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Houston Rockets: Josh Smith Much Anticipated Return to Detroit

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets: Josh Smith Returns to Detroit For First Time Since Being Waived:

December 22, 2014 the shocking news hit the media that Josh Smith had been waived by the Detroit Pistons. Not traded, waived!

Initially the move appeared to bolster the Piston team who went on a 7-game win streak. They continued their red hot performance going 12-3 prior to Brandon Jennings tearing his Achilles tendon and haven’t won since.

Josh Smith heads to Detroit with 18p, 6r and 15p, 10r in his past 2 gms. Of Pistons said, “They’re friends. I don’t have anything to prove.”

— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 31, 2015

Still, there is the possibility the Pistons could make the playoffs given they play in the Eastern Conference where the current seventh (Miami) and eighth seeds (Charlotte) are both sub-.500 teams.

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To that end, though Detroit have lost all four games since Jennings was lost for the season, they are only 2.5 out of the eighth playoff spot.

As for the resurgence of the Pistons, it’s not uncommon to see players respond to trades or moves like this because they recognize if an organization is willing to waive a multi million dollar contract they could easily trade anyone without reservation.  In addition, with the restructuring of the team it allows Greg Monroe more playing time and the ability to gel with centre Andre Drummond.

While many in the media jumped on Josh Smith, the truth is the combination of  Drummond, Monroe and  Smith never fit well together. There was too much similarity between the three to get the most of each of their talents.

The greatest issue was Van Gundy wanted Smith to play small forward which he never adapted to as he naturally fits the power forward position.

Certainly there was speculation Smith is a malcontent and cancer in the locker room, but nothing has ever surfaced that the players felt that way. Perhaps today we’ll get a better idea when we see how the Pistons react on the court to Smith.

The Josh Smith Detroit Era:

  •  Smith shot 26.4% from three in his first season in Detroit and was shooting 24.3% this season
  •  Since joining Houston he is shooting 29.5% from three and has been progressively improving
  •  Pistons’ record during the Smith tenure:
    • 2013-14:  29-53
    • 2014: 5-12 prior to being waived
    • Total of his tenure: 34-65
  • In comparison Smith is playing fewer minutes with Houston but his shooting performance statistically is better. As noted his 3-point shooting is better, but his overall field goal percent has increased from 39.1% to 44.3%

Jan 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) reacts against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

While Detroit has gone 12-7 since waiving Smith, in fairness Houston has also experienced success going 13-7 since he joined their squad.

We’ve seen the two sides of Smith in his short stint with the Rockets, but other than his ejection from the Suns game I can’t really say I’ve noticed him be overtly selfish. Quite the contrary, often I’ve noted even when he is open for a shot he scans the court quickly to see if a better option is available. His legendary passing skills have been on full display and as he gets to know his team mates better those assets will become of greater benefit.

His effort in the Dallas and Boston games were pivotal to the victories which could lead us to assume he’s becoming more comfortable in his role now that he’s played 20 games with his new team.

Case in point, last night with Boston having cut the lead to 3 points and being the aggressors, it was a series of Josh Smith plays that were almost solely responsible for altering the momentum pendulum.  With less than 2 minutes remaining he out hustled two Celtics to grab the rebound and then quickly threw a long outlet pass well past half court to James Harden who threw it to Motiejunas for a dunk. The next play once again Smith grabbed the rebound. Then with under a minute to play Smith made an aggressive offensive move to pick up the foul and the normally poor free throw shooter uncharacteristically hit both, giving the Rockets a 7-point lead which sealed the win.

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Entering today’s game both sides are trying to down play how big of a deal Smith’s return is to the Palace.  But, one has to assume Van Gundy and his team have extra inspiration to end their 4-game losing streak versus Smith.

Conversely, Smith will want to show his old coach, team mates and fan base what they’ve lost via capturing a fifth consecutive win for the Rockets. Houston are without their own star Dwight Howard who is experiencing swelling of his right knee (the same one that kept him out 11 games early this season) as well as a sore right ankle.

Not the Josh Smith shot chart I’m used to. pic.twitter.com/MH9lnYXo8u — Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 29, 2015

Regardless of what either party is saying to the media, behind closed doors both teams will want to win this game for reasons beyond a W in the win column.  Smith claimed all along he didn’t take the move by Van Gundy and the Piston organization personally and has nothing but the best wishes for his old team and team mates. And, while that sentiment may be 100% accurate, just the fact he’s a competitive athlete should dictate a certain amount of pride and desire to win. Even the most mild mannered off court players would be affected by being waived and in this case the plethora of discussion surrounding the move.

For Detroit there is the matter of Van Gundy being the person who was ultimately behind the decision to waive Smith. The immediate success of the Pistons was automatically placed on the head of Smith and at the time we never heard one Piston or Van Gundy for that matter say what has come out in the past day, which is they were expecting to win and knew it was just a matter of time. It seems a little conspicuous now that Smith is returning to suddenly be hearing these sentiments. Could it be the Pistons are trying to down play the fact they did nothing to stop his name from being thrown out to the wolves as the cause for all that was wrong in Auburn Hills?  Perhaps losing Jennings and subsequent four game slide coinciding with the return of Smith has taken a bit of the luster off the confidence and bravado the young Pistons had been proudly showcasing.

For Smith’s Houston team mates they’ll obviously want to continue their winning streak, but there is also an opportunity to demonstrate to Smith how important he is to them. Smith has obvious motivation to play well and win but if the Rockets could rally as a unit to grab the win it could send a strong message. On the second night of a back to back, facing a rested Piston team without their star center this would be a statement win. It would show the team who released Smith just how valuable an asset he is and would go a long way to building team chemistry; that intangible quality often equally or more important than stats.

Josh Smith and Terrence Jones giving the Rockets some of that “rim protection” McHale talked about. https://t.co/Sfna2Xmojd

— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) January 31, 2015

Facing the large front court of Detroit will be a struggle without Howard but Houston still has 7′ Donatas Motiejunas, Smith and recently returned Terrence Jones to offset their size. Working against Houston is the fact Detroit has been off since Wednesday so they are well rested and Van Gundy will surely have them well prepped for this particular match-up.

Based on the tweets I’ve read in the past 24 hours it appears many Detroit fans are prepared to make their anger well known when Smith takes to the court. The thing is it’s not Smith’s fault the Pistons offered him the most lucrative contract when he became a free agent, nor is it his fault they tried to turn him into a small forward. Smith can take the blame for becoming disenchanted with losing and subsequently taking some beyond questionable shots, but in fairness most small forwards naturally take more outside shots. He still takes those shots in Houston, but they are primarily wide open shots and the truth is he’s been better than advertised from behind the arc, likely because they are wide open shots within the organic flow of the game.

He came to Houston to join childhood friend Dwight Howard and because they were a contender who were willing to let him play his natural position. He’s definitely looked more at ease on the court and in his off court demeanor since joining the Rockets.

Ultimately the best revenge Smith could hope for is a fifth consecutive win with his new team who currently sit third in the competitive Western Conference. Whether you buy the assertions his old team mates don’t see him as a villain or that he doesn’t care what people think every player has pride, so expect a great game tonight as each side goes out to show who really got the better of the Josh Smith switch.

Tip-off is at 7:30 pm Eastern Standard Time.

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