Rockets likely lead contenders for recently waived Josh Smith


VIDEO: Pistons waive veteran forward Josh Smith

The only way Josh Smith could be more of a target is if he had a glow-in-the-dark bullseye painted on his back.

After all, when the Pistons waived him Monday, he was on pace to become the first NBA player to shoot less than 40 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line while taking at least 12 shots per game.

However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a line of prospective employers from coast-to-coast as soon as the 11-year veteran hits the free-agent market when he clears waivers on Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the leading candidates:

Rockets — Probably tops on the list. Houston general manager Daryl Morey went after Smith in the summer of 2013, but could not close a sign-and-trade with Atlanta to get a deal done. With Terrence Jones sidelined, the Rockets still have the need for him at the four as a rebounder and long defender and Smith’s penchant for those wild 3-pointers might get lost in Houston’s long distance barrage. Smith could easily envision himself playing for a true title contender this season if he joins a lineup with his good buddy Dwight Howard and NBA leading scorer James Harden. Howard and Smith became close when they played on the same AAU team. Howard was also best man in Smith’s wedding. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets would offer their $2.077 million bi-annual exception. Likely preferred destination.

Mavericks – That in-state Texas rivalry between Dallas and Houston that has already seen Chandler Parsons head north over the summer and then the Mavs win out last week in the Rajon Rondo Derby is only likely to get hotter. With Brandan Wright sent to Boston in the Rondo swap, the Mavs definitely have a need for a big body up front to come off the bench. There’s another personal connection here. Smith and Rondo played on the same Oak Hill Academy high school team. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News caught up with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: “My opinion on Josh Smith? He’s a player whose ability I respect a lot,” Carlisle said. “And he’s had enough big games against us. He’s the kind of guy who can put a team on his back and beat you. He’s done it to us a lot of times. So I don’t know details of what happened there. But he’ll be picked up soon, I know that.” The all-in-for-this-season-Mavs should never be counted out.

Grizzlies – While two straight losses still have Memphis sitting as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the grit and grind Grizzlies are always looking for ways to juice up their offense and get easy baskets. Smith’s size could fit in on an already bruising front line with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and when motivated to run the floor, he can finish and take some of the pressure off to toil through the shot clock for buckets.

Heat — The season-ending injury to Josh McRoberts has Miami crying out for help on the front line and in terms of raw talent, packages like Smith don’t often drop down your chimney at this time of the year. The Heat don’t have that “you’re joining a title contender cachet” as the top three pursuers in the West. But the thought is that Smith could join a lineup that really needs him and he’d be asked to play in a system suited to his skill set and not necessarily one where a squeeze would be needed to make him fit. Miami hopes to get a $2.65 million disabled-player cap exception with McRoberts headed for knee surgery. The Heat would figure they could keep the wild side of Smith’s game under wraps with the influence of team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and the on-court presence of veterans Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade among others.

Clippers — When asked about his interest in Smith at the team’s shoot around in San Antonio Monday, coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers simply said: “I don’t know.” The Clippers have been searching for help at the three all season, but would have only have the minimum to offer Smith. Since they are at the 15-man roster limit, they would have to waive a player before they could sign Smith. The personal connection in L.A. is assistant coach Mike Woodson, who was the head man in Atlanta when Smith had his most productive NBA seasons with the Hawks.

Kings – ESPN.com reported last summer that Sacramento tried to trade for Smith, offering various packages that included names such as Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams and Carl Landry. At the time it was said to be Kings owner Vivek Ranadive that wanted Smith to team up with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in would certainly have been an oddly-matched Kings’ frontcourt. Sacramento could only afford to offer the veterans minimum of $1.4 million. But the biggest handicap the Kings have compared to the other Western is not being a contender.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s influence rubs off on Waiters | Jordan goes above and beyond for the Clippers | What happens when attack mode goes wrong for Westbrook, Thunder?

No. 1: LeBron rubbing off on Waiters? — A few weeks ago, folks questioning whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers as presently constituted could reach its full potential this season. How quickly that narrative changes when things go well, and when LeBron James spreads his gospel of playing the right way to the likes of Dion Waiters and others. LeBron’s influence on Waiters, one of the targets of criticism when things go awry in Cleveland, was on full display in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Joe Vardon of The Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

Waiters contributed 13 points in the fourth quarter, doing so one game after he didn’t play a single minute in the second half of a win Friday.

“I mean, he’s learning every day,” James said of Waiters. “He’s a young guy. He hasn’t experienced much in this league. For him to have a game like he did today, we needed it. We needed a spark off the bench. He was aggressive, he was decisive with what he wanted to do, and it was a huge, huge boost for our bench.”

In typical Waiters fashion, when the 23-year-old was approached after the game by reporters, he was several feet from his locker and on his way out of the locker room with the hope that he wouldn’t have to talk after the game.

When James’ prediction about being a scapegoat was brought up to Waiters Sunday, he said: “I don’t remember all that, though. I remember that but I don’t remember that.”

As only Waiters could.

Waiters, the former No. 4 overall pick for Cleveland in his third season, has gotten himself in trouble for wanting to shoot too much off the dribble instead of getting shots within the flow of the offense.

He’s been dinged for not paying attention defensively. He landed in hot water by skipping the national anthem in early November and originally citing his Muslim faith as the reason, then clumsily clarified his reason a few days later.

Sources said that Waiters was unhappy on Dec. 11 in Oklahoma City when Blatt chose to start Matthew Dellavedova in place of the injured James.

In Cleveland’s 95-91 win over Brooklyn Friday night, Waiters scored four points in seven minutes; Blatt left him out in the second half to ride the hot hands of Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.

It’s been a season of adjustments for Waiters, who was moved to the bench in favor of Marion after just three games.

“I was really happy to see what Dion did tonight, and believe me, it had very little to do with the points that he scored,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said Sunday. “When he’s engaged and when he is playing freely and when he’s not allowing himself to be disturbed by other things, Dion can really play basketball and I thought he did a great job tonight.”

Waiters’ locker at The Q is next to James’ locker.

 

Gallinari tears right meniscus


VIDEO: Denver’s Danilo Gallinari with the bucket and the foul

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari will have surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee and could miss as many as three weeks, per multiple reports.

Gallinari’s injury was discovered after his best game of the season, a win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night when he scored 19 points. Gallinari could have the surgery to repair the meniscus as early as Monday and the tentative timetable for his return is a minimum of three weeks.

Gallinari was trying to work his way back to form this season after missing 19 months of action after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and having two surgeries to repair that injury. Gallinari was playing this season with a bone bruise in his right knee, having missed two games last week with pain associated with that injury.

The news of this latest injury is a blow to a Nuggets team that hasn’t seen Gallinari at his best in nearly two years now. The Nuggets are also currently playing without JaVale McGee (leg strain) and Randy Foye (quad).

Morning shootaround — Dec. 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ellis steals show in Rondo’s debut | Rockets can’t keep pace with red-hot Hawks | No such thing as fatigue in Portland

No. 1: Monta Ellis steals the show in Rajon Rondo’s debut — Rajon Rondo’s big night in a Dallas Mavericks uniform turned into a showcase and reminder that Monta Ellis has been and is the key to the season for the new-look  Western Conference contender. Rondo was solid but hardly spectacular in his Dallas debut. Ellis, on the other hand, was off the charts. Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com sets the scene:

So much for the theory that the addition of Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericksbackcourt would disrupt Monta Ellis’ rhythm and detract from the go-to guy’s game.

OK, one game certainly isn’t a big enough sample size to draw any grand conclusions, but the guard duo’s debut together was pretty encouraging, even though it came against the San Antonio Spurs’ junior varsity squad.

“He scored 38 points, so I didn’t hold him back too much,” Rondo said after the Mavs pulled out a 99-93 victory the day after he arrived in Dallas as the headliner in a blockbuster deal with theBoston Celtics. “We both like to dominate the ball, but I think we played well off each other tonight.”

There is ample statistical ammunition, traditional and advanced, for questioning how well Rondo and Ellis can co-exist offensively. Start with Rondo’s poor shooting percentages and the impact that has on the space Ellis will have to create on the pick-and-rolls that are the meat and potatoes of the Mavs’ magnificent offense.

You can dive deeper into the data to make the case, citing usage percentages and Synergy stats. Just make sure to include the basketball IQs of Rondo and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle in the conversation, too.

Geniuses tend to figure out how to put puzzles together pretty well.

 

Is overtime pushing Spurs over limit?


VIDEO: Blazers hand Spurts 2nd straight 3OT loss

SAN ANTONIO — The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games in 1951, the United States and Cuba also had official diplomatic relations.

The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, the shot clock had not yet been invented.

The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, Tim Duncan had only been in the league for a dozen or so years.

OK, I made the last one up.

But you’ll have to excuse the 38-year-old Duncan if he stays in bed rather than makes it out for opening tip Saturday night in Dallas. Or the entire Spurs roster just pulls the covers over their heads.

In the space of three nights, the Spurs played the equivalent of more than 2½ games, lost them both and also found out that Kawhi Leonard is on the shelf for a couple more with torn ligaments in his right hand. Roughest stretch since those final 28 seconds in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.

For the short-handed Blazers, playing without injured starters Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum, the 129-119 decision was a testament to their resolve and sheer grit after falling behind by six in each of the first two overtimes and added another chapter to the growing legend of Damian Lillard ( 43 points).

“It turned into one of those games where players have to play and I thought our team did a great job in the first two overtimes of just overcoming the bad starts,” Lillard said. “We saw how they were guarding L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) on the block, really trying to give him a hard time, sending a lot of guys at him. I knew I was the next guy in line to start attacking. I got a few shots to go, got in a rhythm and I just decided to keep attacking.”

For the Spurs, who are always trying to balance rest for a veteran core with the need to compete in the rugged Western Conference, it was a physical blow that they just didn’t need. San Antonio has lost six of its last 11 games, is battling to hang onto the No. 7 spot in the West and now has run up big minutes on two key players. Duncan has played 91 minutes in the two interminable losses to Memphis and Portland and Manu Ginobili has played 71. The Spurs were without Tony Parker (hamstring) and Leonard.

“It’s a different group every night,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “It would almost be better if you had two guys injured and you knew it for three months. It is different every night and it keeps them out of rhythm. We are wearing some guys down. Timmy is a big worry in that respect and so is Manu.”

Duncan scored 23 points and had 16 rebounds in the loss to the Grizzlies came back with 32 and 10 against the Blazers and was still active at both ends, blocking shots deep into the overtimes.

“Unheard of,” Duncan said. “I didn’t think obviously it would get to this point. … We expended a lot of energy. We put everything into it and we played hard.

“In that situation I am not drained. I am running on adrenaline and I am ready to go. I know I will feel it tomorrow.”

Spurs’ Leonard has torn hand ligament

Kawhi Leonard will be sidelined indefinitely after tearing a ligament in his right hand, he told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.

Leonard will miss his second game in a row and his fourth in the last six outings as the Spurs face the Trail Blazers in San Antonio. He told the Express-News he has to wait for the swelling to subside before considering a return.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reported Leonard will miss “a couple games.”

The Spurs are 17-9, good for seventh place in the Western Conference, and in a particularly tough stretch of schedule. After Portland, they next play the Mavericks in the scheduled Dallas debut of Rajon Rondo, Clippers, Thunder, Pelicans, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans again, and Wizards.

Leonard is averaging 15.2 points, second on the team behind Tony Parker, and 7.6 rebounds.

Report: Rockets acquire Corey Brewer

HANG TIME BIG CITY — One day after reportedly coming up just short in their pursuit of Rajon Rondo, the Houston Rockets appear to have found a second option.

According to a report from Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets will acquire veteran Minnesota swingman Corey Brewer.

The Timberwolves traded Kevin Love in the offseason and have dealt with several injuries this season, most significantly to point guard Ricky Rubio. Just a few weeks ago, Wolves coach and head of basketball operations Flip Saunders said Brewer would not be traded.

Acquiring the 28-year-old Brewer will give Houston the wing depth they sought, and Brewer should initially contribute primarily via his ability to defend multiple positions. Brewer, in his eighth NBA season, is averaging 10.5 points per game in 24 games this season.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe not recruiting KD to L.A. just yet | Report: Trade talks for Stephenson fizzle | Malone reflects on Kings days

No. 1: Kobe not recruiting Durant to Lakers just yet — Former MVPs and scoring champions Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant have developed a mutual respect for each other on and off the court over the last few seasons. Would the two take to playing together in L.A.? While the prospect of that is a ways off and would hinge on Durant not re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bryant addressed the notion of playing with KD in Lakerland yesterday. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes has more:

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant has openly praised Kobe Bryant, saying he’d love to play with the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard.

And while Bryant said he hasn’t yet recruited Durant, who is set to become a free agent in 2016, Bryant didn’t rule out trying to lure last season’s MVP to the Lakers either.

“No, I think we know each other pretty well,” Bryant said Thursday at the Lakers’ practice facility here, leading into Friday’s game between the Thunder (12-13) and Lakers (8-17) at Staples Center.

“I don’t think it’s a discussion that you have in terms of coming here. But I think it’s more of an understanding how to play with each other.”

Said Bryant, “If the opportunity came up, then that’s the time to have that discussion.”

It’s no secret that the Lakers are among many teams that plan to pursue Durant when he hits free agency.

Bryant praised how much Durant has changed his game since joining the NBA.

“When he first came into the league, he was more of a perimeter player,” Bryant said. “He’s since evolved his game to now being a great post player, a great passer out of double teams, a great mid-range game. His evolution as a basketball player just keeps getting better and better.”

Bryant was asked if adding Durant — or any star — would entice him to extend his career beyond next season, when his two-year extension worth $48.5 million is set to expire.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Bryant said. “But it’s really my call, man. If I want to play, I’ll play. If I don’t, I don’t. If I don’t want to play anymore and go through the process of getting my body ready day in and day out, I’m not going to play.”

 

Durant suffers ‘mild’ ankle sprain, misses 2nd half against Warriors


VIDEO: Kevin Durant turns his right ankle against the Golden State Warriors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What had the makings of a record night for Kevin Durant ended before halftime against the Golden State Warriors for the reigning MVP.

Durant turned his right ankle on a drive to the basket with 2.4 seconds to play before halftime and did not return for the second half. Precautionary X-rays taken at the arena in Oakland during halftime were “negative” according to TNT sideline reporter Louis Johnson and the injury was classified as a mild ankle sprain. The news spread quickly on social media.

Durant had piled up 30 points in 20 minutes before going down, making him the first player since the NBA/ABA merger to do so. A fractured foot on that same leg cost Durant all but the Thunder’s last eight games. And he was still playing on a minutes restriction to safeguard against his previous injury.

The Thunder led by 17 points early with Durant leading the way against the Warriors, but trailed 65-63 at halftime.

UPDATE: Durant’s X-rays came back negative.


VIDEO: Durant says injury not big concern, will be cautious

Rondo on the move to Dallas


VIDEO: The Inside crew talks Rondo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Forget February’s trade deadline. Rajon Rondo didn’t even make it to Christmas.

The Boston Celtics agreed in principle to trade Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and perhaps most important two future Draft picks, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Rondo went into this season as one of the most likely All-Star caliber players to get moved at the deadline. The idea that a former All-Star and NBA champion would be comfortable sticking around for the arduous rebuilding project underway in Boston always seemed far-fetched. And yet both Rondo and Celtics boss Danny Ainge repeatedly dismissed trade chatter in training camp and earlier this season.

But with the Celtics’ season already destined for another trip to the lottery and the Mavericks recognition that an upgrade at point guard would give them a significant boost in a Western Conference race that is there for whatever team is willing to take the risk to chase it, grabbing Rondo seems like a no-brainer.

Pairing him with Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis gives the Mavericks one of the most talented and potent starting fives in the entire league.

Rondo is, or better yet, was, the last remaining member of the starting five from the Celtics’ “Big Three” championship team of 2008 — a group that included of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins.

UPDATE (12:04 AM): Rondo hits Twitter to thank his Boston fans and say hello to his new fans in Dallas …