It seems like every team out there is after Joe Smith. Like the three buzzards in the Jungle Book, they’re just perched on a limb waiting for Sam Presti to pay Joe his money and turn him loose. Cleveland’s salivating over him. Boston wanted him but settled on Mikki “hands in the pants” Moore instead. Phoenix really needs him. Most think Smith is going to get bought out soon and snatched up by a playoff squad.
But it hasn’t happened yet. And quite honestly, who knows if it will happen at all. And if it doesn’t by March 1st, it ain’t happening at all (players waived after March 1st can’t be included on playoff rosters). But why? Why wouldn’t OKC waive Smith and why wouldn’t Smith want to be waived? He’s extremely attractive to a lot of teams because his contract is up this year and because he’s a valuable veteran that can provide court savvy and points off the bench. He’d save the Thunder some money and he’s not really adding much as is. So why not?
I think the simple answer is that he wants to stay with the Thunder. That’s it. He likes where he’s at. He’s said already that he’s got no desire to latch on to another team and chase a title in his twilight. He likes where he’s at. He likes playing with these young guys and I think he wants to have a hand in building this budding franchise. Sure the team may be 13-44, but like everybody that has a functioning brain, he sees how bright the future is. And he wants to be part of it.
And if Joe Smith wants to stay, the Thunder really don’t gain a whole lot by waiving him. He had a ton of value in the trade market but that didn’t get done, so OKC can’t get much in return for waiving him. His contract is up this summer anyway so basically all the Thunder would gain is an open roster spot and maybe save a few bucks on finishing out Smith’s salary.
So if he doesn’t want to go, is that worth it? An open roster spot and a coupon on his salary? Most times you waive a veteran player in this situation more as a favor than anything else and if Smith doesn’t want it, then there’s no reason for it to happen. Sure OKC could reduce its payroll a little (he makes $4.75 million – all guaranteed – and OKC would be able reduce its payroll the amount Smith is still owed), but again is that really a big deal? Does that outweigh what Smith could add?
Well, what can a 33-year-old power forward add to a team with a solid youth movement underway? Let me tell you: Leadership, locker room presence and experience. All very valuable commodities for a team that is basically made up of rookies and second year players. And if Smith really wants to be a part of building a contender rather than jumping to the current hot team, what’s to say the Thunder don’t resign him to a one-year deal? Smith is a perfect veteran to have off the bench. He’s productive, he’s smart and he’s a total class act. Other teams are dying for him so obviously that means he’s got some worth to a good team. And if the Thunder intend on being good in the next year or two, wouldn’t Smith be a nice piece to the puzzle?
Scott Brooks thinks so:
“I admire Joe Smith’s professionalism, how he takes his time with our guys,” Brooks said. “And he’s a great veteran leader. I’m not concerned with the business side of it. I have to coach the guys that we have. That’s going to be between (general manager) Sam (Presti) and (Smith’s) agent. I don’t know what’s happening. I just know I like what Joe brings to this team. Joe’s perfect for this team. He’s been terrific for us.”
He’s averaging 6.6 ppg anf 4.5 rpg in limited minutes, but he’s good for 14 and 7 any given night. He’s a perfect pick-and-pop center and he’s not afraid to be physical. One of the main issues (among many) OKC has right now is a complete lack of depth. Currently, the Thunder goes about eight deep, with limited bench contributions from the frontcourt. Nenad Krstic is starting and basically Nick Collison is the only help off the bench. Robert Swift isn’t giving you anything and Lord knows if Malik Rose even puts on a uniform under that warmup. And if the Thunder plans to get in the playoff conversation next year, they’re going to need some depth and are going to need a player or two like Joe Smith.
Now if he’s looking for a multi-year deal or more than $2 million per, then I don’t think he fits. But I’d sign a savvy veteran piece for that price. Especially if he really, really wants to be here. If the Thunder’s fighting for the playoffs next year, they’ll likely be looking to trade for a player like Smith anyway. I realize he’s one of the coveted expiring contracts that frees up cap space so why on earth would OKC keep him around but I’m telling you, every good team has a guy like Joe Smith.
Again, Smith may be posturing and may be working on a buyout right now. He may be waived tomorrow morning. But judging by his and Scott Brooks’ quotes, it seems like he fits with this team. His career is winding down and like he said, he’s doesn’t feel the need to chase a title. He wouldn’t get that much satisfaction in joining a team three-fourths of the way through just to make a playoff run. I think he’d get more satisfaction in being part of the first Thunder team that makes a run to the playoffs. And that’s reason enough for me to want to keep him. He’s part of this team’s awesome chemistry and he wants to build a contender. That’s his championship. And if that’s the favor he wants, I hope Sam Presti gives it to him.