After a strong 2012-13 season that saw them give the Oklahoma Thunder all kinds of problems in the first round of the playoffs, the Houston Rockets are ready to take the next step as an organization. Some believe that signing center Dwight Howard would accomplish that, but forward Josh Smith would be a far better fit.
It is no secret that the Rockets are very much a part of the Howard sweepstakes along with a handful of other teams, but Smith makes a lot more sense for the Rockets as they are currently constructed. There have long been concerns about the former Atlanta Hawk's ability to contribute to a winning cause, but that could certainly change in Houston.
If the Rockets truly have their way, it may not be a case of getting either Howard or Smith. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Houston is posturing to potentially sign both Howard and Smith.
That would obviously be an ideal scenario, but it could be very difficult to swing financially. If the Rockets ultimately decide that signing both isn't possible, Howard will almost certainly be the No. 1 priority. There are plenty of reasons why Smith should be prioritized over D12, though.
According to NBA Legion, the Rockets have told Smith that they will make him an offer if they are unable to sign Howard.
That could be a huge error on Houston's part as it could possibly stand to come away without both players if it doesn't play its cards right.
The Rockets have a lot of competition for Howard, so they are far from a lock to secure him. Also, if they focus too much on Howard, another team could easily swoop in and sign Smith out from under them.
The Rockets were one of the most prolific offensive teams in the NBA last season as they scored 106 points per game, which was second only to the Denver Nuggets' 106.1 points per contest. Houston didn't accomplish that feat by playing half-court offense.
The Rockets like to run and gun, and Smith would fit perfectly in that system whereas Howard wouldn't.
If Houston signs Howard, it will have to change its offensive philosophy significantly. Howard has a solid year for the Lakers this past season as he averaged more than 17 points and 12 rebounds per game, but most observers agree that he wasn't a good fit for head coach Mike D'Antoni's system. Things wouldn't be much different for him in Houston.
Also, the Rockets already have a ton invested in center Omer Asik. He has a cap hit exceeding $8 million for the next two seasons as Houston inked him to a lucrative offer sheet and pried him away from the Chicago Bulls last offseason. Asik is no Howard, but he was a double-double machine last season as he averaged 10 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game.
Asik would either have to come off the bench or play alongside Howard and neither of those options are particularly enticing. Howard and Asik would be great from a rebounding and shot blocking standpoint, but Houston wouldn't be able to run the floor and offensive threats like James Harden and Chandler Parsons would be neutralized because of it.
Smith, on the other hand, makes perfect sense for the Rockets.
He is a small forward by trade, but he has played power forward quite a bit in the past and he has more than enough size to play the "four" in Houston's offense. Putting Smith with the likes of Harden and Parsons would easily give Houston the league's most explosive offense.
The argument can be made that Smith isn't a team player and that he isn't a championship-caliber player, but things could be different in a different city with different teammates. From a statistical standpoint, Smith has been consistently great for the past seven years and last season was no exception.
Smith put up 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and nearly two blocks per game for the Hawks. Throwing that type of production into the mix would instantly make Houston a contending team in the Western Conference.
Perhaps bringing in Howard would do the same, but the team would require a transitional period as the entire shape of the roster would be changed.
Smith would fit right in with the program and the Rockets wouldn't have to skip a beat heading into next season. Howard already proved last season that he can't necessarily step in and mesh with his teammates right away, so Houston simply shouldn't take that risk.
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