Josh Smith had one of the worst offensive basketball season in NBA history. And it was a huge contributing factor to the disappointing season the Detroit Pistons recently wrapped up.
Now that the season is over, though, beat writers are asking players just what went wrong. And those answers seem to be pointing primarily in one direction -- right at Smith.
When asked about whether the team had good locker room chemistry Greg Monroe was direct. "No."
Asked about chemistry, Brandon Jennings was, naturally, much more free-wheeling with his words.
"I just think ... certain players are here trying to give advice, and they weren't also doing what they were supposed to be doing ... " Jennings said. "It's how you go about it. It's the way your words are said.
"If you're going to put somebody else out there, you got to make sure you're doing your job, too. That goes for anybody. With all the talent, we all got to look ourselves in the mirror. What could we have done to sacrifice for the team, for each other?"
To be clear, no names were dropped and nobody was directly thrown under the bus. And while everyone must be careful to not just assume that because Smith has received the majority of the ire from the fan base that he is getting equal treatment in the locker room.
Still, the circumstantial evidence is pointing in that direction. So much so that even the beat writers seem willing to go there. Pistons beat writers are generally not ones to sensationalize or be antagonistic toward the organization to drum up notoriety and clicks.
If anything, an argument could be made that they play it too safe to maintain a positive relationship with the players and the organization. In that context these statement are practically fighting words.
Edited to clarify: And since the beat writers aren't prone to make something out of nothing for the sake of eyeballs then for them to make the the logical connection between the above comments and trace them to Josh Smith means we're not talking about innuendo or speculation but about the facts on the ground.
I don't read minds, but Wednesday night offered some insight. The Pistons looked like an actual team.
The ball movement was crisp, with players moving and cutting without the basketball.
Monroe was put in the elbow area and was making plays for himself and for others. In what could be his final game as a Piston, as he enters restricted free agency, Monroe put up 22 points, eight rebounds and nine assists - a very high number for a power forward.
And he wasn't doing it against a stiff; Thunder big man Serge Ibaka is considered a top-flight defender.
Monroe worked well with franchise cornerstone Andre Drummond, who was dominant with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
With the floor properly spaced, wing players Kyle Singler (20 points) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (a stunning 30 points) benefited.
What was missing?
Smith was on the bench. He was dressed in a suit for the final five games of the season.
Monroe but when pressed about what exactly was the issue, wouldn't elaborate. "I would answer your question but I don't want to go further than that."
Chauncey Billups has the ear of virtually everyone because of his status in the NBA and in a young locker room, while Smith has never been afraid to speak his mind. Whether Monroe truly wanted to say something when things began to go sour or not remains in his thoughts.
Jennings, who assessed the state of the Pistons bluntly on several occasions, said the team was lost without a veteran leader and that "Chauncey (Billups) could only do so much."
"I think when certain players are in here trying to give advice, and they're not also doing what they're supposed to do, it's tough," Jennings added.
He didn't specify who he meant but Smith, a 10th-year veteran who came to the Pistons on a four-year, $54 million contract, seemed the strongest candidate.
Keith Langlois, who does his job and does it well (in my opinion), but is employed by the Pistons as a beat writer and so to an extent is forced to conform to what the team is comfortable with. Check out these tweets and keep in mind when Josh Smith went down with his "injury."
Haven't been 5 more entertaining games all year for Pistons. They're up 5, 2:53 to play.— Keith Langlois (@Keith_Langlois) April 17, 2014
Huge games for KCP (30), Drummond (22 & 13), Monroe (22/7/9) and Singler (20). There's your future.— Keith Langlois (@Keith_Langlois) April 17, 2014
Not sure if people are going to delve further into this or if this as much of the drama as is going to become public. But it's certainly food for thought as the Pistons enter another offseason and look to hire a new general manager that will be tasked with fixing this mess.