If you're familiar with The Starters, the group of 4 analysts on NBATV featuring a Canadian and an Australian, you'll know they're answering "72 Burning Questions" leading into the new season. One of the questions (No. 26 if I'm not mistaken), is the "worst contract in the league." The general consensus was Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets possessing the most franchise-crippling deal in the league, with Trey suggesting Kobe Bryant. However, JE Skeets, the host of the show, who had stated Williams, suggested our very own Josh Smith as an alternate possibility. However, the other panelists seemed to believe in SVG enough to see an uptick in production coupled with the assumed position change back to the natural PF slot. Anyway, it got me thinking. Let's see why people could possibly consider J-Smoove the worst contract in the league.
Money Paid > Production
This is the most obvious reason as to why people point to Smith as a bad deal. It's borderline untradeable. He earned $13.5 million last season, and will do so for the next 3 years as well. However, last season, he played more like a $7-8 million player. When he was signed for the largest contract in franchise history as an unrestricted FA from Atlanta, it was hoped he would inject the fanbase with renewed hope of a return to the promise land of the playoffs. It was hoped he would provide much needed defense, athleticism and aggressive scoring down low in the post, as well as the occasional highlight reel dunk. However, Smith went on to post career lows in FG% (.419) and blocks per game (1.4), as well as numbers well below his career average in rebounds (6.8 compared to 7.9) and FT% (.532 compared to .643).
The raw numbers aren't even the total disgrace. The real problem is in the advanced stats. It's kind of common knowledge around the league that Josh Smith behind the 3PT line is about as effective as an air conditioner in the Arctic. However, no one appeared to tell Smith, as he jacked it up 3.4 times a game, nearly 1 more attempt per game than his previous high (2.6 in 2012-13). He also took 16 FG per game, which led the team by 1.8 attempts per game (Brandon Jennings was 2nd with 14.2). He also had career lows in rebound percentage (10.1%), true shooting percentage (.463), PER (14.1), block percentage (3.2%), offensive rating (95), defensive rating (108), offensive win shares (-1.4), total win shares (1.1) and win shares per 48 minutes (0.20). Normally when a player has several career lows in one season, it's due to a major problem, which in this case can be attributed to several factors. Position change, poor coaching, and perhaps being wrongly given the green light.
Josh Smith is locked in for the next three years and the Pistons are on the hook for just over $40 million. This contract wouldn't be so bad if the player was actually playing to this level. In full disclosure, Deron Williams' contract is for 3 years and just over $63 million, which is very bad given his production. With the salary cap predicted to rise in the near future, Smith's contract will gradually become more palatable, but given his current production, unless SVG can either find a trade partner or improve his play those three years may begin to drag out.
Sometimes, a player's contract can look a lot worse because of the team he's on. If Smith was a member of a playoff team such as the Rockets or Thunder, his contract would look a lot better as at least he was contributing to a playoff team. However, if he was on Philadelphia, a team so overtly committed to tanking and rebuilding that they traded All-Star Jrue Holiday for someone who wouldn't play for a year, his contract would be viewed as one of the worst in league history*. The argument here is, because Smith is the highest paid player on an underachieving team, he is being viewed a lot less favorably by national media.
* Brandon Roy, who retired during the 2011 lockout, is being paid over $14million by Portland this season, the last year on his max extension
A Case for Smith
It's only fair that we try and defend Smith here as well. Sure his play last season justifies a lot of criticism, but calling him the worst contract in the league is a bit far. Obviously guys like Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are a lot worse contract wise, as they are both past their primes and both due more than $20 million each, but Smith does have some things working in his favor. Firstly, the improved coaching under SVG should help him to rediscover his best years in Atlanta, where he was a borderline All-Star. A move back to his natural power forward spot should improve his shot selection, as he'll be catching the ball closer to the basket, and generally against slower defenders. Defensively, SVG's improved system should see him defending less-athletic wings and more inside-oriented post players. If nothing else, Van Gundy's mantra of accountability will ensure Smith won't be allowed to display the same poor tendencies of yester-season, and if he does not buy in, expect a Masai Ujiri-like moment of managerial trading genius.
Who do you think is the worst contract in the league? Discuss below.