Baseball fans like to joke that July 1 is Bobby Bonilla Day because the Mets pay him more than $1 million annually on that date despite the fact that he retired in 2001. While Bonilla may be the most famous example of an athlete getting paid for not playing, he’s not the only one in that situation.
It happens with pro athletes in all sports. In the NBA, one such player is Josh Smith. He hasn’t played in a game since November 2017, but he is still getting a healthy salary every year thanks to the contract he signed with the Pistons.
Josh Smith’s NBA career
Josh Smith had a long career in the NBA after the Hawks took him with the 17th pick in the 2004 NBA draft straight out of high school, where he was a highly recruited player at Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy his senior year.
He had committed to play for the Indiana University, but he ultimately decided to forego college to go directly to the pros. He ultimately played for five teams over 13 seasons.
During that time, he averaged 14.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, along with 1.9 blocks. While he was never among the best players in the league, Smith provided some good production for the teams he was on.
The end of Josh Smith’s NBA tenure
Smith last played in the NBA in the 2017-18 season, taking part in just three games for the Pelicans, coming off a 2016-17 season in which he played in the Chinese Basketball Association.
New Orleans signed him as a short-term solution as an extra body to deal with multiple injuries they had among their players, and the team waived him a couple of weeks after signing him, after Smith had played in three games.
That wasn’t the end of him playing basketball, though. In 2019, Smith played for Bivouac in the BIG3 basketball league, which features 3-on-3 action, with many former NBA players among the league’s players.
Still getting paid NBA money
Despite the fact that Smith hasn’t played in an NBA game in nearly three calendar years, Josh Smith is still getting paid significant money, according to FiveThirtyEight.
The Pistons signed Smith to a four-year, $54 million contract in the 2013 offseason, but he was cut in December 2014 after playing just 105 games for the team.
Smith fell way short of expectations during his short tenure in Detroit, so the contract ended up being terrible for the Pistons — and they are just now about to stop paying for the mistake they made giving him the deal.
Every year since cutting Smith, the Pistons have been paying him more than $5.3 million each season. That figure represents more than he was making for the teams for which he actually played since being cut by the Pistons.
So the Pistons have paid Smith more than $25 million to play for other teams, another league, and this season to just sit on his couch because of the contract they gave him before he turned into a bust for the franchise.
But there is a silver lining for the Pistons and their fans. The 2019-20 season marked the last one that the team will owe Smith that money. That means the most recent payment of more than $5.3 million is the last one that Smith will get from the Pistons, finally closing the book on that terrible contract for Detroit. But it has been costly for the team until now and might have hurt them in trying to sign free agents in recent years.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference