MEMPHIS—When the media entered the main court of FedEx Forum in Memphis on Friday afternoon following the Houston Rockets’ shootaround, Josh Smith stood at the top of the key.
Four days after the Detroit Pistons cut him, Smith was clad in Rockets warm-ups and preparing for the Memphis Grizzlies as the newest member of the Houston squad. Never more than a few seconds without a ball in his hand, his demeanor appeared more serious than the constantly laughing team leaders Dwight Howard and James Harden.
Smith practiced free throws and the occasional three pointer as Rockets Coach Kevin McHale sat down with the media, relating that Smith’s ability to play and defend the three, four, and five—as well as push the ball—are why the Rockets added him to their roster.
“We’ll try to open up his offense, let him play downhill, let him play-make, let him be aggressive,” said McHale.
Josh Smith played 32 minutes on Friday night in his Rockets debut, an overtime win that pushed the Rockets to 21-7—good for third in the Western Conference and a half game better in the standings than the team they defeated. Smith tallied 21 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. His points total ranked second to team scoring leader James Harden.
Smith was cast out of Detroit after a season and a half (105 games played) and multiple reported trade attempts. Abundant shooting coupled with questionable shot selection, lack of defensive effort, and poor locker room relations play as his chief offenses.
The Pistons owe Smith $27 million.
McHale says he’s not worried about Smith negatively affecting the Rockets’ locker room.
“Josh has been a quality player for a long time and I expect him to be a quality player for us,” says McHale, adding, “At the end of the game…he has nine or ten rebounds, six or seven assists, two or three blocked shots, two or three steals. Those are the things that make a team cohesive.”
Josh Smith joined forces with Dwight Howard while both played AAU basketball during their high school years in Atlanta. Howard says, “I think we got a lot better adding Josh. When we got together in high school…we raised the bar, so I think him coming here will be great.”
When asked if Josh Smith makes the Rockets championship contenders, Howard responded, “Of course. That’s our goal.”