Houston has been the front-runner to land Josh Smith for a few good reasons. First, Smith and Dwight Howard have a strong relationship. Second, they could offer more money than the minimum (they had the bi-annual exception at just over $2 million a season. And they have minutes — starting power forward Terrence Jones is out right now, and even when Jones returns Smith could (and reportedly was told would) start.
All that was good enough to convince Smith — he has chosen Houston, something first reported by Adrain Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by other reports.
Smith had wanted to be on a contender and while other teams came calling the fit and the fact that the Rockets are 20-7 and have James Harden playing at an MVP level was enough.
This is a low-risk gamble by the Rockets — it’s not costing them much and if it doesn’t work they have the depth to cover for him once Jones gets healthy. This move, along with the recent trade for Corey Brewer, could add some quality depth to a Rockets team that has to be considered potential contenders in the West. Of course, the problem in the West is six or seven other teams can legitimately make that same claim. For the Rockets these moves are seen as a leg up in a conference with no margin for error.
The question is what Smith will they get? How much of his recent struggles were about the challenging fit and situation in Detroit? This is a guy with a below league average PER not just this season but the last two.
Look at it this way: Detroit just convinced its owner to eat $27 million just to dump Smith and walk away. That is not something you do if you think the guy has anything left in the tank of value.
Look at Smith’s shot chart for this season.
That is a lot of red. Stan Van Gundy weaned Smith off his addiction for ill-advised threes, but the problem was he wasn’t making the shots closer to the basket that used to be where he had value. Smith is just now missing from everywhere. Maybe he plays better, maybe he shoots better in Houston, but I want to see it before I believe it.
That said, he’s a defensive upgrade, he can grab boards and should be able to pitch in. If it doesn’t work out, this is just $2 million next year and both Jones and Donatas Motiejunas can eat up the minutes if Smith doesn’t work out.