Rockets try for Marcus Camby, settle for Dexter Pittman

9 Comments

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.

Announcement: Pro Basketball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $55,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Friday night’s games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $7,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Friday. Here’s the FanDuel link.

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.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
1 Comment

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

A post shared by Zion Williamson (@zionwilliamson) on

Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.