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.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.