Josh Smith’s six-month stint as a Clipper was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Smith created a stir long before he played his first game when he said that signing with the Clippers would be hard on his family, never mind that he was making roughly $6.9 million for one season because the Detroit Pistons were still paying a hefty chunk of his salary after waiving him a little more than a year ago.
He was an active participant in a locker room yelling spree after a loss to Toronto in November and barked at Clippers Coach Doc Rivers in the midst of a game against Milwaukee in December after Rivers chided him for a defensive breakdown.
Smith fell out of the playing rotation last month and disappeared altogether Friday when the Clippers traded him along with the rights to Sergei Lishchuk and enough cash to cover the prorated portion of his veteran’s minimum contract to the Houston Rockets for the rights to Maarty Leunen.
The trade wasn’t about what the Clippers were getting but what they were ridding themselves of: an unhappy, unproductive player who could have become a distraction. The move also saved them more than $2 million in luxury taxes.
“He was very good, a good teammate and all that,” said Rivers, who is also the team’s president of basketball operations, “but it just doesn’t work and so we wanted to go in another direction.”
The Clippers are expected to fill the open roster spot by signing power forward Jeff Ayres to a 10-day contract over the weekend. Ayres, 28, most recently played for the Idaho Stampede of the Development League after averaging 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in 51 games last season for the San Antonio Spurs.
Houston knows what it’s getting in Smith, having acquired him in December 2014 after his disastrous 1 1/2 seasons with the Pistons. He was a valuable part of the Rockets’ push to the Western Conference finals, scorching the Clippers for 19 points in Game 6 of the conference semifinals as part of a comeback from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter.
Smith never recaptured that form with the Clippers, averaging career lows in points (5.7), rebounds (3.9), blocks (1.1), field-goal accuracy (38.3%) and minutes (14.3) in 32 games. The 11-year veteran is a better stylistic fit with the Rockets, who place a higher value on three-pointers and won’t mind as much if Smith’s 31.0% accuracy from long range continues. He’s also a childhood friend of Houston center Dwight Howard.
“It’s kind of kudos to Doc as far as sending him somewhere that he’s comfortable with and somewhere that they know him and he knows them and probably will be a better fit,” said Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford, who also played with Smith for two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.
The other players involved in the trade are not expected to play in the NBA. Leunen, 30, plays for Scandone Avellino of the Italian Serie A and Lishchuk, 33, plays for UCAM Murcia in Spain.
Smith maintained a mostly positive demeanor publicly, acknowledging that a major role was never guaranteed as part of the Clippers’ summer roster overhaul that included eight new players.
“We knew that we were going to sacrifice things coming to this ballclub,” Smith said late last month. “There are so many talented guys. If I was the head coach, I would be confused about what lineup I had because there are so many guys that’s done so many productive things in this league up to this point. Anybody who plays, you can’t argue with. You just have to be ready. You never know what the future might hold.”
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter: @latbbolch
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