DETROIT - Stan Van Gundy kept Detroit's awkward core of frontcourt players together during his first offseason as team president, hoping the Pistons would show signs of improvement without any drastic moves.
Now Detroit is 5-23. Time for a shake-up.
The Pistons waived forward Josh Smith, less than halfway through the lucrative four-year contract he signed before the 2013-14 season. Van Gundy, who is also Detroit's coach, said he wants to develop younger players.
"If we were 12-16 or 10-18, we probably wouldn't be here," Van Gundy said. "We're 5-23. That calls, in every respect, for some adjustment. Some things had to be different."
Smith signed a $54 million, four-year deal with the Pistons before last season, but he shot only 42 percent from the field in 2013-14. This season, Smith is at 39 percent.
The 29-year-old forward's poor perimeter shooting has been a problem for Detroit, but he does fill up the stat sheet. He's averaging 7.2 rebounds and a career-best 4.7 assists per game this season.
Van Gundy wants to adjust offensive roles, and it would have been hard to do that with Smith remaining such a focal point.
"He's taking the most shots, he's a high-assist guy. He's got the ball in his hands a lot," Van Gundy said. "We would have had to have reduced his role offensively. I don't think he would have been happy with that at this point in his career. I don't think it necessarily would have been fair to him."
The Pistons signed Smith as part of Joe Dumars' final offseason in charge of basketball operations. When that busy offseason didn't result in a playoff berth, Detroit brought in Van Gundy to replace Dumars and also coach the team.
The frontcourt mix of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond looks good on paper, but the team has lacked on-court chemistry. Monroe, who can become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, has started only 14 games in 2014-15.
Monroe and point guard Brandon Jennings both said they were caught off guard by the news of Smith'sdeparture.
"This is definitely the most surprising thing that's happened since I've been in the league," Monroe said.
That's saying something, since the Pistons have lacked stability throughout Monroe's career. They fired coach Maurice Cheeks in February, before he had a chance to finish his first season at the helm.
The Pistons have not made the playoffs since 2009.
Van Gundy said the stretch provision of the collective bargaining agreement will help Detroit's salary cap situation: the Pistons can stretch out Smith's remaining salary over a longer period of time to reduce the annual cap hit. Van Gundy said the Pistons are better off dropping Smith this way than if they'd traded him and had to take on long-term commitments in return.
Smith's departure leaves Monroe and Drummond as the team's top frontcourt players, and Van Gundy indicated that Kyle Singler and Caron Butler might be used at power forward more, allowing the Pistons to play a smaller lineup with more perimeter shooters.
Detroit clearly has a long way to go before becoming a contender. Smith, meanwhile, can try to find a better fit after his abbreviated tenure with the Pistons.
"We didn't mess around with him. We didn't make him bide time and try to fight him over a buyout or anything like that," Van Gundy said. "I thought it was best for him, I thought it was best for us. We handled it in a straight-up manner. He handled it very professionally, and I sincerely wish him the best. I hope he finds a great situation."