The Detroit Pistons shocked the NBA world in December when they unexpectedly cut Josh Smith and gave him remainder of his $US26 million salary to go away.
The Pistons used a special rule called the “stretch provision” to extend Smith’s remaining salary over five years to lessen the financial impact, but the move still came as a shock because Smith was the Pistons’ premier free agent signing two years ago.
When Smith was cut, he hit free agency and signed with the Houston Rockets for one year for $US2 million. The signing was questioned by some — Smith had been a disaster in the Pistons’ offence, and his propensity for low-percentage shots didn’t seem to fit with the Rockets’ analytical offensive attack.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey explained the signing pretty simply:
“For me, it’s not that difficult. He’s been an elite defender in this league. Maybe he was having a tough year in Detroit. I don’t know what went into that. But when you’re in a competition of 30 (teams), especially a competition in the West, you’ve got to get talent, you’ve got to take chances on guys.”
After a little bit of a bumpy start to his tenure in Houston, Smith has been on fire for the third-place Rockets.
In February, Smith is averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game in 31 minutes per game. His shooting — the biggest question mark about his fit with the Rockets — has been red hot, hitting 47.6% of his shots from the field, 48% of his shots from three (on five attempts per game).
With Smith on the floor in February, the Rockets have a 7.2 net rating, third best on the team. That number falls to -12 with Smith off the floor. In other words, the Rockets are losing when he’s on the bench.
With Dwight Howard out several weeks with a knee injury, Smith has stepped up as James Harden’s sidekick. Though the Rockets lost to the Clippers Wednesday night, Smith showed his all-around game, tallying 21 points on 8-17 shooting, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal.
History suggests Smith’s shooting will come back down to Earth — he’s 28% career three-point shooter. But the signing that several people mocked is paying off for Houston. Smith is simply a versatile talent giving the Rockets great minutes in a tight Western Conference.
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