Posts Tagged ‘Yahoo! Sports’

Report: Livingston, Warriors agree on deal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Veteran point guard Shaun Livingston has reached an agreement to join the Golden State Warriors, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Livingston’s deal, for three years and a reported $16 million (with the third year partially guaranteed, per USA Today Sports), gives the Warriors a new dimension and some security in the backcourt

Livingston’s addition will allow All-Star point guard Steph Curry to play off the ball and alleviate some of the ball-handling and facilitating duties he shouldered last season. The Warriors will be adjusting to new coach Steve Kerr‘s system anyway, but the addition of a season veteran like Livingston gives them all sorts of possibilities in the backcourt.

Hawks ignore drama, focus within

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 3 tonight at Philips Arena is critical for both the Hawks and Pacers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — His responses sound like something you’d get from RoboCop, layered but brief and all about his team. Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer knows how this game is played.

You don’t spend as much time in the playoff mix, as he did for nearly two decades as an assistant in San Antonio learning from longtime Spurs boss and recently minted Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, and not understand how the game between games is played.

The Indiana Pacers are a team mired in turmoil just hours before Game 3 of this first round series against the Hawks tips off at Philips Arena tonight. A Yahoo! Sports report detailing a practice “fist-fight” between Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner prior to the Hawks’ Game 1 win in Indianapolis is the latest item to catch fire.

“Every team goes through that,” said Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who has struggled mightily in this series. “Sometimes, you’ve got to get things off your chest instead of letting things fester.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel is reportedly fighting for his job with every game swinging the momentum one way or the other, so much so that Pacers All-Star Paul George acknowledged that he’s feeling the pressure to save Vogel from the unemployment line.

“It’s the NBA, we’re all coaching for our jobs,” Vogel said. “All I know is that I’ve got incredible support from Larry [Bird]. We all have high expectations and we’re trying to win the next game.”

While the Pacers grapple with their own internal, chemistry issues, Budenholzer has his Hawks focused on the opportunity knocking with the series tied at 1-1. There’s no sense in peeking across the way to see how fragile the Pacers are right now. It’s something Budenholzer neither either cares about nor can control.

All he can do is focus within, make sure his team is prepared to rebound from that Game 2 whipping and seize control of the series by handling their business at home. From the start, Budenholzer has set a certain tone in Atlanta. It’s one that has been devoid of the emotional roller coaster many teams experience throughout the course of a season, and one that should serve his team well now.

“Our emotions are in a good place,” Budenholzer said. “I can’t really comment on or reference them [the Pacers]. Our group is resilient and competitive. I like our team’s personality. We have a challenge in Game 3 and we have to step up mentally and emotionally. But our group has been very resilient and tough-minded all year. We’ve felt good about them all year and that hasn’t changed.”

Budenholzer, wisely, is content with his team sticking strictly to the game and how they can take advantage of whatever mismatches they have in this series, rather than getting caught up in the media swirl surrounding their opponents. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap aren’t answering questions about the crumbling foundation of their team. Budenholzer doesn’t have to defend the work he’s done this season to anyone.

The Hawks are the only team in the playoff field that had a losing record during the regular season. But if we’ve learned anything through these first few days of the playoffs it’s that the seeding, in almost every series, has proved to be meaningless. The Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, considered by many to be dark-horse title contenders, are both down 0-2 in their respective series after hosting the opening games.

A team as complete as the Spurs have been stung by the playoff chaos. They got thumped in Game 2 by Dallas and now have to scrap to regain their home-court advantage. With upheaval all over the playoff bracket, Budenholzer is playing it smart by sticking strictly to basketball.

“For our group and coaching staff, the seeds and who does what and all of those things that are discussed externally, we don’t really spend any time energy or thoughts on that,” Budenholzer said. “We’re more focused on what’s between the lines. We have high standards and we stick to those. We’ll compete and see where we are.”

Where they are is sitting in a prime position to continue a playoff trend of surprise teams upending the favorites and potentially pulling off the unthinkable.

“If you look at the overall picture, we’ve done our job,” Millsap said. “We came up [to Indianapolis] and got one. Now we have to hold it down at home.”

Kobe: Injury, Rehab ‘Relit Fire in Me’




VIDEO: Kobe talks extension about the process that led to his extension

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For a player whose Hall of Fame career has been defined by personal defiance, it shouldn’t shock any of us to hear Kobe Bryant talk about what motivates him now.

That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the Los Angeles Lakers’ star at his most defiant, in the wake of the backlash from him signing a two-year, $48.5 million extension Tuesday. That signing that brought out all sorts of non-believers and folks who don’t think he can come back completely from the Achilles tendon surgery cut short his 2012-13 season.

Defiant Kobe is far more entertaining than any other incarnation of the man who has been, in my opinion, the most polarizing NBA superstar of his generation and one of the most polarizing superstars ever.

It’s music to my ears to hear Kobe laugh off his haters and remind us all that no matter how bleak the outlook, he has the utmost confidence in himself and his ability. Even at this late stage of his career, he refuses to conform to conventional wisdom, the first step in trying to do the unthinkable and become exactly what he set out be many years ago: one of the NBA’s all-time greats.

So when he explains, to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, what keeps him going now, nearly two decades in and coming off of perhaps the most challenging obstacle in a career filled with them, it’s hard to be anything but intrigued by what makes the man tick:

“The Achilles, the rehab, it relit a fire in me, that’s for sure,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “I had been going so long, so long, putting in work – 17 years – and never taking a break, never taking time off. That’s a long time to push your body, especially the way I pushed mine.

“Every time I had to find that drive, I would eventually find it … somewhere. But it took a toll. Every summer, I’d finally find that push that would get me there. But it was getting harder to do.”

This is less about Kobe adoration — his legion of fans already have well under control — and more about the appreciation I have for a guy who continually finds new ways to motivate himself.

With all of his career accolades, Bryant could have easily walked away one title short of catching Michael Jordan. He could have said enough is enough, that his body had endured more than enough punishment. He’s already among the top four scorers in the history of the game. He has the titles and the individual and team achievements that would make some of the league’s greats jealous.

But that’s not enough for Kobe. It just doesn’t quite do it for him, which speaks to a level of competitiveness and (and, some might argue, borderline-crazy) focus that elevates him into a realm that only a few players with the talent, desire, work ethic and good fortune have ever possessed.

The Lakers — from Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss to GM Mitch Kupchak to the millions of fans in and around the Southland and around the world — recognize that laser focus. They’ve witnessed it for years. They understand that the $48.5 million Kobe will earn in his extension is a relatively reasonable price tag for qualities that are priceless in most any other walk of life.

Kobe is a revenue-generator the likes of which few franchises, cities and their fan bases have ever experienced. (Lakers fans from the Showtime era, Boston Celtics fans from the Larry Bird era and Bulls fans from the Jordan era certainly know what I’m talking about.)

He toils in an environment where the folks who pay extremely large sums to watch him are the only people who can truly comprehend what it’s like to entertain the way he’s asked to. While the other non-NBA Hollywood types might be lucky to star in one or two movies a year or on a TV show that runs 10-12 episodes a season, Kobe is expected to be a star 82 nights a year.

Ultimately, it’s not about the adoring public, the haters or what either of those groups think. It’s not my money or yours. The Lakers are the ones on the hook for paying Bryant, whether he comes back as a shell of the player he was or as the “Black Mamba” we all know. They’re the ones who have to, as Rasheed Wallace infamously said, “cut the check.”

And as Woj pointed out, they didn’t flinch (publicly, at least):

The Los Angeles Lakers still believe in Kobe Bryant, and this means the world to him. Of course, the money matters, and it always will to him. He hadn’t come to Washington, D.C., to make a concession speech, only to thank the Busses for the leap of faith and declare himself closer to his return. Between a news conference and the next steps in his rehab on Tuesday night, Kobe Bryant was still raging over the response to his contract extension. This wasn’t a noble gesture to awaken his peers, but simply a visceral reaction to the way the NBA has slowly, surely eroded the superstar’s standing in the sport – and the way the players have allowed it to happen.

“Bull—-,” Kobe Bryant finally again said on his way back to the locker room. “Pure bull—-.”

Defiant Kobe at his best!

George Is A Perfect Fit For Pacers





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Paul George‘s birth certificate confirms what everyone already knows: he’s a Southern California native through and through, something the Indiana Pacers’ young star is extremely proud of. But he couldn’t be more of a Hoosier if he tried.

From his relentless work ethic to his off-court sensibilities (fishing over, say, celebrity party hopping), George is the ideal face of the franchise in Indianapolis, where the excitement and expectations surrounding George and the Pacers for this season are already off the charts.

That’s what makes the reported $90-plus million extension George and the Pacers are closing in on prior to the start of training camp the biggest no-brainer to date. George couldn’t have found a better fit — an up-and-coming franchise for an up-and-coming superstar — and the Pacers couldn’t have found a better ambassador for what should be their most promising team in a decade.

Pacers president Larry Bird told Pacers.com that the deal isn’t done yet, but expects it to be soon:

When asked whether the reported terms were accurate, Bird said, “I never heard that number. I wish it was my number instead of [Paul's].

Although a new deal isn’t complete just yet and George hasn’t signed on the dotted line, everything is expected to be resolved this week.

“I know Paul’s worth,” said Bird. “I’m not banking on what’s going to happen in the future, even though you do somewhat. It’s what he’s accomplished now and that what we’ll go off of.

“It’s always good to have the leverage but the number has got to be a number we both like. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about money. Yes, he wants to be here. He’s told me that a million times. We want him here so let’s just find a number that works for both.”

Bird, a Hall of Famer, completely understands George’s mindset.

“Well back when I played, if they brought me in and was talking to me, I wanted to get it done before camp,” he said. “So I know it’s important. Security is always the best thing to have in this league.”

With a new contract, there’s more to it than just the length and value of the deal. There’s all the legal items, player or team options, and more that goes into it.

“If you come to the number first, then all the other things sorta fall in place.”

I lived in Indianapolis and covered the team the last time the Pacers entered a season with a budding young superstar (Jermaine O’Neal), a deep roster and championship ambitions. Things are going to get even crazier for George at home than he probably realizes. O’Neal was a fabulous player then, and like George, was a somewhat underrated talent coming into the Draft. He outworked and eventually outplayed that profile and blossomed into an All-Star with the Pacers. The same is true for George.

A city and state that loves its basketball like no other has embraced George in ways it never did O’Neal, who led the Pacers to the best record in the league during the 2003-04 season. Pacers fans always seemed a bit indifferent to O’Neal, who had the misfortune of having to assume leading the team while Reggie Miller was still the franchise’s true face and Ron Artest was in the midst of his most tumultuous time with the franchise. Pacers fans don’t appear to have any such reservations where George is concerned.

They saw as George went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Miami Heat during Indiana’s run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. They saw George shine on the biggest and brightest stage alongside David West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of a rugged Pacers team that pushed the Heat to a Game 7.

They know that they have the genuine article in George, whose meteoric rise in three seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. His impact on this team last season, while Danny Granger was sidelined with injury, is well documented (courtesy of my main man and numbers guru John Schuhmann of NBA.com).

It’s a testament to the work Bird (as well as Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard) have done in rebuilding the franchise that George is stiff-arming the free agent process (and the lure of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers) that so many of his contemporaries would chase if they were in his shoes.

The best part for the Pacers is that they’ll have George locked up for what should be the prime of a superstar career. George is a true two-way player (not every All-Star plays defense as well as they do offense) on the short list that is headlined by James.

George is far from a finished product, another huge positive for the Pacers, and he understands that. He talked about it repeatedly in July during his time with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their mini-camp. How he and Granger co-exist will go a long way in determining just how successful a season the Pacers can put together.

But those are issues Pacers coach Frank Vogel and his staff will gladly sort through with George as the centerpiece of a team that should compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.

In fact, none of those lingering issues seem terribly unsettling when you’ve got a perfect fit between a franchise and the (new and) true face of said franchise.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 129) Featuring Damaris Lewis and Marc J. Spears

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Don’t look at the calendar and assume that just because we are still months away from regular season games that there’s nothing to talk about.

That’s not the way we roll here at headquarters. There’s plenty of news (Allen Iverson‘s pending and “official” retirement, the comebacks of Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Danny Granger and others, Jeremy Lin suggesting that his coaches in Houston lost faith in him last season, the mounting pressure on Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, etc.) and views to be had with our guests.

Super model and “Brooklyn to the bone” hoops fan Damaris Lewis and Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears don’t hold back in their assessments of what’s gone on this summer and what  could be in store for us all during the 2013-14 NBA season.

There will be no Nets takeover of New York, says Lewis, and the Indiana Pacers might be “pound-for-pound” better than the Miami Heat right now, per Spears.

We dig into that and a whole lot more on Episode 129 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Damaris Lewis and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Billups Agrees To 2-Year Deal With Detroit



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Brandon Knight is going to finishing school for NBA point guards without ever leaving the Detroit Pistons’ practice facility.

No one should be happier to hear the news that former Pistons star Chauncey Billups, The Finals MVP in 2004, is returning to Detroit on a two-year, $5 million deal, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Billups, a five-time All-Star, was the ringleader of a Pistons crew that was dominant in the Eastern Conference for a five-season stretch from 2004-08. After being traded from Detroit to Denver, he helped guide his hometown Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference finals alongside Carmelo Anthony. Last season, he helped Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead the Los Angeles Clippers to the best season in franchise history and their first Pacific Division title.

His return to Detroit, though, represents a homecoming of a different kind. Billups made his name with the Pistons, going from a journeyman existence early in his career to one of the most well-respected players in the entire league.

Pistons boss Joe Dumars has already added Rasheed Wallace, who also starred on those teams with Billups, to the coaching staff. And Billups will not only play a vital role in the backcourt rotation, but perhaps his greatest value will be as a mentor to Knight, a talented young point guard who will learn plenty from a player like Billups.

He’s nearly a decade removed from his greatest moments with the Pistons, but he proved last season that he’s still got plenty left in his tank. He returned from a torn Achilles (suffered in February of 2012) to play in 22 games this season, averaging 8.4 points and 2.2 assists while playing 19 minutes a night.

The Pistons signed Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal Wednesday, solidifying a frontcourt rotation that also includes budding young stars Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond as well as Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko and second-round pick Tony Mitchell.

What wasn’t clear until now is what they were going to do to fortify the backcourt rotation after veteran point guard Jose Calderon left for Dallas via free agency. Adding Billups softens that blow and gives the Pistons a significant upgrade in the leadership department.

Report: Teague Signs Bucks’ Offer Sheet





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – First it was Larry Drew, then Zaza Pachulia and perhaps now Jeff Teague, who will leave Atlanta for Milwaukee.

Drew, the former Hawks head coach, no doubt played a significant role in the Bucks adding Pachulia in free agency and certainly instigated the Bucks’ presenting Teague, a restricted free agent, with a reported four-year, $32 million offer sheet that has been signed already, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

The Hawks have three days to either match the offer or Teague will rejoin his former coach and teammate in a Bucks uniform. The Bucks have a restricted free agent point guard of their own in Brandon Jennings. The two teams had discussed possible sign-and-trade deals involving the two players, and veteran free agent guard Monta Ellis, but those talks never produced a substantive deal.

A two-year starter, Teague averaged 14.8 points and a career-high 7.2 assists this season for a Hawks team that made a sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs. While he doesn’t carry the household recognition that Jennings does, due mostly to the way Jennings entered the league (after a year of post-high school work in Italy), he’s every bit the athlete and arguably a more polished player at this stage of their respective careers.

Teague, 25, is also two years older and certainly sturdier at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, nearly 30 pounds heavier than Jennings. The fact that the Bucks and Hawks explored trade opportunities says something about the value both franchises placed on their incumbents. You can debate which one of them is the better player right now, as plenty of fans and pundits have already, but Teague is the only one with a signed offer sheet today. And the fact that it’s from the team Jennings has started for the past four seasons speaks volumes not only about that debate but also about what sort of market there is for restricted free agent point guards this summer.

While neither one of them is considered to be among the elite at one of the most crucial positions in the league, the Bucks’$8 million a year offer to Teague indicates they believe he’s more than capable of replacing Jennings and providing an upgrade at the position. His familiarity with Drew’s system also gives the Bucks an inside advantage that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Fearless Cavs Offer Bynum 2-Year Deal


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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – From Dion Waiters to Anthony Bennett and now Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant is fearless.

In a copycat league, he’s decided to go his own way and usually in dramatic fashion.

We’ve come to expect the unexpected from Grant in the Draft, both Waiters in 2012 and Bennett last month were surprising picks at No. 4 and No. 1 overall, respectively.

Grant doubling down on Bynum in free agency though, with a reported two-year deal that could be worth some $24 million with incentives, pushes the envelope to the brink.

Yes, there is a team option on the second season and plenty of incentives. So Grant has covered himself in ways the Philadelphia 76ers could not when they acquired Bynum in that blockbuster Dwight Howard trade last summer from the Los Angeles Lakers. The fact that they are even entertaining the risk of adding Bynum to a roster that was ravaged by injuries last season (most notably to Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao) tells you how desperate the franchise is to rise from the ashes of The Decision and move back into playoff territory.

Grant obviously isn’t alone in his risky business this summer. Bynum has face-to-face meetings scheduled with the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks this week, following Monday’s visit to Cleveland. I don’t care if he works out for these teams or not, entertaining the idea of adding him to your team (I don’t care what the price) is an extremely dicey gamble.

Bynum has experienced more highs and lows than your average 25-year-old should-be-dominant low-post monster. He’s got two championship rings, but also has only played more than 65 games just once in his eight seasons in the league. The talent is undeniable. Players his size and with his skill-set are rare.

I’m just not sure that being on the NBA’s endangered species list warrants the sort of pursuit we are seeing. The Mavericks and Hawks are desperate for big man help as well, and they could both use a healthy Bynum in the worst way.

How much are they willing to risk to take that chance?

A colleague and good friend suggested that the risk isn’t as great as some (me) are making it out to be.

“The second year is an option, right?” he wrote. “Makes it less of a gamble if they can drop him next summer and still have space for LeBron [James].”

Yeah, that sounds great until you remember that the Cavaliers cannot continue to play the waiting game year after painful year. After all, they were supposed to win a title or two before LeBron won anything in Miami, a prediction that came crashing down in the worst way.

I’ve heard all of the arguments to the contrary …

What if Bynum’s knees hold up?

What if he reverts back to the form he showed in his final season with the Lakers, when he averaged career bests in points (18.7), rebounds (11.9) and minutes (35.2) to go along with 1.9 blocks?

What if at 25 he’s still got five or six great years left in him, in those knees?

What if? is a loaded phrase lottery teams use to justify off-the-track decisions that usually come back to bite them in the end.

That’s a phrase the Cavaliers should avoid at all costs if they are intent on becoming the playoff team that gambler of a general manager of theirs believes they could be this season.



Josh Smith To The Pistons For $56 Million





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Josh Smith won’t be joining that free agent party in Houston after all.

The free agent forward agreed to terms on a four-year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons this afternoon, a deal first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

This ends Smith’s at times tumultuous nine-year tenure with his hometown Atlanta Hawks, the team that selected him with the 17th pick in the 2004 Draft. It also ends the pursuit of the versatile forward by both the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, who were both still trying to figure out ways to present possible sign-and-trade deals to the Hawks that would land Smith.

Smith’s childhood friend and fellow free agent prize Dwight Howard picked the Rockets Friday night. It was widely known that the Rockets were trying to pair the former AAU teammates, both 27, as professionals in a dynamic frontcourt package with All-Star James Harden and point guard Jeremy Lin in the backcourt.

Ultimately, the opportunity to play for an organization, general manager (Joe Dumars) and coach (Mo Cheeks) who believe that Smith can be a game changer in a promising frontcourt group that includes Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond won Smith over, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Pistons were the first team to meet with Smith when free agency began at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. He’ll play both forward spots for the Pistons and brings career averages of 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals.

Smith inspired a love-hate relationship with the hometown fans, they loved him when he was at his best and extremely tough on him when his shot selection wavered or he had dust-ups with his coaches. The Hawks replaced Smith Friday night by adding former Utah power forward Paul Millsap on a two-year, $19 million deal.

Howard Picks Houston!



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Dwight Howard will chase his championships in Houston, not Los Angeles, Dallas or anywhere else the prized free-agent center was rumored to be headed in recent weeks.

The word came down Friday evening, first reported by Sam Amick of USA Today Sports. Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports Sports that his client was in still finalizing his decision and “He hopes to finalize his decision tonight or tomorrow morning.”

But two sources familiar with the situation confirmed to NBA.com that Houston is indeed Howard’s choice. This ends a nearly two-year drama for Howard, who would sign a four-year, $89 million deal with the Rockets on July 10. Howard could have signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team that could offer him that fifth year and extra $30 million.

Late Friday night, after a face-to-face meeting with Howard, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak confirmed it for anyone thinking there was a chance Howard would change his mind:

The Rockets made the first presentation to Howard, just minutes after free agency began at 12:01 a.m. ET on July 1. The Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and the incumbent Lakers followed up that presentation over the course of the next two days.

Howard’s lone season with the Lakers got off to a tumultuous start, head coach Mike Brown was fired five games into the season and replaced by Mike D’Antoni, who never seemed to find common ground with Howard. A summer that began with so much promise, the acquisitions of both Howard and two-time MVP Steve Nash to go along with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, bottomed out into a seventh-seed in the Western Conference playoff chase and first-round elimination at the hands of the eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.

Howard was coming off of back surgery and didn’t appear to get back into regular form until late in the season, but long after the Lakers’ championship dreams had faded. Bryant’s season-ending Achilles injury just before the playoffs began was the final dagger.

The Rockets won the recruiting battle for Howard and now they have to finish their summer work, the next piece of business being their pursuit and acquisition of Howard’s long-time friend and fellow Atlanta native Josh Smith, who is mulling over his free-agent options right now as well.

Smith, who conducted his own round of in-face meetings with teams in Los Angeles earlier this week as well, is believed to be favoring the Detroit Pistons, whose plans for the combo forward were laid out before he and his representatives met with the Rockets. But the Hawks have interest in Houston center Omer Asik, who one source told NBA.com would be the linchpin to any potential sign-and-trade deal between the two teams.

With Howard, a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the league’s reigning rebounding champ, and potentially Smith alongside All-Star shooting James Harden, versatile swingman Chandler Parsons and point guard Jeremy Lin, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey will have assembled a core group capable of challenging the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Warriors for supremacy in the Western Conference in 2013-14 and beyond.

“That’s a team that competes for championships, if not right away, certainly in the next two or three years,” said an Eastern Conference executive after hearing of Howard’s choice. “It didn’t work out with the Lakers and that group they had. But he’ll have a coach that will do wonders for him in Kevin McHale and group around him that will make things extremely difficult on anyone that focuses on Dwight in the paint. They’re going to give people fits.”