Josh Smith, one of the worst free agent signings of the last decade or so, was released by the Detroit Pistons today, who decided they would pay him $26 million to play anywhere but Detroit.
Immediately, discussion hit a fever pitch to where J-Smoove would land. Naturally, the Houston Rockets were on the tips of everyone's tongues, for four main reasons: Smith and Dwight Howard are close friends (Dwight was Smith's best man in 2010), the Rockets have more means to sign him than any other contender and Daryl Morey has tried (repeatedly) to bring the power forward to Houston.
Naturally, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Rockets were "emerging as the strongest suitor" to sign Smith, and the "Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat have already expressed an interest in signing Smith to Smith's representatives," per his sources.
The Rockets are in the best position to do this because they have a $2 million bi-annual exception, and all of the other candidates for his "services" can only offer the $1.4 million. Of course, that might not matter too much to Smith, because what's $700,000 when you're making $26 million anyway, just for not playing for the Pistons.
So, the Rockets are fully capable of signing Josh Smith, who has never been an All-Star, but was a key part of perennial playoff teams in Atlanta before his disastrous tenure began in Detroit last year. Should they?
The case for Josh Smith, Houston Rocket
Smith is a 6-9 power forward (we used to think he was a combo forward. After his stint in Detroit, it's clear he's exclusively a 4) who is one of the better defenders at his position in the league, is among the league's better shot-blockers and is a terrific passer for his size. He's annually one of the top candidates for a 5x5 game: at least five points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.
The Pistons are abysmal on defense, despite having a supposedly elite rim protector in Andre Drummond. Smith has 1.2 win shares on that end this year, and is averaging 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals a game. He's very mobile and can guard stretch power forwards and bruisers on the block alike. There's maybe one power forward in the league who Smith would need help with (hint: he annihilated the Rockets in the playoffs last year).
He's been as great a defender as anyone in the league in years past -- he led the league in DWS in 2011-2012 and is routinely top 10 in the league in combined steals and blocks. He's 29 and has slowed at this end, but that might be from playing small forward and being farther away from the rim than when he was in Atlanta.
Smith is also a willing and adept passer, averaging a career-high 4.7 assists per game this year. If he came to Houston, he'd become the team's third-best passer, after James Harden and Kostas Papanikolaou.
On its face, fitting Smith onto the Roster doesn't look that complicated. He could start or come off the bench and fit nicely into a four-man big rotation with Dwight Howard, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones. Donuts can thrive in 20 minutes or so as a backup 4/5, Howard can play with his buddy and Jones can always have a better defender on the floor with him.
It would take a small cap hit, but the Rockets could release Tarik Black or Joey Dorsey to make room on the roster to fit Smith.
There is another factor to consider, too: if the Rockets don't sign him, someone else will. That someone, if Woj's list is accurate, is almost certainly in the Western Conference.
Smith would be arguable a better fit on the Clippers, who have an all-world point guard, two great big men who can each play center next to Smith, and a coach known for reaching difficult players. Do you want to see the Mavericks add another talented piece, and just trust that Rick Carlisle can't figure out a way to make him useful? Me neither.
Why the Rockets should stay away
Read the first sentence of this story again: the Detroit Pistons will pay Josh Smith $26 million over the next five years because they don't want him anymore. They want him gone so badly they're willing to pay him $26 million to leave and play for any of their competitors.
That's not a factor that should just be brushed aside. Stan Van Gundy is both coach and GM of the Pistons. SVG the coach saw what Josh Smith was doing to his team, and SVG the GM decided it was worth eating $5 million a year in cap room until 2020 just so SVG the coach didn't have to deal with him anymore.
And just to be clear, he made the Pistons worse when he was on the floor this year. A lot worse.
You're reading that correctly: the Detroit Pistons, when Josh Smith isn't playing, have been an above-average NBA offense. When he's playing, they're scoring 97.3 points per 100 possessions, an abominable number. They turn the ball over 11 percent more when he plays, which you could say completely negates the advantage of his passing.
Many people have said that this is a product of Smith being forced to play small forward when his skill set makes him a pretty clear-cut power forward. This is fair. But it simply doesn't account for everything, like these fun tidbits from ESPN Stats and Info (viewer discretion advised):
Josh Smith was on pace to be the 1st NBA player ever to shoot below 40% FG & below 50% FT while taking at least 12 shots per game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2014
Josh Smith has a true shooting pct of 41.7%, last among qualified players. Last year, he was also last (46.3%). He made $13.5M both seasons.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2014
Since 3-pt line was introduced in 1979-80, Josh Smith has the 2nd-worst career 3-pt FG pct (27.8%), min. 1,000 att. pic.twitter.com/sVpFLAqHHy— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2014
Smith isn't just a bad shooter: he's a historically bad shooter from literally everywhere on floor. For years, Josh Smith was at least a competent shooter from inside the arc. That's not the case this year: he's shooting 40.7 percent on two-pointers.
Sure, this might be a case of "wrong place, wrong time" and Smith could immediately return to his productive, positive contributing ways. But it should not be assumed.
I want to briefly touch on the issue of chemistry. It's an enigma in basketball, as it is in all sports. It's most important in the NBA, where addition by subtraction is a real thing (see: Gay, Rudy). The Rockets already released one no-doubter positive locker room presence in Francisco Garcia. Josh Smith has a reputation as a bad egg in the locker room, one I'm not entirely sure he deserves.
Smith was suspended by the Hawks in 2013 for "conduct detrimental to the team," but he "didn't bring a cancerous attitude to the locker room and there never were any blowups behind closed doors," MLive.com reported today.
Some thoughts from other TDS writers on the possible signing:
Allen Ojeda: "I'm weirdly okay with the idea of the move. I believe in stats probably more than the next guy, but I also believe in the ability of a player to adapt and improve, especially those with serious basketball talent. Offensively, Josh Smith has been nothing short of awful since signing with the Pistons, but we have to take into account that he was playing with a jacking point guard in Jennings and almost no spacing because of Monroe and Drummond. Until this season, he he's actually been pretty good at finishing at the rim.Ideally the spacing that the Rockets' offense creates will allow him to come off the bench and be a post, driving, and fast break threat. It also comes down to coaching. We've seen players who were known "chunkers" become efficient and effective players when used right. Look at Monta Ellis. Obviously, McHale is no Carlisle, but if Josh Smith can buy into our system and the way McHale will want to use him, I think we have a solid inside scoring threat as well as a serious threat on the break when playing with the second unit. I know I'm probably putting too much faith into both McHale and Smith to make this happen, but I think it's a legitimate possibility."
Patrick Harrel: "Bottom line, Josh Smith is an upgrade on the court over Tarik Black and Joey Dorsey. Is that upgrade worth the potential of blowing up the clubhouse chemistry? I'm not sure I'm convinced. J-Smoove has been a complete disaster in Detroit, but if they can get him to buy into being a bench guy and last option on offense, I wouldn't necessarily be opposed."
Mike de Moor: "If you're getting him for cheap and you throw him with the second unit I'm cool with that. No doubt he's a giant douche/turd sandwich but having Josh Smith come off your bench isn't a bad thing. I doubt he messes with the stability of the locker room and maybe McHale can convince him to play inside like he did his last half season in Atlanta. Him and Dwight being pals doesn't hurt either."
Smith will clear waivers on Wednesday. No matter what happens, this is already an unprecedented move in the NBA (no one gets cut with this much salary still guaranteed and no amnesty provision).
If the Rockets sign him, that means three new guys, along with Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved, will have to integrate with a championship contender on the fly. Continuity is an asset in and of itself in the NBA.
You have the facts. If you're Daryl Morey, do you pull the trigger? I was a hard no at first, but now I'd categorize myself as a "soft no" after researching this piece and seeing other opinions out there.