IRVINE, Calif. – At one point this summer, head coach Doc Rivers assumed the Clippers would lose out on Josh Smith.
He credits general manager Dave Wohl for making sure that didn’t happen.
“I give Dave credit,” Rivers said. “He didn’t stop. He called every single day, like 21 days in a row. He kept calling, and Josh called Dave and said, ‘I’m coming.’ Then Dave called me. That’s how we got the news. I just think the opportunity, he looked at our team and what we had, and I think that’s what sold him.”
The team sold him from a roster standpoint and from their clear level of interest. If Smith wanted to be wooed to his next team, the Clippers did all they could to show how much they wanted him, and Smith took note.
“They were the first people to call when free agency hit, so that sticks with a player,” Smith said. “Having genuine feelings on who really wants you as a player, that’s what you want, especially at this stage of my career.”
It was tough for Smith to ultimately leave the Rockets and his good friend Dwight Howard. Smith said he loved the fans and his family enjoyed being in Houston, but he took a step back and tried to consider what would be best for his future.
Smith said the Rockets offered him a deal, but he saw his future with the Clippers. He also had some familiarity with the players, particularly Jamal Crawford from their days together in Atlanta.
“This was the direction I wanted to go,” Smith said. “I felt like the Clippers will suit me more. They wanted me more.”
And they’re glad to have him now.
Rivers said he’s still in the process of getting to know Smith, but he likes what he’s seen so far and said Smith is saying all the right things.
“He’s been really good,” Rivers said. “He’s really a good leader.”
Smith’s played mostly power forward throughout his career, but his versatility has Rivers envisioning Smith’s role to include time as the five in a smaller lineup off the bench. Rivers said he’s played more at the five spot than the four during camp, and in that smaller lineup Rivers has mostly utilized Paul Pierce as the power forward.
Teaming Smith and Pierce with Jamal Crawford, Lance Stephenson and Austin Rivers on a backup unit gives opposing defenses plenty to deal with. Stephenson said he loves having Smith at the five, because the Clippers can get out and run.
“I feel like no one can really guard us,” Stephenson said. “The floor is so open.”
It’s still going to be a learning process for Smith as he adjusts to his new group and potentially more time at the center spot. Rivers loves Smith’s passing ability, but he said both Smith and Stephenson have to be more careful with some of their passes that they don’t lead to unnecessary turnovers.
In addition, Smith said sometimes players are passing too much because they want to be unselfish and have so much talent around them. He likes getting work as a small-ball five, but he said he still needs work rolling to the rim, and he’s telling his teammates to stay on him if he doesn’t do it right.
Smith said players aren’t bashful about policing one another, despite so many new additions on the team. As he put it, everyone “sees the vision,” which is winning a championship.
No one wants to get in the way of that.
“I think people are looking at it as the time is now,” Smith said. “Guys are getting up there in their careers, and they want it more than ever. They know and they feel like they know the formula in order to win.