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.
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.