Following the team’s victory over the hapless Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, the Detroit Pistons’ record stands at 16-25. That’s a mark that isn’t exactly making the rest of the Eastern Conference quake in its sneakers, but it’s a damn sight better than the 5-23 record the team owned when it waived forward Josh Smith three days before Christmas. The Pistons have gone on an 11-2 tear since Smith was let go, only losing to the white hot Hawks (a team Detroit nearly rallied to come from behind and defeat) and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Big man Greg Monroe has thrived in Smith’s absence, free to play his inside/outside game with aplomb up front. Following his team’s tough win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday, Monroe was asked what was making the biggest difference to encourage this startling midseason turnaround:
(The sideline reporter that popped Monroe with the microphone is Grant Long, who himself was brought in to Detroit by then-coach Doug Collins in 1996 to help settle the very Smith-like relationship Otis Thorpe had with the rest of the team. Thorpe was later traded in 1997 to Vancouver for what turned out to be the second overall pick in perhaps the greatest draft in NBA history in 2003. The Pistons selected Darko Milicic to end a transaction lifeline that did absolutely no good for anyone involved.)
You’ll recall that Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy took the high road recently when reporters started to note that the Pistons had taken off in response to Smith’s absence, and that the Houston Rockets (Josh’s new team) initially struggled with him on the team. Monroe is clearly taking cues from his coach in this instance.
Monroe struggled against Indiana and Philadelphia, missing 15 of 23 shots, but he is earning enough minutes to work himself back up to averaging a double-double. Point man Brandon Jennings, meanwhile, has absolutely teed off on the rest of the NBA in the days since Smith left, making over 45 percent of his looks from the floor and from behind the line as Detroit (currently a game out from the eighth seed) threatens to jump into the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
Mostly because they paid Josh Smith to go away. Greg doesn’t want to say it, but I will.
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