Since the season’s start, I’ve maintained that at the trade deadline, the Rockets should stay away from Hawks forward Josh Smith. I never thought he was worth the money he wanted long-term nor worth the cost of saving money for better opportunities. I thought though that even if they did want him, they’d be wise to just sign him outright in the summer rather than spending assets during the year. The thinking was, in my mind, if Houston wanted him as a free agent, he’d surely come.
With some recent developments, my thinking has changed. As I wrote earlier this morning, there now seems to at least be a plausible chance for the Rockets to lure Dwight Howard this summer. The Lakers are in a freefall and Howard has voiced his displeasure; meanwhile Houston continues its ascent.
So what does Dwight Howard have to do with trading for Josh Smith? Already having max flexibility, the one thing Houston can do to help its chances at Howard is improve its team this year. What do I mean? If the Rockets stand pat at the deadline, or make minor moves, they probably finish 7th or 8th and get swept in the opening round. But what if they trade for Smith? Smith is nowhere near ideal enough of a fit to lock up long-term. But knowing that the Rockets’ most glaring weakness is production at the ‘4’, if they trade for Smith in-season, they most likely win more games and most likely fare better in the playoffs. Again, while he probably isn’t worth keeping long-term, Josh Smith probably drastically improves this team this season. With Smith in the lineup, a second round appearance wouldn’t seem so implausible.
So then what? After the season, after a better finish than they otherwise would have had, management can go to Dwight Howard and say, “we were the sixth seed with Josh Smith and made the second round. With you in his place, we’re title contenders.” And to Howard, watching from home, that scenario would probably seem plausible. The Rockets could then outright renounce Josh Smith’s rights, clearing his cap hold, and sign Dwight Howard with the money they would have otherwise had. (Note that a trade for Smith would even clear more cap space than the team already has if including the likes of Marcus Morris and other players with money left on their deals.)
And if Howard doesn’t sign? Probably not a big deal. A package of Marcus Morris, Terrence Jones, Toney Douglas, and Cole Aldrich works for Smith dollar-wise. Given some of the reports surrounding what the Hawks might ask for Smith, it might even work talent-wise. Neither Morris or Jones are blue-chip prospects, but as former mid first rounders, their value might be the market rate right now for the Hawks forward.
To expand on my logic, if Dwight Howard weren’t in play, I probably wouldn’t want to give up on Terrence Jones. A few weeks ago, I would not have made the trade I just proposed. But now? If giving up Terrence Jones means improving the odds of signing Dwight Howard–if even by a small margin–I do that deal every day. The game is all about assessing odds and expected values. Terrence Jones is a nice player. But in my opinion, a 10% increase in the likelihood of signing Howard is greater than Terrence Jones’ expected potential.
Of course, if by some miracle the Rockets won the title this year after acquiring Smith, they’d obviously have the option of just keeping him altogether.