Josh Smith should've never left the Rockets

by
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The grass isn't always greener.

Josh Smith's unhappy tenure with a Los Angeles Clippers came to an abrupt end Friday as he was shipped back to the Houston Rockets for nothing more than salary relief.

Smith was expected to bolster a weak Clippers bench in the same way he did with Houston, but instead he found himself at odds with the coaching staff. He battled Doc Rivers about his role (a bold move for a player on a minimum contract) and was heard screaming at an assistant after a loss less than a month into the season.

To make matters worse, Smith's production cratered. He averaged 5.7 points while shooting 38.3 percent from the field, and the Clippers were outscored by a whopping 10.6 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court.

Smith's name was floated in trade rumors as early as December.

It looked as if Smith had a chance at redemption after Blake Griffin went down with a quad injury. Instead, Smith has drawn 10 DNP-CDs over the last 14 games and has seen less talented - but far more effective - players like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Cole Aldrich usurp him in the rotation.

And the bench Smith was brought in to repair, well, it's as bad as ever. The Clippers' bench players rank 23rd in plus-minus after a pedestrian ranking of 17th a season ago.

Neither Smith, nor the Clippers got what they wanted from the marriage, and it ended as abruptly as it started. Neither side committed much, anyway. It was just one year for Smith and a veteran's minimum deal from the Clippers. It's like nothing ever happened.

The Rockets have some buyer's remorse of their own with the addition of Ty Lawson, who's been more trouble than he's worth between all his legal troubles and diminished productivity.

In the abstract, it makes all the sense in the world for Houston to roll the dice and reacquire Smith. He showed flashes of brilliance after being reunited with childhood friend Dwight Howard, and he played a pivotal role in helping Houston reach last season's Western Conference Finals.

Most importantly, it reportedly won't cost the Rockets anything beyond his minuscule contract and the rights to Serhiy Lischuk.

Smith's re-acquisition also doubles as a tacit admission the Rockets made a mistake in letting him walk. The Rockets have dropped off significantly after a 57-win season, and although the decline isn't simply because of losing Smith, it was a case of trying to change too much.

Smith said much of the same:

Those are the gambles to take when faced with the perilous task of improving from great to elite. In trying to compete with the Warriors and Spurs, the Clippers added a versatile forward who might have helped their bench and the Rockets rolled the dice on Lawson. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

But the grass isn't always greener, and it's sometimes best to just stay put.