The world's best basketball reporter sat down for a great interview with Matt Dery on 105.1 Detroit Sports to discuss the hiring of Jeff Bower as the Detroit Pistons' new general manager (we'll have more on that in another post) and among the fascinating things Woj said was that Josh Smith is "dying to be coached."
That is intriguing and exciting, yes, but could it really be true? Can a player that has converted 27.9 percent from 3 and yet has managed to hoist more than 1,200 of them in his career really be coachable? Salvagable? Playable?
This is exactly what Wojnarowski said. Here are his comments lightly edited for clarity:
I really believe that Josh Smith is really going to benefit from Stan. And I think Josh, in talking to people around Josh, I think Josh believes that. I think Josh Smith is dying to be coached and wants someone who he has great respect for and wants someone who isn't afraid to challenge him. Everybody I've ever talked to, for the most part, loved playing for Stan.
Stan is like the tough teacher you had that you appreciate more when he's gone. You know, JJ Redick has told me so many times, "I don't know where I'd be in the NBA if it wasn't for Stan Van Gundy." Now, did JJ feel that way his first few years when Stan didn't want to play him and JJ came in as a one-dimensional player and Stan demanded that he expand his game, and until he did he wasn't going to play? No. He couldn't stand him at the time. But looking back and, you know, later at his time in Orlando, JJ Redick has a tremendous appreciation for Stan.
And I know Dwight Howard really does. He became a first-team All NBA player there. An all-defensive player. And I think as Dwight went away, especially when he went to LA for a year, I think he has tremendous appreciation for Stan.
Could the same really hold true for Smith, the same player who just submitted perhaps the worst season pound-for-pound that I've ever witnessed?
It's a crazy thought, right? This has to be like the story of the boy who cried wolf. People have been talking for Smith's entire 10-year career about how talented he is and how he'd really, finally, truly, I swear if only, blossom once a coach was finally able to reach him.
But eventually it stops being everyone else's fault and is all on him. Because as much as think Maurice Cheeks was overmatched as a coach last year, his game plan certainly didn't call for 600 3-point attempts from Smith. It's up to Smith Smith to perform better, make good decisions and grow up.
And yet ...
There is the harsh reality and a hopeful future to think about. The reality is that Smith's trade value has never been lower, and the Pistons are not a team that should package a quality asset just to get rid of Smith (Ben Gordon, anyone?). While the hopeful future, which is probably just the optimism of the offseason infecting my brain, if anybody can get to Smith it's going to be Stan Van Gundy.
"He's dying to be coach." And there is no better coach than Van Gundy. And that's only slight hyperbole.
This is the same Stan Van Gundy the Pistons just hired to be their head coach and president of basketball operations. The same Stan Van Gundy whose word carries more weight than not only Smith, he of the biggest contract in franchise history, but also more than any coach and team executive Smith has dealt with in his past.
This isn't Mike Woodson or Larry Drew or Cheeks. This is Stan F-ing Van Gundy. Smith's former coaches have compiled a .496 winning percentage in their careers. Van Gundy has a .641 winning percentage.
In 22 combined seasons of coaching Woodson, Drew and Cheeks have 11 playoff appearances, a .383 winning percentage, just four trips out of the first round and never went farther than the second. Van Gundy has seven playoff appearances in eight years (and he was fired from the eventual NBA champion Heat when the team was 21-11). He has a career .552 winning percentage, five trips beyond the first round including a finals appearance with the Orlando Magic.
And as abysmally as this team was constructed, it certainly should have performed better than the 29 wins it limped to the finish line with. It was just last August that Wages of Wins projected the team to win 53.5 games. Check out the comments for the limits of that analysis but even with the mismatched talent on hand a wizard could probably harness all it's positive energy and conjure up a 50-win season.
Is Van Gundy a wizard? No, but he happens to be an excellent coach. Something sorely missing last season. Cheeks proved he couldn't construct a workable rotation, a workable offensive or defensive scheme and despite some high-profile exceptions didn't hold his players accountable. That isn't going to be the case with Van Gundy.
If anybody can get Smith to be an effective player, off the bench, no less, it's Van Gundy. And "Josh Smith wants to be coached." Right? Right ...