Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) plays in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Just a few days ago, we debated the potential impact of the Dallas Mavericks acquiring Rajon Rondo to strengthen their backcourt. But the Houston Rockets made a power move of their own to improve their chances in the always-loaded NBA Western Conference.
After he was waived by the Detroit Pistons earlier in the week, the Rockets sought out 6-foot, 9-inch swingman Josh Smith, a close friend of Houston center Dwight Howard. The two played together on AAU teams growing up in Atlanta, and now they’ll have a chance to rekindle that relationship as pro players in the primes of their careers. Smith, 29, has been an erratic player but he’s also flashed the athleticism, diversity and all-around skills that should make him a power piece with the surging Rockets. But just how far can Smith elevate the Rockets, if at all? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Adding Smith to the Rockets’ front court helps make up for the loss of Chandler Parsons, who departed in free agency over the summer. It also gives them another major defensive force—Smith made the NBA All-Defensive second team in 2010—to go with Howard and gives them a player who can swing between small forward and power forward. He’ll help on the boards alongside Howard and he’s already a major shot blocker. His addition has to make Houston the favorites in the West at this point. Smith will be a third wheel on the team behind Howard and James Harden, but that’s the exact role that Smith needs to be in to succeed. He’s failed to be an impact star over his 10-year career, but that pressure is off and now he can just focus on doing the little things on the court—which, ironically, is his strong suit.
Green: Smith’s erratic play and his penchant for launching ill-advised deep three-pointers might be too much of a habit to shake. The Spurs are still in prime position to defend their title, and I love what I’m seeing out of Portland and Golden State. Frankly, I think Houston was a better team when they had Parsons. You knew that you were getting with him: a top-notch shooter who knew how to fit in with his teammates. I’ll be curious to see how Smith operates with Howard hogging the paint and Harden dominating the ball. Old habits are hard to shake, and on every team of which Smith has been a part, he’s been looked upon as one of the top guys. How will he react to being just one of the guys now, especially after Harden’s summer statement that he and Howard are the main pieces and everyone else around them are just role players? And that was said with Parsons still on the team at the time. It’ll be an interesting dynamic.
Riley: The clock is ticking on Smith’s career. He’s not a spring chicken and he’s never been on a team this good. Being waived by Detroit should definitely be an eye-opener for the swing forward. With Howard and Harden already established as cornerstone players, there shouldn’t be any doubt to whom the Rockets belong. Spacing could pose a small problem, but Smith can occasionally hit the deep ball. As long as he doesn’t fall in love with the shot then Houston should be more than fine. They have a dynamic scorer/passer in Harden and two, mobile, athletic bigs in their front court who have both been NBA All-Defensive players. This might be the latest Big Three to take the hardwood.
Green: If we’re talking strictly about championship chances, then I don’t see how you can put the Rockets in that discussion. Each of their “Big Three” members have incredible flaws, whether it’s Harden’s lack of defense, Howard’s free throws or Smith’s up and down play. I just don’t see a consistent player on the team to count on come crunch time, when you need a championship play. Smith has had moments in which he disappears from games, and he still dishes out a few plays that make you scratch your head as a fan. He’ll definitely add to the makeup of the team, but I still firmly believe that Parsons’ shooting ability made him a better fit than the former Piston. Houston still lacks a trustworthy point guard, and it’s uncertain whether Howard can make his free throws when it counts in the postseason. There are too many unknown variables to push Houston past the other conference contenders.