On Josh Smith’s departure from the Houston Rockets ( with a brief digression into the Japanese language)

Josh Smith is going to the LA Clippers. After one half-season of erratic but awesome play, he’s off to the team whose hopes he crushed in the playoffs, and Rockets fans are left wondering what to make of him.

To me, it’s obvious who to compare him to.  I’ve been a Rockets fan my whole life, but I would say that I became a crazy one ( ie. one able to name every single player on the roster without breaking a sweat) in the 2008-09 season. That season, we brought along another semi-star with a history of spotty play  who also really shot too many three-pointers.

And Ron Artest was just all kinds of awesome.

Yeah, Artest had games where he shot too much, especially from three-point range (sounds familiar?). But Rahat likes to talk about how teams need a certain level of toughness. And while I don’t necessarily agree with that, I won’t deny that Artest brought a real toughness to a Rockets squad that was just hit with all kinds of bad luck over the years. There was that first game against Dallas, where he stood up for Yao Ming and was hit with a technical foul that the TNT announcers noted was ridiculous. There was that moment when he went straight up in Kobe’s face after Kobe elbowed him in the throat. And of course, there was that moment when he went into the stands after pouring 27 points in Game 6 against the Blazers.

But the moment I remember most was at the end of that Game 6. Artest took the microphone and told Rockets fans to stop yelling “Goodbye” to the Blazers. As he would mention to the press afterwards, ( along with his “I’ve been in the stands before” joke) getting out of the first round was not Houston’s goal. Winning a championship was. It was a great moment by a guy whose reputation had never been all that great.

Josh Smith last year was just like Artest this season. He had moments where you would just roll your eyes in frustration. It wasn’t just the three-pointers. Smith is a remarkably poor finisher in the lane, tries to go for the awesome pass too often, and of course there were those blasted free throws. I know I hounded Smith throughout much of this past season for these constant mistakes that did cost the Rockets some games.

But his series against the Mavericks, where Smith made the great Dirk Nowitzki look old and washed up, was worth a dozen messed up regular season games. And that Game 6 against the Clippers was worth even more. Just like the 2009 Rockets weren’t beating the Blazers without Artest, the 2015 Rockets don’t beat the Clippers without Smith.

And now he’s gone – and just like Artest, gone to a Los Angeles team that he played against in the playoffs. Smith will be the backup 4 to Blake Griffin – as a DC resident, Paul Pierce is very good offensively as a smallball four, but defense is another matter. This is probably the reason he left to join the Clippers for a little less money.

Houston will recover from this. Motiejunas-Jones-Dwight-Capela is still a fine frontcourt, Montrezl Harrell could be a backup energy four, and you can’t say no to the Chuckwagon’s possible return. Even a faded Chuckwagon is still far better than Dorsey, who we should not expect to be in a Rockets uniform at the start of next season.

But what should one feel about Smith leaving? Time for a digression.

There’s a very common phrase in the Japanese language which is pronounced shikata ga nai. Now, a translation will tell you that it means “Oh, well” or “It can’t be helped.” But there’s something lost in translation with that. With shikata ga nai, there is a distinct feeling in that phrase that isn’t there in the English equivalent. That feeling could be described as “That is how it has always been, and that is how it will always be.” There are some linguists who attribute that phrase to contributing to the famous Japanese passivity and acceptance of authority, as it’s about accepting things as they are.

It’s a phrase that I think is a good way to sum up Smith’s departure. This happens all the time. Guys who did so much for the Rockets, whether Artest or Smith or a certain pretty boy last year, depart for rival teams or teams that played us hard in the playoffs. The NBA is a business, people love to say. Shikata ga nai.

Thanks for everything, Smoove. May your three-point shots go in, may your passes not result in turnovers, and may you get many lobs from Chris Paul. Just not when you’re playing us.


About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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