It’s still early in the season but the free agency market is heating up with Josh Smith suddenly becoming available. The Dallas Mavericks, always ready to make a deal, are going to try and sign him and Jermaine O’Neal, who last played for the Golden State Warriors.
The Mavericks aren’t trying to sign just one of them – they’re making an effort to add both players to bolster their front court, probably off the bench. After trading for Rajon Rondo they lost Brandan Wright who might not be the most famous power forward in the league, but was quite efficient and productive in the minutes he was used in. O’Neal can give Chandler some valuable minutes of rest from time to time, while Josh Smith is a different issue completely.
Because Smith re-invented himself in Detroit. From a borderline All-Star who needs a little attitude adjustment during his years with the Hawks he turned into a player that ruins everything he touches. The Pistons were a mess with him inside the super-big lineup last season and as Van Gundy tried to change things this year, leaving one of the trio (Drummond and Monroe as well) on the bench. When Smith was playing, the Pistons were losing on average by more than 12 points per 100 possessions. It was that bad.
According to Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the Mavs aren’t coming out empty handed from this free agency chase. While they’ve missed out on opportunities involving a number of teams in the past, they seem to have created an enticing enough package for players to choose them over other contenders, or at least that’s what they assume. They’ve felt confident of landing top guys before, and each summer are left disappointed. Not that it has stopped them from building a very good team heading into this season, maybe finally a contender again.
O’Neal hasn’t been making a lot of headlines since last season, but wasn’t courted too much by NBA teams. The 36-year old center has been moving around quite a lot over the last few years. He played for the Warriors last season, averaging 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 44 games. He was a lot less useful in the playoffs, but can still probably provide some quality back up minutes, mostly as a rim protector and rebounder.
While O’Neal isn’t a risk and is a welcome veteran on almost any team, waiting out for the right contender to approach him, Smith is a different matter. Is he a locker room problem, or simply a player that got blinded by the lights of a big contract (although he was wishing for a max deal) and started doing whatever he felt like on the court? The assumption is that the right figure at head coach, and Rick Carlisle is included on the right side of that debate, can bring him back to the light and stop being such a self-destructive force on the court.
Smith averaged 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game this season for the Pistons, shooting just 39.1% from the field and 24.3% from beyond the arc. The Mavericks, unlike other contenders for his services, have no trade exception to help him make more than minimum, but his release deal from the Pistons doesn’t have him worried about money. Jermaine O’Neal still hasn’t decided if he’s coming back to the NBA.