The Los Angeles Clippers continued their active and whirlwind summer on Wednesday, following up the shocking re-signing of center DeAndre Jordan by adding a notable veteran to improve their bench and overall versatility. The Clippers have reached an agreement with 29-year-old forward Josh Smith, once a budding star and now diminished in reputation because of a long history of poor shot selection. Smith was waived by the Detroit Pistons in late December and went on to play a key role for the West runner-up Houston Rockets, especially in a historic comeback over the Clippers in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.
Shams Charania of RealGM.com and Michael Scotto of SheridanHoops.com reported the news nearly simultaneously. Given the state of the Clippers' finances, his new deal is almost certainly for the veteran minimum, which he will earn in addition to the $5.4 million per year owed by the Pistons through the 2019-20 season. Other teams rumored to have interest in Smith included the Rockets and Sacramento Kings.
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One of the NBA's most versatile and active players during his nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, Smith has since come to be defined by his faults. He shot just 41.9 percent from the field in each of the past two seasons, due in large part to horrible shot selection that saw him hoist more than one-fifth of his attempts from beyond the arc despite a 28.9 percent career mark on 3-pointers. That approach proved especially debilitating on a Pistons team with two quality post-bound big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, which forced Smith to play on the perimeter far more often than anyone could possibly want. He proved a better fit in Houston, upping his 3-point percentage to 33 percent for a squad with superior spacing and a defined offensive hierarchy. Yet Smith was not an offensive plus — the Rockets finished 12th in offensive efficiency over the regular season but scored only 97 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, a figure that would have ranked in the bottom four of the league. Plus, Smith isn't the end-to-end dynamo he once was, because of both the aging process and his struggles in adapting to a new reality.
However, Smith's weaknesses are so well known that they have come to eclipse his considerable strengths, which should help a Clippers team that has taken steps to improve its bench in the past few weeks. While Smith doesn't amass steals and blocks with the frequency he once did in Atlanta, he is still a capable defender who can guard both forward positions and switch onto bigger or smaller players when necessary. Additionally, Smith can pitch in as a secondary playmaker, a need for a group that often looks lost without Chris Paul on the floor. Smith will also allow head coach Doc Rivers not to ask too much of Blake Griffin, who took on heavy scoring, playmaking and defensive duties in the playoffs that most certainly cannot be maintained over an 82-game season.
That increased lineup flexibility should be where Smith provides the most help. With marquee signing Paul Pierce able to play as a stretch-4, Rivers can go super small with Griffin, Smith, or potentially Glen "Big Baby" Davis (still a free agent) as a nominal center or play more classic lineups without sacrificing much quickness. Smith also joins Lance Stephenson as a new reserve with a collection of skills, all while minimizing the likelihood that the Clippers will have to depend on one of these often frustrating players to their own detriment. Adding Smith increases what the Clippers can do while simultaneously diffusing risk.
That's not to say that this is a can't-miss pickup. Smith will probably have to see the bench when he threatens to shoot Los Angeles out of games, and his awful free-throw shooting ensures that teams will intentionally send him and Jordan to the line whenever it seems prudent. It's also worth noting that Smith has not always had the best attitude, even if his reputation as a malcontent is overblown and the Clippers did just fine with Matt Barnes in the starting lineup.
But few teams add players of Smith's caliber at this price to fill a glaring need. The Clippers' bench has been a problem area for several seasons and has looked even more lacking in the frontcourt. Smith isn't an All-Star candidate anymore, but L.A. doesn't need him to be one. If he fills his role without complaints, breaks out in a few more playoff games and doesn't cause major troubles, he will do just fine. Two weeks after Jordan appeared headed to Dallas, the Clippers have escaped also-ran status and look like a stronger contender than they were in June.
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