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The day after Christmas: thoughts on the Houston Rockets’ acquisition of Josh Smith

I was going to throw up some thoughts yesterday, as promised on Twitter, but it was Christmas so I didn’t feel like doing anything.  But here’s the post.  Where do I begin?  If you hadn’t already, check out our roundtable from a few days ago before the news became official.  I don’t know if the guys have changed their opinion, but I for one am absolutely stoked.  I’ll get into that in a bit.

To start off, I still remain disappointed about the procedural aspects of the move.  Reportedly, Motiejunas will be moving to the bench as a starting spot assurance was what was needed to clinch the deal.  I don’t know how I feel about the cultural precedents that sets to banish a guy who held down the fort in the most desperate of times upon news of a new addition.  What does it say about rewarding hard work and improvement?  Still, it was the correct move.  Idealism goes out the window in professional sports, and talent rules the day.  If guaranteeing Josh Smith a starting spot was what it took to get him to commit, as much as I don’t like it, it was an absolute no-brainer for the Rockets.  Motiejunas will just have to suck it up and double down with the second unit.  He must realize that if he continues his current rate of production, on a team that could play into June, he will stand to earn riches beyond his wildest dreams on his next contract.  He also will be the early favorite to win the spot in camp going into next season as Smith’s situation will be up in the air.

Onto Smith: it’s funny how life plays out sometimes.  By all accounts, Houston had hoped to pair Smith and Dwight Howard with James Harden back in the summer of Dwight, dangling Omer Asik in sign&trades.  Nothing worked out, and now, the Rockets have Smith at a bargain rate, but also the Pelicans’ lottery pick fetched in the Asik trade with which to make a future upgrade.  Daryl Morey must be ecstatic, presuming he believes that Smith has maintained the abilities that made him desirable in the past.

Still not yet 30, I refuse to believe that Josh Smith has deteriorated so drastically that he cannot regain the production that made him one of the most versatile defenders in the league.  System and fit matters and he was playing horribly out of position in Detroit. Houston now boasts a frontline in Howard, Smith, and Trevor Ariza that is as long and athletic as any other in the league, opening up worlds of possibilities for Kevin McHale and his staff.  Will they use Smith now to more aggressively trap on pick and rolls, with Dwight looming at the rim to clean anything up?  Throw in Patrick Beverley and the recently acquired Corey Brewer and Houston has the option to really dial it up defensively and make things difficult for opponents.  As someone who finds defense beautiful, these are exciting times.

The challenge will be on offense where Smith has been known to make less than intelligent decisions in his career.  But is he any worse than incumbent Terrence Jones?  At least Josh Smith can pass.  As forum moderator Mario Pena pointed out recently, Smith fits better with the starters because he won’t have free rein under Harden’s watch.  There are less opportunities to chuck up shots, and the ones he does, you can live with in the aggregate.

At the end of the day, at the cost they got him, this was an absolute no-brainer for the Rockets.  The one thing you need to win big in the NBA is talent and Houston has it now in abundance.  Smith has his warts, sure.  But in the years since ’97, how many times have the Rockets gone into a playoff series where you just thought, “man, we just don’t have the bodies to compete with these guys athletically.”  That won’t be the case anymore, this year.  We might go down because of poor decisions, lack of strategy, or many other reasons.  But it won’t be for a lack of bodies.

Lastly, Houston doesn’t lose last year against Portland if its Josh Smith guarding LaMarcus Aldridge instead of Terrence Jones.  You can count on that.  The irony is that in many ways, Josh Smith is the realization of Terrence Jones’ basketball destiny.  He is the best-case scenario for Jones, and now the Rockets have him.  They can now let Jones recover on his own timetable rather than shipping him out for pennies on the dollar in search of immediate help.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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