Let's be clear on something before going any further: Smith isn't a bad player by any stretch. In fact, the list of what he does very well is long.
A terrific athlete, J-Smoove is a monster in transition and finishes exceptionally well at (and usually above) the rim. Plus, when he's focused on defense, his length and anticipation make him a real terror. Toss in an underrated post game and the ability to guard three positions well, and you've got yourself a highly valuable asset.
Smith isn't worth $14 million on any planet, but it's not just the dollars that make the Pistons' signing so indefensibly awful.
It's the fact that Smith is the worst possible fit for this Pistons team—in a number of senses—that does the trick.
The Whole "Shooting" Thing
Smith is an atrocious perimeter shooter who compounds the problem by continuing to attempt shots that he simply cannot make at an efficient rate. In a moment, you'll see just how confounding Smith's jumper addiction truly is.
One of the Pistons' most obvious flaws last year was their inability to space the floor. Detroit hit just 35.6 percent of its three-point attempts in 2012-13, good for a No. 18 ranking in the league, per NBA.com. As a result, poor spacing was a massive issue.
And Smith won't just fail to help improve that weakness; he'll actually make the problem worse.
A crowded interior is a bad thing for any team, but the Pistons have two promising bigs in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who need room to operate. Whether Drummond is on the block or Monroe is working out of the mid-post area, a lack of perimeter shooting results in defenses that crash down on the interior because they have no reason to respect the busted jumpers of perimeter players.
The Pistons' shot chart from last season provides a good visualization of the team's generally inefficient offense and its particularly poor outside shooting.
And Smith will compound the problem.
If used as a power forward (which is where he's most effective), Smith will take minutes away from either Drummond or Monroe. So, if the Pistons are considering using Smith primarily as a small forward, he's going to find himself on the perimeter for significant stretches.
As far as Smith is concerned, that's just fine. He loves firing away from 20 feet. But for the Pistons, a perimeter-oriented Smith is a disaster. Just look at his shot chart from last season and note how little he figures to contribute as a floor-spacing shooter:
If that's not enough for you visual learners out there, check out the picture Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry paints:
From a purely logical standpoint, it's almost impossible to envision a team for whom Smith is a worse fit. Unless there's another move in the works involving either of Detroit's young big men, J-Smoove is going to be used in a way that hides his strengths and magnifies his weaknesses.
That's not a good thing for the Pistons.
The Bigger Picture
Putting aside the issues of floor spacing and mismatched rosters for a moment, it's important to recognize that the Pistons' decision to sign Smith represents something far more profound about the franchise's direction.
Stated simply, Detroit has no idea how to get better.
Joe Dumars just paid $56 million to a player who—even in ideal circumstances—is not good enough to be the No. 1 option on a contender. The result will almost certainly be a Pistons team that threatens to make the postseason, but won't be good enough to do more than lose a first-round series.
Even worse, Detroit won't be able to bottom out, either.
The last place an NBA team should want to be is the dreaded no-man's land of borderline playoff contention. With Smith on board, that's precisely where the Pistons are headed.
Fortunately, that's familiar territory for Smith.
Look, $56 million is the kind of money that teams should be spending on a transformative talent. It's a lot of cash under any circumstances. But Smith is a horrible fit for the Pistons, and signing him means the team is doomed to mere mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
Although, this is the same franchise that spent a combined $90 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009, which was the last time it had major money to blow.
So, I'm not sure why anyone expected something different this time around.