Because of the Lakers’ heavy schedule early in the week, we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss the Sasha-for-Joe Smith trade. The three-team deal happened on Tuesday which essentially boiled down to a Sasha Vujacic for Joe Smith trade with New Jersey, but the Lakers also acquire: a 2011 2nd round draft pick from Golden State, a 2012 2nd round draft pick from Chicago, draft rights to Sergei Lishouk from Houston and a trade exception worth approximately $5.5 million (according to Larry Coon). With the trade, the Lakers should shed off about $8.687 million off of their payroll. Saving money is always great considering the Lakers huge payroll; however, this trade can have some on court implications as well.
Joe Smith is in his 16th NBA season and the Lakers will be the 12th team the journeyman has played for. The signing came on the heels of Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum announcing his return to the team, adding the much needed depth up front that has been one of the main sources of the Lakers struggles. Smith, a 6’10’’ power forward himself, will, along with Bynum add another big to the currently thin Lakers frontcourt.
So far this season, Joe Smith had seen the floor only four times for the New Jersey Nets, with only just over six minutes per game in those contests, but his lack of playing time is no testament to his ability to fit into the Lakers system. Smith played with Atlanta last season, only averaging eight minutes per game, but while on the floor he showed flashes of his younger years. Atlanta runs variations of the Princeton offense, with bigs catching the ball at the pinch post, so throwing Smith into the offense and putting him in similar situations should be a smooth transition for such an intelligent player. Going back and looking at some of the things he was able to do last season through Synergy, I noticed a few things that would suggest that he can find some minutes with the Lakers:
-While he was on the floor, he had great chemistry with both Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. Because of his limited minutes, he didn’t record many assists, but a good percentage of his assists in the half court was a direct result of him passing to another big or receiving the ball from one of them and swinging the ball to an open shooter. Considering how well we’ve seen Gasol-Odom-Bynum pass, the offense shouldn’t slow down having Smith on the floor with any of those guys.
-Joe Smith is a great outlet passer. It’s clear that he isn’t going to spend much time with the starting unit, so his ability to grab defensive rebounds and immediately get the ball out to Blake-Barnes-Brown on the break can be an extremely useful asset. In the past two games, we’ve seen Odom get more run with the second unit with Bynum back, if Phil is able to throw out a line up of Blaker-Barnes-Brown-Odom-Smith, he’ll have five guys on the floor who can grab a defensive rebound and get the break going.
-Lastly, Smith is a great help defender. Like Theo Ratliff, he’s been a very alert defender his whole career who takes pride and sliding over to help side when a perimeter defender gets beat off the dribble to throw a shot into the stands. One thing that has been missing from the Lakers for most of the season is using their defense to create offense. Things have been picking up a bit lately, and if Joe Smith can find his way onto the court, he can help add on to this element of the game.
With all of the things he can do, it’s hard to imagine Smith contributing a lot of minutes — especially as the season progresses and Andrew Bynum’s health improves. Phil Jackson was largely three deep up front last season with DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell getting the scraps of minutes that Gasol-Odom-Bynum left behind. I imagine the same thing happening for the remainder of this season with the scraps being shared between Smith-Ratliff (when healthy)-Caracter. The best part of this trade is knowing that there will be two capable veteran big men at Jackson’s disposal as we approach the All-Star break and the latter half of the season.