Cavaliers blog The King James Gospel had an interesting idea that the Cavaliers should sign free agent veteran Josh Smith, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Josh Smith, at age 30, is un-signed in late August.
This is incredible for those that remember where Smith was just three years ago, when he was an integral part of the Atlanta Hawks' core which returned them to the postseason in 2008. In fact, he helped the Hawks make the playoffs every year until he left as a free agent in 2013. He was the kind of stat-stuffing non-specialist that you don't see much in the NBA anymore beyond LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, a freak of nature athlete who also gave incredible effort on the defensive end.
Let me put it this way: Josh Smith did more to make the most of his talents on both ends of the court than Rudy Gay ever did, and yet Gay is looking at a huge deal next summer in free agency and Smith is basically out of the league at this point. In 2010 and 2011, Smith put up All-Star caliber seasons in which he was a terror on both sides of the ball, despite his penchant for jumpers which caused the fans to scream "No!"
Seriously, the guy was incredible:
To put this in perspective, despite him barely playing last season, here's a list of players to put up the statistical thresholds by the time they were 30 that Smith has.
Bear in mind that blocks and rebounds were not counted for some time so there are lots of players in the early decades of the NBA that aren't available here. Smith also entered the league right out of high school, which distorts his overall production to a degree. The results when you expand to a player's first 12 years in the league remain an incredible selection of players, though. The point stands.
It's Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith. That's it. The end. A surefire, once-in-a-lifetime, legendary former-MVP future-Hall-of-Famer ... and a guy who was traded from the Clippers to the Rockets and then renounced this summer at age 30 with no injury concerns.
It is shocking that we're here. Yet here we are. Smith continues to sit on the market, with no real reports of any interest in him. Much of this started in Detroit. When Smith's rookie deal came up with the Hawks in 2008, the Hawks let the market set the price for him, and he withered on the free agent vine as teams knew the Hawks would match any offer for him. He wound up signing a lower-value offer sheet with Memphis in the hopes that the Hawks wouldn't match, but they did, and Smith went back to work.
Then in 2013, he finally got his payday, getting a huge offer from Joe Dumars in a last-ditch effort to piece together a winning roster. (There have been considerable rumors that it was owner Tom Gores, and not Dumars, pushing to give Smith that kind of contract, in pursuit of a "big-name star" for the franchise.) Smith struggled under Stan Van Gundy, to the point where Van Gundy, out of a sense of respect for his veteran status, elected to buy him out and give him a chance to play elsewhere.
He helped Houston make their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2015, even hitting clutch 3-pointers vs. the Clippers in Game 6 to help facilitate Houston's 3-1 comeback.
Then he fell out of the rotation again, this time with the Clippers, and was traded back to Houston. He gave them a short burst for about a week, then things went back to bad. He appeared in just seven games in March and April last season.
The reasons for Josh Smith's fall from NBA grace aren't immediately known. There's talk of attitude and basketball IQ, of decision making and diminished athleticism after he spent so many years in the league after being drafted out of high school. It may be some other element that only NBA executives and coaches know and have yet to share with reporters. We may never know what happened.
Smith isn't the first player to fall off like this, and he won't be the last. But he should serve as a reminder to NBA fans of how fleeting success can be in the league, and how quickly some players who look like true stars and appear to have long, successful careers ahead of them can wind up on the outside -- as we all wonder, "What happened to that guy?"