This is the fifth post in an occasional series of Q&As with a member of the Lakers organization.
Below is a recent conversation with Lakers backup forward Joe Smith, whom the Lakers acquired Dec. 15, 2010 from New Jersey for Sasha Vujacic and a 2011 first-round draft pick. He holds the league record with Chucky Brown, Tony Massenburg and Jim Jackson for most franchises played for (12),including the Golden State Warriors (1995-98), Philadelphia 76ers (1998), Minnesota Timberwolves (1999-2000), Detroit Pistons (2000-01), Timberwolves again (2001-03), Milwaukee Bucks (2003-06), Denver Nuggets (2006), Chicago Bulls (2007-08), Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-09), Cleveland Cavaliers (2008, 2009), Atlanta Hawks (2009-10) and New Jersey Nets (2010)
From a basketball standpoint, what have you gotten out of being a Laker so far? I’ve enjoyed being on the team that competes the way we do. It hasn’t been perfect, but at the same time as of late we’ve been competing and playing the best type of basketball I’ve seen this team play from afar for years.
I noticed you have assumed Josh Powell’s role last year where you shake everyone’s hand before the starters step on the court. What do you think that does? That’s something that I’ve been doing for maybe half of my career. Every team I’ve been on, especially as of late for the last five or six years where I’ve been coming off the bench and I haven’t been starting. It’s something that I just picked up on. It’s a last-second, ‘let’s-get-'em’ before the tipoff. I look at as when you see a veteran as long as I have out there, it should be something that gets everybody going. Usually it’s a younger guy and the last guy you might see is a guy in the first couple years in the league, but when you see a veteran that’s been around and into it as anybody out there, I think it feeds into everybody.
What role, at least from what they tell you, do Phil [Jackson] and the rest of the coaching staff envision for you? We haven’t really talked about that. I guess we’re still trying to get a feel for each other. I’m picking up the offense more and more every day. Defensive schemes are something I’ve always known. The defense is no problem. Just trying to be as ready as I can whenever my number is called. As much as I do want to play, I understand this team already has a rotation. We have Lamar [Odom], Pau [Gasol], Andrew [Bynum] and that’s a rotation that he’s been going with. As long as we win, I’m good.
You’ve talked a lot about learning the triangle offense to be an ongoing process. Where are you with that? I’m pretty close. There’ still some terminology I have to listen very closely to in order to unscramble it and put it in basic basketball terms. Other than that, I’m pretty close. We go through the triangle every day, in shootaround, practice. Whether it’s three-on-three or four-on-four, whatever it is, we use some form of the triangle. I’m picking it up in all types of angles. It’s now having to do it without thinking about it. I hate to be out on the floor and having to think about a lot of things. It takes you a second behind once you have to think about it. Now it’s just being able to be out there and read and react. That’s something that will help me out a lot once I really get it down.
Do you feel settled yet in L.A.? Not all the way. When I first moved into my place we went on a 12-day, 13-day trip and then it was the All-Star break. We had a day here and then went to Portland. I’m still trying to get settled in my home. But it’s good to have a home to go to. I’m still waiting for my car to get here. I still have some stuff in New Jersey that I’m getting shipped out. Everything is happening slowly but surely.
And you just rent at this point? Just rent. I did the buying thing earlier in my career. After a while it gets hard to get the houses off your shoulder, especially nowadays.
When did you stop buying and start renting? The last home I purchased was in Milwaukee [in 2003]. I stopped purchasing houses and started renting. We found a place in Arizona and that’s where my family got established there. It made it easier for me to uproot my stuff than having to uproot wife and kids and everybody. I rent everything. I rented in Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma, Cleveland, Atlanta, New Jersey and rent here.
You hold the record for the most franchises played for. How do you handle that? A lot of people might look at it as a negative thing. But I look at it as a blessing. First of all, to be able to stick around for so long and be able to adjust my role on different teams where my worth is appreciated. A lot of guys I’ve seen come and go throughout this league. For me to be able to stick around and play with so many teams and so many players and meet so many people, it’s been a blessing for me.
You came in as the No. 1 draft pick in 1995 out of Maryland and averaged double digits in your first few seasons. Then you were traded multiple times. What was the process in coping with that? The first time I got traded was tough. The first time is always the toughest. Then after that, a few times I signed as a free agent. But most of the time I have been traded. I look at is as a new opportunity every time now. I don’t take it as personal or a negative like I used to.
How do you explain what happened with Minnesota? [Following the 1999-2000 season, the NBA discovered Smith and then team executive Kevin McHale were involved in a salary cap tampering scandal. Smith was allegedly promised a future multimillion-dollar contract if he signed with the team for below market value, prompting the league to void the last year of his contract, fine Minnesota $3.5 million and take away from the team five first-round draft picks]. That was something that was out of my control. I was a young guy and was kind of being misled at the time. It was pretty much out of my control. That’s something I don’t look back at or hold a raincloud over my head because I didn’t have too much to do with that.
Reflecting back do you feel that affected your standing in the league? It opened my eyes a little bit more. It made me feel a little more as if I couldn’t trust certain people as much as I thought I could. It takes a lot of time to have trust in certain people. Other than that, it’s water under the bridge. I went to Detroit for half a year and then went right back to Minnesota. It showed my appreciating with the Timberwolves and how much they appreciated what I brought to the team.