The Los Angeles Clippers added another quality player yesterday with the signing of Josh Smith. He will sign for the veteran's minimum, which is worth $1.5 million. Per ESPN's Chris Broussard, Smith 'chose winning' when he opted to go with the Clippers, considering that the Rockets reportedly offered him a one year deal worth $2.5 million.
No team has had a more unlikely offseason than the Clippers. They looked dead in the water after July 3rd, when DeAndre announced he was going to Dallas. While all hell broke loose from there, Doc should still be commended for this offseason, especially the Smith signing. They used their full taxpayer mid-level exception on Paul Pierce, and they had no bi-annual exception available. To find a player like Smith at the minimum is a huge get.
The Clippers enter the 2015-2016 as a much improved team, against all odds. They have a strong bench headed by Jamal Crawford, Lance Stephenson, and Smith. After a season where four out of five Clippers backups had negative net ratings (per 100 possessions), their incoming depth will push them up the ranks of the West. I might be crazy to praise a bench that includes Austin Rivers, Lance, and J-Smoove, but a players coach like Doc should be able to get through to them.
Last season, Smith redeemed himself after a disastrous 105 games with Detroit. He signed a 4 years - $56 million deal with the Pistons before the 2013-2014 season. They hoped that he would continue his maturation into a heady, smart basketball player that he had begun in Atlanta. Smith always had a reputation for poor shot selection, but he had (somewhat) corrected this. After attempting 450 midrange shots in 2011-2012, he had cut that figure to 334 in 2012-2013. He was driving to the basket a lot more, and using his insane athleticism to score around the rim. In 2011-2012, he scored just 301 baskets from within 8 feet. He upped this to 374 makes in 2012-2013, showing his resolve to increase his efficiency.
But upon getting paid and going to Detroit, Smith lost sight of the player he was set to become. If Atlanta was 4 steps forward, Detroit was 15 steps back. In the 2013-2014 season he was a remorseless gunner, attempting a career-high 265 threes despite making just 26.4% of them. His FG percentage plummeted to a ghastly 41.9%, and he even stopped trying on defense. Smith had always been a destructive force defensively, using his speed and length to get steals and blocks. But he put up a career-low 1.4 BPG in his first season with Detroit, and his 6.8 RPG was his lowest total since the 2005-2006 season, when he was just 20 years old. His sophomore season in Detroit was even worse. He shot 39.1% from the field and a pathetic 46.8% from the line. After just 28 games, Detroit waived him under the stretch provision. As Stein said, he'll earn $5.4 million yearly from Detroit through 2019-2020, on top of whatever contract he gets from the team he actually plays for. So in a weird way, it was a win-win. Detroit got rid of a team cancer, and Smith will somehow make more money by getting waived. Hopefully they fix this in the new CBA.
After being waived, Smith's high school buddy Dwight Howard recruited him to Houston. It turned out to be just what the Rockets bench needed. Smith put up double figures in 35 of 48 games off the bench, including four games with 20+ points. After years of being told not to shoot threes (and rightfully so), Coach Kevin McHale gave Smoove the green light from deep. This turned out to be a smart move, with Smith shooting 38% from three in the postseason, and even igniting the incredible comeback in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semis. In addition to his newfound shot, Smith was revitalized defensively. He held opponents to just 46.2% at the rim, a better mark than guys like DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, and Andre Drummond. And it wasn't even a case of small sample size. Smith faced 6.9 attempts at the rim per game, the same as Davis, and just 1.8 below Jordan and Drummond. On a veteran team like the Rockets, Smith was able to get his career pointed in the right direction again.
With the Clippers, Smith will be a welcome addition defensively. He will be Blake Griffin's backup, but can also play in small-ball lineups that feature Griffin at center. Though he played just 381 minutes at center last season, lineups with Griffin at the 5 netted a +34 point differential. If Smith can prove himself a strong rim-protector, look for Doc to play Griffin at center a lot more this season. Either way, this is a huge influx of versatility, and will give the second-unit a defensive mindset. Considering they got him for the minimum, I'd call it a pretty good deal.
And I didn't want to say it, but what an addition for Lob City.