Rockets try for Marcus Camby, settle for Dexter Pittman

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Dwight Howard – out injured. Greg Smith – out injured.

That left the playoff-bound Rockets with Omer Asik as their only healthy center – though they expect Howard to return before the postseason.

At minimum, Houston could use a little a little more depth at the position. In case Howard’s injury becomes more serious or Asik suffers a setback, it’d be helpful to have another option in the high-stakes playoffs.

Well, the Rockets found it.

Jonathan Feigen of Ultimate Rockets:

the Rockets on Thursday signed center Dexter Pittman out of the NBA Development League for the remainder of the season and next season, with next season non-guaranteed. The team waived Smith to open the roster spot.

“We were holding on as long as we could, “Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. “We wanted Greg to come back healthy. We thought that was our best option, but at this point, it looks like he will miss the season. We needed to have someone who could play the five against certain lineups if Dwight or Omer would take an injury. Dexter right now is the best 5 in the D-League, we think.”

The Rockets reached out to Marcus Camby several weeks ago, a person with knowledge of the conversation said, but were told that Camby would not be available this season.

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The Rockets are zeroing in, from both directions, on No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. Pittman could eat up some minutes if Houston clinches its slot before the regular season ends, something Smith could not do.

Pittman has struggled in four NBA seasons with stops in Miami, Memphis and Atlanta. The 6-foot-11, 285-pound center is a limited players who, even within those strictures, doesn’t do anything all that well.

Perhaps, he’s turned a corner, though. He was scoring more per minute and at a higher efficiency and blocking more shots than he had in any of his previous D-League stints. Considering he’s 26, Houston should hope he’s already progressed, because time is running out for him to break through.

Speaking of time running out, I’m a bit surprised the Rockets contacted Camby. They released him before the season because he couldn’t get healthy, and considering he’s already 40, it seems particularly risky to chance him holding up even for just a playoff run.

On the other hand, 23-year-old Smith has a potentially solid future and makes an intriguing waiver-wire option.

In 81 games the last two seasons, including 10 starts, he’s averaged 13.7 points on 62.3 percent shooting and 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. He’s played just 14.9 minutes per game in that stretch, so there are questions about whether that production is sustainable, but I think someone will pay for a chance to find out.

Smith will become a restricted free agent after the season, and he’ll be eligible for a $1,148,163 qualifying offer. A team that claims him would also get his early bird rights. Total cost: $23,202 – Smith’s salary paid by his team the rest of this season.

Because Smith has a minimum contract, any team with a vacant roster spot can claim him.

The Bucks, with the NBA’s worst record, get priority. They have a full roster, but they could easily waive a pending free agent – Chris Wright? – they don’t plan to re-sign.

The 76ers have No. 2 priority, and my hunch is Smith won’t get past them. They also have a full roster, but with their tanking strategy, they can easily waive someone to make room. Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie previously worked for the Rockets, so he should know Smith well.

Who is betting favorite to win Rookie of the Year? Lonzo Ball? Ben Simmons? Depends.

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The Rookie of the Year race is wide open heading into next season.

It’s that way every year — if you had predicted Malcolm Brogdon was going to win a year ago, you would have been laughed out of the building — but this coming season has a lot of talent at the top of the board who could win. Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum all have a real shot — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Who is the better favorite? Depends on where you do your betting.

The William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook (which works with a number of Las Vegas casinos, such as the SLS), has this (hat tip ESPN):

Lonzo Ball 9-5
Ben Simmons 5-2
Dennis Smith Jr. 4-1
Markelle Fultz 13-2
De'Aaron Fox 8-1
Jayson Tatum 8-1

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas has Simmons as the betting line favorite at 9-4

The online betting site Bovda.lv has this line

Lonzo Ball 9-4
Dennis Smith 3-1
Ben Simmons 5-1
Jayson Tatum 5-1
Markelle Fultz 8-1

Traditionally, Rookie of the Year goes to a guy who has the ball in his hands, is aggressive, and puts up raw numbers. It celebrates scorers.

This year a whole lot of guys can fit that bill, more than are mentioned here. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Check out the first NBA 2K18 trailer (VIDEO)

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The NBA season is coming… and that means NBA 2K18 also coming.

To whet the appetite of you gamers out there, check out the first trailer for the upcoming game, with music by Mobb Deep.

You can pre-order the game now.

Aging Pelicans’ owner couldn’t remember Anthony Davis’ name in deposition

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Tom Benson, the now 90-year-old owner of the New Orleans Pelicans and the NFL’s Saints, a few years back changed around the succession of control of the team after his passing — his wife Gayle will take control. Rita Benson LeBlanc, Benson’s granddaughter and former handpicked successor, sued saying Benson had been manipulated. After meeting privately with Benson, a judge ruled that while Benson suffered some “cognitive impairment” he was capable of making his own decisions and that Gayle remained the successor.

Benson has been sued multiple times since then, including by former Saints employee Rodney Henry, and the then-89-year-old Benson was deposed in that case last year.

Someone broke the gag order and sent a copy of the deposition to The Advocate of New Orleans, and it shows that Benson’s mental acuity is fading. He couldn’t remember who Anthony Davis was by name.

During another set of questions, apparently aimed at establishing how close Benson and Henry had been, Benson was shown a photo of the two men with Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

“Who is this?” Williams asked.

“It’s Rodney and a basketball player,” Benson said. “Oh, hell, I forget his name. Let me — he’s a great player for us. Tell me his name, and I will tell you yes or no.”

When asked “is it Anthony Davis,” Benson said yes. The man is 90, I’m not sure that we should expect much. He had the foresight to bring in people to run his businesses — including his sports teams — and set up a line of succession for when he does pass. Smart moves.

Would Benson’s mental state impact potential changes coming to the Pelicans? Probably not. New Orleans’ GM Dell Demps bet big on going big in a league trending smaller, pairing Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. If that doesn’t work out, plenty of people around the league expect a house cleaning on the basketball side with the Pelicans. Benson’s mental state, whatever it may be, does not impact that.

The deposition leak came from an anonymous source (and anonymous email account, the paper verified the document before publishing). Who leaked it? It may be nearly impossible to find out, but only one side benefits from all this becoming public. And it’s not Benson.

K.J. McDaniels signs with Raptors for camp, can he make roster?

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A few years back in Philadelphia, the athletic K.J. McDaniels was a highlight factory and looked like a guy who could develop into a role player on the wing in the NBA.

Except, he never actually developed. Houston gave him a chance (three years at a total of $10 million), and it didn’t work out, then last season Brooklyn had him for 20 games, but they decided to move on.

Now Toronto is going to give him a chance, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

McDaniels’ agent later confirmed the news. This is a training camp, make-good contract for McDaniels. But unlike a lot of those contracts being handed out around this time, there is space on the Raptors roster for a player or two.

McDaniels will compete with Alfonzo McKinnie, Kennedy Meeks, and Kyle Wiltjer for one of the final roster spots in Toronto. Of that group, I’d most likely want to keep McDaniels because of the shot blocking and his potential — but his outside shot has to improve.

The Raptors can carry 15 on the roster and very possibly will until at least Jan. 10, which is the date these partially guaranteed deals become fully guaranteed for the season. Toronto is flirting with the tax line, and ownership is not going to want to pay the tax for this team, so if they do carry 15 they likely will cut it to 14 by that date.