Corey Brewer had done little more than smile broadly and infectiously following his acquisition by the Houston Rockets last week, reflecting the countenance of a man liberated from the unforgiving and harsh winters of Minnesota and the Timberwolves' constant pangs of rebuilding.
But then Monday night happened, with Brewer underscoring his Rockets debut with hellacious defense and corner 3-pointers and transition prowess that validated the pursuit of and yield for his services. Brewer was still grinning in the afterglow of the Rockets' 110-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, but his joy wasn't isolated.
From Kevin McHale to James Harden to the boisterous crowd, what Brewer wrought was palpable and unfettered enthusiasm. Seemingly everyone invested was as elated with Brewer landing in Houston as he was initially.
Despite being just 29 years old, Josh Smith appears to have left his prime behind in Atlanta.
"Brew causes a lot of havoc out there," said McHale, who reportedly agreed to a three-year, $13 million contract extension as the Rockets coach. "He's got his hands going, he's active, he's chasing balls down, passing the ball and making simple plays. Just a really nice player for our team. We're really excited to have him."
Said Harden, whose 44 points, seven assists and five steals provided a breathtaking accompaniment: "It's like he's let off the leash now.
"He just goes out there and plays his game. He plays extremely hard. He defends very well and he runs the floor and he knocks down shots. He cuts well. He does it all. That's what we need, kind of instant energy off the bench."
The Josh Smith Questions
Standing on its own, the Brewer addition serves as a boon to the Rockets, whose slow progression toward relatively optimal health has predictably included a few bumps in the road. Working guard Patrick Beverley and center Dwight Howard back into a rotation that thrived without them produced a handful of uneven results, including consecutive home losses to the New Orleans Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks. Inserting Brewer and Alexey Shved into the mix temporarily adds to the Rockets' roster flux, but that should be viewed as an interim issue.
What the Rockets require now that they've been born again as a defensive juggernaut is additional size on the wing. Harden and forward Trevor Ariza closed Monday ranked fourth and second in minutes per game at 37.5 and 38.3, respectively. While both are on the productive side of 30, their workload needs reduction. Brewer and Shved, obtained from the Philadelphia 76ers in concert with Brewer, can fulfill that task and provide the wing length — Brewer is 6-9 and Shved 6-6 — absent with Jason Terry (6-2), Isaiah Canaan (6-0) and Nick Johnson (6-3).
Of course, no Rockets acquisition would be complete without an immediate shift in discussion to another potential acquisition. Such is life under the Daryl Morey regime that as Brewer and Shved prepared to reinforce the Rockets rotation, the Detroit Pistons unceremoniously dumped forward Josh Smith in the second year of his four-year, $54 million contract.
The Rockets immediately vaulted to the top of the list of Smith suitors, lifting a transaction-thirsty fan base into a euphoric state with visions of Smith, Harden and Howard dancing in their heads.
Smith comes with plentiful warts, most notably declining athleticism and a stubborn adherence to awful shot selection. His decline as an efficient scorer is directly proportional to his unrequited love for 3-pointers. Despite being just 29 years old, Smith appears to have left his prime behind in Atlanta, where he excelled as a long-limbed help defender with a complementary, do-it-all offensive repertoire.
Morey rebuilt on the fly after his courtship of Chris Bosh failed spectacularly, but now that the Rockets stand to add Brewer and Smith, that failure is mitigated.
However, his ill fit in Detroit reflects more on the absurdity of former Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, who stood alone in his inability to predict the inevitable train wreck that unfolded by teaming Smith with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe on the Pistons' spacially-flawed frontline.
But like Brewer, Smith offers something the Rockets currently lack and long to obtain. Should he return to his roots as a power forward, the opportunity exists for Smith to reclaim some of the efficiency he lost as a scorer when the sirens' song of 3-pointers rendered him intoxicated. His presence would inch the Rockets closer toward nullifying the disadvantage they presently face against the top power forwards in the Western Conference.
While Donatas Motiejunas has developed by leaps and bounds this season, the Rockets would be wise to take their chances against Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki and Zach Randolph with someone like Smith instead.
That the Rockets can pay Smith more than the competition — $2.077 million annually via their biannual exception — strengthens their pitch. That Smith and Howard have a longstanding relationship as former AAU teammates should make his signing a slam dunk. However it plays out, what remains clear is that the Rockets will keep tinkering until they construct a roster capable of advancing deeper in the playoffs than they did last postseason with Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons in tow.
Morey rebuilt on the fly after his courtship of Chris Bosh failed spectacularly, but now that the Rockets stand in to position to put Brewer and Smith alongside Harden and Howard, that failure is mitigated.
If Smith joins the fray, the conversation will inevitably shift to wrangling former Rockets guard Goran Dragic out of Phoenix. This lingering chase of personnel will cease someday, perhaps after the Rockets play for a title.
If that happens, Brewer won't be the only one left smiling.