On December 23rd Good King Van Gundy, the coach, GM and Unsurpassed Monarch of Mustaches for the Detroit Pistons gave himself, and as it turns out, his team, a lavish early Christmas present. He waived forward Josh Smith, agreeing to stretch-pay him the $26 million remaining on his contract to play basketball anywhere but Detroit.
This set off what can only be described as a Christmas blizzard of speculation, a howling wintry mix of analysis, punditry, shouting and vituperation. A whole sleigh full of cold, glistening, vituperation came winging down from the night sky, pulled by eight tiny Van Gundies. You can't say Smith hadn't earned it.
Smith cleared waivers, as everyone in the NBA was more than content to let the Pistons bring Smith his figgy pudding. After that, however, competition for the services of the man who many believe scrooged the whole city of Detroit was hot as a roaring Yule Log.
Many were the suitors.
This Christmas the Dallas Mavericks, (in their quest to bother Houston as much as possible and also to not play Charlie Villanueva ), gave their heart to Josh Smith. But the very next day, Smith gave it away. He signed with someone special; childhood friend and Smith's Best Man, Dwight Howard, and his team, the Houston Rockets.
If anything the evilly smoldering vituperation surrounding Smith, that whole seething radioactive mass of righteous analytical hate, went critical when Smith stood under the mistletoe and smooched the Rockets.
Josh Smith is no star, star, shining in the night! Daryl Morey must be high as a kite!
Commenters, pundits, analysts normally known for their cool and shrewd analysis were rocking around the Christmas Tree having a holly, jolly time of it. They all seemingly forgot that nearly every team was trying to sign Smith and Houston just happened to be the team that actually did. Would the Little Drummer Boys of the NBA Commentariat be banging on quite so loudly if Smith had gone to the Spurs? Golden State? Or Dallas? I truly do wonder.
In any case, it would seem a couple of questions perhaps went unasked in this frenzy. For instance:
"Could the Rockets be doing something smart?"
or this one:
"We think we understand how Daryl Morey analyzes things. But he's just traded for two guys most people think aren't very good, in Corey Brewer, and Alexey Shved. Now Smith has fallen into Houston's lap. Is it possible he's seeing something that we aren't?"
You see, they know where Smith's been shooting, they know that its a brick. They know that he's been bad not good, and he'll only make you stink.
Josh Smith was unquestionably The Grinch That Stole The NBA Christmas News Cycle, and Hou-Ville and all its little Hous were in for some pain.
There was an overwhelming consensus that Smith was out to steal more than Christmas from Hou-Ville, of course. He was going to steal Houston's whole season, every bit of it, down to the last James Harden layup, Dwight Howard dunk, all the overpriced replica cups, dried up nachos, and the very last inflating needle in Hou-ville. Why?
Because Josh Smith's a mean one, and his brain is two sizes too small!
So thus, an impressive consensus was built, despite Houston's reputation for advanced analysis, clever drafting, successful trading, and its largely unprecedented feat of building a possible contender from the burnt out wrecks of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, without ever tanking.
It turns out you can justify a lot of dubious things in the NBA, but apparently you can't justify Josh Smith being a Rocket.
Now comes the Lessons part of our much belated Lessons and Carols presentation. I'm going to summarize many of the arguments I've actually read from Holy Pundit Writ or heard bruited or podcast about, regarding the Smith signing. Then I will totally wassail my friend Manger Straw Man right down Santa Claus Lane, and win the argument with ease. All the bells on earth will ring. For me.
Me: It's basically no money. It's not a trade. The Rockets gave away nothing, and used an exception.The Rockets aren't the ones who made a $26 million commitment to jettison Smith. If he doesn't work out, I guess he can collect two, maybe three, checks for not working out, elsewhere. I'd venture that there's no real Grinchy danger here.
MSM: Au contraire mon frere! Josh Smith's very presence will wreck the Rockets. Like an infection he'll sicken the team with his bad shooting and dunderheaded ways! He will force himself into the lineup only to destroy it! He exudes evil. His headband clouds the minds of men. He's also forced Tarik Black off the team. Did I mention the three pointers?
Me: But Kevin McHale just signed a three-year extension, how could Smith bully him? Moreover the Rockets have a clear system, and if you get outside of it, you don't get the ball or often, minutes. It's very easy for James Harden to freeze anyone out of the Rockets offense. The Rockets aren't going to play Smith at small forward, but at power forward, where they have an injured starter to boot. He still looks to be good inside, this dismal year in Detroit hopefully being an exception. Finally, the Rockets find guys like Tarik Black more or less constantly, whereas not many guys have Smith's talents.
MSM: Fie! My verdict is in and nothing can ever change it! Nothing! It is statistically unlikely, and therefore impossible! No player can flourish in a new environment more suited to his strengths! That's largely because I can't model "new environment suited to his strengths and the wake up call from getting fired." If I can't model it, I make fun of it and dismiss it entirely. Besides, Morey is a moronic gambler who thinks 3, 9 unsuited is an awesome hand!
Me: So now Morey is bad at his job, because you don't agree with this decision? What if Smith can harness his obvious talent properly in Houston? I do truly understand that you're betting against some well established trends and probabilities. If it works though, the payoff could be huge, like an NBA title.
I see the risk as small. I simply don't buy your case where Smith and his $2.1 million exception hijack a team where he's No. 3 in the pecking order at best, like he was in Atlanta. What's your support for that premise anyhow? Isn't this the sort of bet you always should make if you're a gambler? Does anyone win a title by being risk averse?
MSM: Obviously you missed my answer about him forcing himself into the rotation and poisoning the team with his Grinchliness. I backed it up with exclamation points and sheerest bullshit. No one can resist his evil minute stealing power, and then he'll brick threes non stop! Quite unlike the rest of the team! Anyway, you're obviously a cretin, and the Rockets lost some games, thereby proving my point forever. Grinched.
Hark, the Herald Angels have sung. This move is a guaranteed disaster, and the Rockets losing a couple of games proves it.
There will be no peace on earth, and especially no goodwill to the Rockets.
And to all a good night!
(But you might as well read the next bit.)
A Brief Note To Our Smithcentric Motor City Visitors
Lately at The Dream Shake we've seen an influx of posters (dying down a bit with Detroit success) mostly from Detroit Bad Boys (a fine blog with whom we have absolutely no beef) and some from elsewhere.
These new posters as a rule truly, madly, deeply, hate Josh Smith. They hate him because of statistics. They hate because of the Eyeball Test. The hate him because he apparently refused to learn, change or improve in Detroit. They hate him because they could see what he was very good at, but he wouldn't do it often enough. They hate his 3pt shooting. They hate that he was not only bad for them, but expensive. They hate his headband. They almost certainly have a point, and it almost certainly doesn't matter to Rockets fans.
The fact that Detroit are now building upon some sort of world record "addition by subtraction" performance serves to emphasize their claims about Smith, The Piston That Couldn't. If Detroit's winning streak continues, "The Ewing Theory" should be renamed.
(Renaming "The Ewing Theory" would be good, as it really sandbags Patrick Ewing, a nice guy who carried the Knicks for a decade or so, unlike Smith. I suggest "The Smoove Conjecture".)
I further suggest that these Motor City Haters hate Smith in part as the symbol of all that went wrong with Detroit at the end of Joe Dumars' reign. I'd suggest that level of sports tragedy might be a bit much to lay at the feet of any one player, no matter how Smoove.
In any case, they hate him in a box. They hate him with a fox. They paid him to go away, and they'll hate him every day. They hate him in his new home and they won't leave it alone.
And that's fine, in the privacy of their own blog. But, again, it really doesn't have much to do with Rockets fans.
The Rockets signed Smith after his old team fired him. Most people don't follow a fired employee from his old job to his new one and heckle the customers at the guy's new place of employment.
They don't usually stand around making ceaseless dire predictions about how this new barista will inevitably ruin their espresso, and indeed, the whole coffee shop, given time. Few people lurk for hours watching the guy go about his daily routine, and then pounce if he misplaces an order, or drops a mug. See! See! We told you this would happen! Pulled a bad shot! Just like he did at the old place!
We're all marginally sorry Josh Smith caused you sports pain and we welcome genuine discussion, and humor. We think we pretty much get the gist of your insights, but you're welcome to add more if you think its worth adding.
Right now this looks like one of those breakups that was really good for both sides, and allows them to move away from their misery in a positive way. We don't begrudge you guys that at all. Be happy! Also, check out the Rockets, they're an interesting team.
Just don't be the weirdo who follows the fired guy to his new job to heckle the customers there.