When the Rockets re-acquired Josh Smith in a trade with the Clippers back on January 22nd, there was miniscule flicker of optimism the mercurial forward may have actually been the missing piece in a thus-far (and eventually overall) disappointing season.
Chemistry can be a quirky equation sometimes. And with multiple Rockets lobbying for Smith's return to the team after the front office failed to resign him in the offseason, GM Daryl Morey snagged an offer he couldn't refuse, actually convincing the Clippers to pay Houston $460,000 to take Smith off their hands.
For Smith's first three games back in H-town, it appeared the optimists were correct. Boosted by Smith's willingness to pass and keep the ball moving in the frontcourt, the Rockets reeled off wins in all three contests, with Smoove averaging about 23 minutes and 3.6 assists per game.
It was all downhill from there, however.
Despite the occasional outburst, like a 19-point, 5-rebound game in a win versus the Miami Heat in February, Smith was mostly awful, and his season descended into a hole of 14 consecutive DNP-Coach's Decisions in the month of March, and he finished up the year with some ugly-looking stats.
This half of the Headband Brothers averaged just 6.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 34.3 percent shooting and 27.1 percent from deep in 23 games for Houston, with his advanced metrics looking even worse.
Smith had both a negative offensive plus-minus (-3.4, ouch!) and a negative defensive plus-minus (-0.7) and also finished as a negative value over replacement player (VORP) on the year with a -0.2. To top it off, he also finished with negative win shares at -0.4, the only player on the entire squad to end up below zero in that category.
In the postseason, he provided a small spark in a Game 2 loss against the Golden State Warriors by knocking down 3 triples in 18 minutes, but followed that up by playing 11 minutes combined in the next three contests in the series, including a DNP in Game 4.
It's been a long fall for Smith, from the multi-category stat stuffer and premier defender he was with the Atlanta Hawks, to where he stands today, which is squarely on the precipice of retirement with his contract with the Rockets now up.
With wholesale roster changes likely in Houston, it's doubtful we see him back in Rockets red, and with Smith sulking his way out of both Detroit and Los Angeles, combined with being one of the least efficient players in the league, his reputation has been sufficiently soiled to where his place on any NBA roster next season remains a huge question mark.
We'll always have the Game 6 win against the Clippers, which forever secures Smoove's place in Houston Rockets lore, but his time with the team, much like the overall body of Smith's career if it's now over, was much more "what might have been" over actual reality.