Sunday, December 29, 2013

Is the Josh Smith-Maurice Cheeks relationship on thin ice?

The Detroit Pistons caught a 106-82 beatdown at the hands of the Washington Wizards last night. The team as a whole didn't play well. As a result coach Maurice Cheeks benched rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and big money acquisition Josh Smith.

While the benching of Caldwell-Pope may have gone unnoticed, the benching of Smith made a lot of noise. This was the second time this season that Cheeks has sent Smith to the sidelines for a perceived lack of effort.

Cheeks benched three of the starting five after halftime of last night's game. Cheeks admitted that he would've benched the entire stating five.

He admitted he would have liked to bench the entire starting five to begin the second half.”If I could have, yeah,” Cheeks said, when asked that question.  “The way the first half went, yeah.  But the way the first half went, I really couldn't.”

“I just felt I wanted to make a change and stay with the guys I went with,” Cheeks said. “It wasn’t just those two, they had bigs on the floor, so I had to stay with Greg (Monroe) and Andre (Drummond).”

Caldwell-Pope took the benching in stride, but was that a ploy to make it look like Cheeks wasn't singling Smith out? No one knows except the players and coaches in the locker room, but Smith didn't like the fact he was sent to the bench once again.

“I live to play this basketball game,” Smith said in the Verizon Center visitor’s locker room. “It’s an honor for me to play it. When anybody challenges or anything about the fact about me not wanting to play I take real offense to it.

“Whatever decision that somebody makes beyond my control I can’t control it. It’s a question you have to ask somebody that has that power.”  

“I mean it’s unfair because as I told you before I play this game hard each and every day,” Smith said. “When I younger I would play this game for free year round. This is what I love to do so why wouldn’t I want to come out here and try to put my best foot forward every time I step out on the court.”

Cheeks won't admit to saying that he wasn't pleased with Smith's performance but that's what it looked like if you ask me. Smith scored four points, shooting 2-7 from the field and grabbed four rebounds. Not what you want out of a player you signed to a $54 million contract.

Cheeks is right, this game wasn't about Josh Smith. This was a total team effort. But the rift between Smith and Cheeks bears watching. If Smith is in one of his floating, "I don't give a damn" moods like we've seen when he played in Atlanta, this could sink a season in which the Pistons can gain a little ground in a hobbled Eastern Conference.

This isn't a consistent team and if Cheeks is looking for consistency maybe he should stick with his big guns a little longer. If they can't get the job done it's his job to find the right combination. He shouldn't try to make an example out of one or two players. Caldwell-Pope maybe, Smith I'm about 50/50 because I've seen his act in Atlanta.

Smith says he doesn't hold grudges but we'll have to see how he comes out and plays in Monday's rematch against the Wizards.

“I don’t know. To me it’s over with, but some people hold grudges longer than others. I’m not saying he does,” Smith said. “I’m not the type of person that really likes to go into the coach’s office and have sit-downs. I’m more of a team-morale guy, what we can do as far as teammates are concerned to make ourselves better.”

If Smith decides to be a bigger man then he'll come out and have a performance like the one he had against the Indiana Pacers. If not then the season could be on the verge of blowing up.

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