Rockets officially sign Josh Smith, who will play Friday night; waive Tarik Black

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We told you it was coming but now it is official: Josh Smith is a member of the Houston Rockets.

And he will be available to play Friday night against Memphis.

The Pistons were so frustrated with Smith’s play they were willing to pay him more than $27 million just to go away. They outright waived a guy with a guaranteed deal. He did not fit with Andre Drummond and Smith wasn’t making shots (neither near the basket nor with his ill-advised jumpers). He wasn’t Stan Van Gundy’s guy.

But the Rockets — still without starting power forward Terence Jones — see in Smith a guy who is just 29 and was scoring almost 18 points a game a few years ago, is athletic and can defend well. They see a guy strangled by the situation in Detroit who can help them out. They see a guy who has a great relationship with Dwight Howard, as they played AAU ball together. They see a player who can be part of their rotation as they try to win a title.

When the Pistons waived Smith the Rockets went after him hard offering the bi-annual exception of just more than $2 million, and they officially got their man on Friday.

Smith said before he was excited to join this team. He’s on board. And if it doesn’t work out here, it was not a big loss for the Rockets. It’s a low-risk gamble, they can start Smith for now and if this doesn’t fit they get Terrence Jones back from a nerve issue in his leg and can give him key minutes.

But if one guy is in on a full roster, another is out, so the Rockets waived Tarik Black.

Black had the physical tools to be an NBA four coming out of college — he spent three seasons at Memphis and one at Kansas — but went undrafted last June because he lacked polish. He was on the Rockets’ Summer League team and from there got a camp invite then made the roster because of his rebounding and athleticism. There was potential.

Then Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard were injured and Black’s role grew — he actually started 12 games for Houston and was a regular part of their rotation. He averaged 4.2 points shooting 54 percent plus grabbed 5.1 rebounds a game, pulling down a very respectable 18.1 percent of the available rebounds while on the court. He played solidly for a rookie.

Then Howard returned and Black was struggling to get on the court. Now the Rockets have signed Smith, which means Black is out and being waived, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and later confirmed by the team.

To clear a roster spot to sign free agent Josh Smith, the Houston Rockets waived center Tarik Black on Friday, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Black had been a training camp and preseason surprise for the Rockets, an undrafted center out of Kansas who showed an ability to play in the NBA. More than one NBA team told Yahoo Sports they will have interest in claiming him on waivers. Black’s $500,000 owed him for this season has a partial guarantee. There’s a team option of $845,000 on his deal for the 2015-16 season.

That’s pennies in NBA dollars and worth it for Black, who showed promise in his time in Houston. Some team will roll the dice and claim him off waivers.

You can’t blame the Rockets, they are in “win now” mode as they should be and a rookie just isn’t going to play a big role. But they gave Black a chance and he will stick in the NBA.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.