Never satisfied, the Houston Rockets are on the verge of adding their third player in less than a week to a rotation that already had the team near the top of the western conference standings all season.
Multiple reports early Wednesday afternoon suggested the team has agreed to a deal with free agent forward Josh Smith. This acquisition comes just days after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey swing a deal to add wing Corey Brewer and guard Alexey Shved.
Smith was surprisingly waived on Monday by the Detroit Pistons, who had signed him to a four-year, $54 million contract prior to the 2013-14 season.
With such a large salary commitment still due Smith, it was not surprising that Smith went unclaimed by Wednesday’s 4:00 p.m. central deadline. The Rockets had engaged in discussions last offseason in an attempt to acquire the 29-year old forward, but were unable to reach any deal.
Even with the emergence of Donatas Motiejunas as a capable scoring threat in the paint, the uncertainty regarding Terrence Jones’ return from his nerve injury in his left leg, leaves the Rockets eager to add another front court player that can help on both ends of the court.
Smith spent nine years in Atlanta, before moving on to Detroit, and has often been described as mercurial, with a penchant for me-first basketball. His shot selection has been a source on constant criticism and rightfully so. He is a career 27.8 percent 3-point shooter, which is compounded by the fact he shoots so many of them.
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, 88 players have attempted at least 500 3-pointers. Only two of them are successful on less than 30 percent of those shots. One is Josh Smith.
The other? His soon-to-be new teammate Corey Brewer.
The key to making both of those two, new, established veteran acquisitions thrive with the Rockets is putting them in a better position to take, and hopefully, make shots better suited to their skills.
In one outing, Brewer already displayed how he will help this team offensively. His 2-of-4 3-point shooting was merely a bonus. He plays the passing lanes brilliantly and for a team that wats to run, he adds a capable facilitator on the fast break.
Following a deflection from Brewer, he pushed the ball up court and found James Harden streaking to the basket for a slam dunk. Later in the game, he again created a turnover and pushed the ball up court. He found Jason Terry well behind the 3-point line and even with a less than perfect pass, Brewer picked up another of his four assists on the night, when Terry swished home the 2000th 3-pointer of his career.
Smith can help the Rockets offensively by staying close to the basket. By grabbing rebounds, and likely by running pick and roll with Harden in similar fashion to how Dwight Howard runs it with the all-NBA shooting guard.
Harden is adept at quickly launching alley-oop passes to Howard, but has been frustrated in similar pick and roll plays with teammates playing below the rim. Smith only has 10 dunks this season, and averaged 0.8 dunks per game in his 105 games with Detroit, after posting nearly 1.4 dunks per game in his 676 games with Atlanta.. But some of that is a factor of playing more small forward with the Pistons than he likely will play with Houston.
The bottom line is with his long track record of being a subpar long range shooter, he must be committed to taking better shots.
Consider now, how Smith could help defensively. Remember that list of 88 players? Well, Smith has more blocked shots than any player on that list. By a lot. Kevin Durant has the second-most blocked shots with 172. Smith has 293.
He’s also 21st on that list of nearly all small forwards and guards in steals. Three of the 20 players in front of him, will now be his teammates, Brewer, Harden and Trevor Ariza.
Smith has been a good help defender off the ball at the rim his entire career, which is something the team desperately needs when Howard is off the floor. He’s a good rebounder and should be an asset in transition, too.
Signing a player of Smith’s caliber to just under two million dollars for the remainder of the season is well worth the risk for a player that if he were a model teammate and team player, would clearly not be available otherwise.
The Rockets were 0.9 seconds away from trying to close out their first round playoff series in May with the Blazers at home in a game seven. With a team they thought could challenge for an NBA title coming off a 54-win season.
Roughly seven months later, the Rockets have pursued and failed to acquire Carmelo Anthony, Kyle Lowry and Chris Bosh. They allowed Chandler Parsons to become a restricted free agent and ultimately decided not to match his lucrative three-year contract offer from the Dallas Mavericks.
But they were also aware from their series loss against Portland that there were issues with the style and focus. They were not a bad defensive team over the course of the 2013-14 regular season, but they were a bad defensive team in the playoffs.
After not making any of those enormous impact acquisitions, the Rockets instead have added two players who impact the game tremendously with their defense and have won an NBA championship in Ariza and Brewer.
They added a veteran in Jason Terry, who has also won a title and has continued to be an excellent 3-point shooter.
Now they’ve added Josh Smith, who if nothing else, can help fill the void left by Terrence Jones, who has been out since the fourth game of the season with a nerve issue in his left leg. Jones has remained out indefinitely for the last several weeks as the team is unsure when he might regain the needed strength in his leg.
Houston’s next game is Friday night in Memphis for the third meeting if the season between the two teams. Each team has a lopsided victory in the two meetings. Smith could be in uniform for that game and likely in the starting lineup if available.