Stan Van Gundy earned the Pistons job because of what he said he would do in his first 100 days as the President of Basketball Operations. July 21 is day No. 64. That means unless his grand plan was to build around Meeks, Augustin and Cartier Martin, Van Gundy has 36 days left to make a big splash and show us what he can really do as an executive.