As his former peers prepared for camp workouts, Josh Smith retraced his steps inside a Los Angeles breakfast spot before a day of training. Smith remains an unsigned free agent, one of the most accomplished players available at only 30 years old. His 12-year NBA career is on pause so far this summer – not due to his talent but rather his disposition, executives believe.
Just one summer ago, Smith remembers contenders lining up for him, Golden State and Cleveland included. He ultimately chose the Los Angeles Clippers, and Doc Rivers’ pitch for him to play as the third big man behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers’ promising opportunity faded swiftly, and a midseason trade to Houston also failed to provide any traction.
Now all 30 teams have passed, have said no, and the offseason has given Smith clarity. Change is needed – and needed from within.
“I’m not a guy that is oblivious to my surroundings, I know that changes need to be made,” Smith told The Vertical. “It’s something that I have done wrong to now be figuring out my next move and figuring out what I need to do to be better. Even yoga this summer has helped me become one with my spirit, body and mind. I’ve done things to take steps toward bettering myself, having patience.
“I have a lot left to give to this game. I’m ready to go now. I feel like I’m in the best shape, and I’ve worked extremely hard this offseason. I’m ready.”
Smith entered the NBA out of high school, establishing himself as one of the league’s most explosive and versatile forwards in his first nine seasons with his hometown Atlanta Hawks, but he never found his footing in his second NBA stop in Detroit. The Pistons waived Smith in December 2014, just over one season into a four-year, $58 million contract, which Smith believes still affects his future.
“The perception of me seemed to start early on with Atlanta, but after Detroit, it left people completely puzzled,” Smith said. “People didn’t understand how it happened, how I was let go. It just didn’t fit. But wherever I have gone in development situations, I have been able to be on winning teams.
“When I came to Atlanta, we were at the bottom. Al Horford came, and we made it a consistent playoff team. When I went to Houston [in 2015] after Detroit, we made it to the Western Conference finals, something that they hadn’t done since the ’90s. I played impactful minutes for us to get to those platforms.”
Even still, Smith will earn $5.4 million annually for the next four seasons as part of Detroit’s stretch provision. He was extended a lifeline after the Clippers’ traded him back to Houston in January, but he couldn’t replicate the same team success and effectiveness of 2015, when he averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in the playoffs.
In 12 NBA seasons, Smith averaged 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 blocks per game.
He has the cushion of the annual money from Detroit and rejected a lucrative offer from the Chinese Basketball Association this summer. In Smith’s mind, the end game is a return to the league – and he promises modified habits on and off the court and increased patience of team situations.
“My main goal is that I am an NBA player,” Smith said. “Being able to go overseas, people are professional, but the NBA is what I have built myself to do. I’m still hungry. If I jumped to leave my NBA chances behind, I feel it would’ve been an act of desperation.
“I’m not a guy who feels like I have to start or play 30 minutes a night anymore. I wish for an opportunity to be able to contribute, to be a positive guy around the locker room. It has been missing from me. I’m not doubting it. I felt I have always showed support for my teammates, cheering for them, but I have to do a better job.
“I feel I have something to give the NBA, period.”
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