His decision makes him a teammate with center Dwight Howard. The two athletic wonders have been friends for a long time, dating back to their early teens, when they played AAU basketball for the Atlanta Celtics. (Doesn’t seem fair that the two could be on one team, does it?) That friendship continued during their NBA careers, making his selection of Houston almost a non-surprise.
Smith’s signing with Houston could very well save his career. Or reinvigorate it. Or ignite it. For a few reasons, Houston is the ideal landing spot for the 6-foot-9 forward who was shockingly cut Monday by the Pistons, who signed him to a four-year, $54-million contract last year.
Pairing Smith on the frontline with Howard significantly elevates the Rockets’ interior defense. Each are not only big, but are adept at shot-blocking. Good luck trying to get a driving layup over those two. More significant about playing with Howard though, is that, as his close friend, Howard can reel Smith in when he goes on one of his inevitable brooding spells.
In Atlanta, while he was liked among teammates, there was not a voice that could get into his ear—not even coach Mike Woodson—and make a difference when he wanted to shoot three-pointers or when he got upset about not shooting enough or when he was not in the game or whatever would trigger mini-tantrums. And, really, if that part of Josh Smith is controlled, he is a player that can take a team to another level.
It also helps that, having been cut, he is the center of attention on a team that already is thinking championship. Smith, if he’s wise, will be on his best behavior, for it is a cumbersome burden to be looked at as the reason a team did not reach its potential.
One of the conditions, according to reports, of Smith choosing any team was that he would be a starter. Houston acquiesced to that demand in a nanosecond. The Rockets, like the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat and other teams that courted him, see what a multi-dimensional player of his size, athleticism and versatility can add.
Smith also could be a factor in Howard playing tougher. He liked to hoist ill-advised three-point shots, but Smith played strong down low and assumed the mentality of blocking every shot in the vicinity. With his friend showing that, Howard can only do the same, making their play a sort of tag team of inside dominance.
James Harden benefits from Smith’s presence, too. Harden has worked harder at defense, but with Smith behind him to either block, alter or discourage opponents, the lethal-scoring guard can preserve more energy for the other end of the court, where he is as devastating as anyone in the NBA.
All the way ’round, Smith signing with Houston is a coup for the Rockets. . . and a resounding warning signal to the rest of the league. Houston does not have a problem. It has a team that, if Smith fits in as it seems that he should, will be much more of a force come the playoffs.
Believe that Smith is smiling and thanking the Pistons for allowing him to escape a crumbling franchise in an ice-cold city for a team on the ascent in the heart of Texas.