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.

Enriched and entrusted, Malcolm Brogdon proving his worth with Pacers

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DETROIT – Pistons guard Tim Frazier is older than Malcolm Brogdon. Frazier has more years of NBA experience than Brogdon. Frazier has played more NBA games than Brogdon.

Yet, Frazier – Brogdon’s teammate on the Bucks last season – still speaks of Brogdon with an incredible reverence.

“He’s just somebody that I even kind of look up to,” Frazier said, “to try to follow his footsteps.”

“He’s a great person. He does everything by the book, tries to do everything the right things, man. Cares for others. It’s huge.”

Brogdon – nicknamed “The President” – has earned a sterling reputation thanks to his stellar play, strong work ethic and powerful voice. Now with the Pacers, Brogdon is spreading his influence even further.

Last offseason, Brogdon was part of one of the league’s most controversial moves. Holding matching rights on Brogdon, Milwaukee signed-and-traded him to Indiana for a first-rounder and two-second rounders. The Bucks cleared playing time that might have appealed to newly signed Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver and, perhaps more importantly, stayed under the luxury-tax line. We’ll see how Milwaukee uses those picks, but that was quite the choice with Giannis Antetokounmpo headed toward his super-max decision.

Brogdon says he’s not dwelling on the Bucks’ decision. His four-year, $85 million contract certainly helps.

“It’s just surreal,” said Brogdon, the No. 36 pick in the 2016 draft. “To get paid that much, that’s what everybody dreams about.”

Most of his draft classmates must keep dreaming. The Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies four-year contracts for first-round picks. But second rounders can negotiate shorter deals. Brogdon signed a three-year contract with Milwaukee. Though he looked like a huge bargain while winning Rookie of the Year and starting deep in the playoffs, Brogdon hit free agency a year earlier than his peers.

Brogdon’s $20 million salary this season is the second-highest ever for someone in his first four seasons. Only Nikola Jokic, who earned a max salary last season, got more.

Here are the highest salaries by players in their first four seasons:

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“There’s pressure whenever somebody gets paid,” Brogdon said. “A team pays you, because they are giving you more responsibility. They’re showing you that they like you and that they think you should play at a certain level.”

Brogdon is answering that call.

Shifted to shooting guard in Milwaukee to accommodate Eric Bledsoe, Brogdon filled his role dutifully. But he wanted to be a point guard, and the Pacers have made him their starting point guard.

“It’s been amazing,” Brogdon said. “It’s definitely a lot of responsibility, but it’s something I’m ready for and something I welcome gladly.”

He’s averaging 20.8 points and 8.9 assists per game – third in the NBA, behind LeBron James (11.0 assists per game) and Luka Doncic (9.1 assists per game).

Brogdon was once viewed as having a limited ceiling. He entered the NBA after four years at Virginia, had long-term health concerns and played a complementary style. He focused on defending, spotting up for 3-pointers and attacking closeouts

Now, Brogdon drives Indiana’s above-average offense. The ball runs through him, and he creates for himself and teammates. His increased role shows throughout his numbers (last season → this season):

  • Usage percentage: 20.7 → 27.1
  • Assist percentage: 16.2 → 39.7
  • Free-throw rate: .203 → .294
  • Plays per game finished as pick-and-roll ball-handler: 2.7 → 8.9
  • 3-pointers per game off multiple dribbles: 0.8 →2.6

Even while doing so much more, Brogdon has kept his turnovers low (though up slightly from his Milwaukee days). His true shooting percentage also remains above league average, because he’s showing nice burst to the basket and drawing fouls. An all-time great from the line, Brogdon has made 46-of-47 free throws this season (98%).

Brogdon must eventually adjust once Victor Oladipo returns. Though he’ll remain starting point guard, Brogdon will share ball-handling duties with the talented Oladipo.

That’s an issue for another day. For now, Brogdon just seems happy.

“Having the opportunity to have the ball in my hands, to make decisions, to lead a team,” Brogdon said, “this is what I wanted.”

Reports: Knicks trying to hire Raptors president Masai Ujiri, could fire coach David Fizdale

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Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry addressed the media after New York’s blowout loss to the Cavaliers yesterday.

On one hand, this was a nice show of accountability. Executives rarely face the public, too often leaving coaches and players to explain wider team problems. Mills and Perry built this mess. They should answer for it.

On the other hand, Mills is seemingly passing blame onto Knicks coach David Fizdale.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Even before a startling news conference in the wake of a blowout loss to Cleveland, New York Knicks president Steve Mills had started to lay the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale, league sources told ESPN.

Mills is selling owner James Dolan on a roster constructed to be highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, leaving Fizdale vulnerable to an ouster only weeks into the second season of a four-year contract that league sources say is worth $22 million.

Frank Isola of The Athletic:

What Mills didn’t say is that he and Dolan spoke at length during halftime of the blowout loss and, according to one source, Dolan told Mills he was “disappointed” with the team’s 2-8 start. The same source said that Dolan ordered his top basketball decision-makers to address the media after the game, which is highly unusual but interesting nonetheless.

Mills knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics. He both preceded and succeeded Phil Jackson running the front office. Fizdale might make for a good scapegoat.

But Mills also faces an external threat.

Isola:

According to several people familiar with the Knicks thinking, Dolan is plotting to take another run at Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

This isn’t the first time the Knicks have been linked to Ujiri. Running the Nuggets, Ujiri famously outmaneuvered Dolan with the Carmelo Anthony trade. Then, with Toronto, Ujiri fleeced the Knicks with the Andrea Bargnani trade. Dolan was so shook, he later vetoed a trade for Kyle Lowry in fear of getting worked again by Ujiri.

That’s the type of executive a team should covet.

Dolan has spent big – just often on the wrong people. Phil Jackson, who had no executive experience, is the prime example.

Ujiri has proven he can assemble a championship team. He can manage an organization, completely. He’s worth a huge offer.

Would Ujiri leave the Raptors? The Wizards reportedly pursued him last summer and came up empty. Dolan’s deep pockets and New York prestige could give Ujiri things to consider.

In the meantime, the Knicks must manage their current mess. That might mean ousting Fizdale. The coach has made negligible clear positive impact. It’d be hard for any coach to do much with this roster, but Fizdale also hasn’t given much reason to save his job.

If New York fires Fizdale, though, that could be just the start of a wider shakeup.

Giannis Antetokounmpo tears jersey, kicks hole in sign after air-balling FT (video)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s adventures at the free-throw line continued with another air ball yesterday.

He went Luka Doncic/Marcus Smart afterward.

Not only did he rip his jersey – using his teeth! – (see video above), he kicked a hole in a sign on the way to the locker room in Oklahoma City.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise:

Eric Nehm of The Athletic:

Antetokounmpo took out his frustrations on the Thunder. In the second half, he scored 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.

He finished with 35 points and 16 rebounds in the Bucks’ 121-119 win.

Knicks management ‘not happy with where we are right now’ after blowout loss to Cavs

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It was ugly.

The Cleveland Cavaliers showed up to Madison Square Garden Sunday with a roster in transition — young players such as Collin Sexton learning on the job next to veterans such as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson who have trade rumors swirling around them — but they play hard and smart for first-year NBA coach John Beilein.

That effort blew the doors off the Knicks, who trailed by 30 and ultimately lost to the Cavaliers 108-87.

The Knicks have lollygagged to a 2-8 start to the season and after the embarrassment at the hands of Cleveland on Sunday there was a lot of soul searching in the Knicks organization. Enough that president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry made a surprise appearance to speak to the media afterward.

Here’s Mills’ quote, via Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

“Obviously, Scott and I are not happy with where we are right now. We think the team’s not performing to the level that we anticipated or we expected to perform at and that’s something that we think we have to collectively do a better job of delivering the product on the floor that we said we would do at the start of this season.

“We still believe in our coaching staff, we believe in the plan that Scott and I put together and the players that we’ve assembled. But we also have to acknowledge that we haven’t played at the level we expected to play at. We’ve sort of seen glimpses of how we can play as a team, when everything comes together. But we’ve got to find a way to play complete games at the level that we expect our team to play at and that’s a responsibility that we take collectively. But I also think it’s important for us to communicate to our fans that we’re not happy where we are right now and we’re committed to making this better.”

Knicks coach David Fizdale walked up to the podium postgame and took full responsibility for his team’s early play this season.

When a team struggles it is usually the coach who becomes the scapegoat — and Fizdale deserves blame. Not all of it, but certainly some. Sunday the Knicks faced a struggling backcourt defensively in Cleveland, so they attacked it with.. a lot of Julius Randle post-ups. However, Marcus Morris didn’t want to blame the gameplan, saying, “At the end of the day, f*** the X’s and O’s. We have to come out and we have to be better.”

Nothing is imminent, but owner James Dolan is not famous for his patience (except with Isaiah Thomas). Fizdale or someone else in the front office could be in trouble if the losses keep piling up. Again, from Begley.

Multiple SNY sources familiar with the matter said as recently as Thursday that there was no indication that any major coaching or management change was imminent. But those sources stated that nothing had been ruled out with regard an in-season front office or coaching change.

New York’s front office — and it’s fans — should know it is in a rebuilding process (and that it is okay to do that in New York). Sunday there was a lot of talk about staying the course and the process and “pounding the rock.” But when a team is getting outworked the process issues seem secondary.

The Knicks entered this season with outsized expectations — welcome to New York — for an ill-fitting roster where the focus should be player development. No matter what was being sold to Dolan and the fans by management, this is not a playoff roster. Even in the East.

That said, the Knicks shouldn’t be getting blown out like this at home, either. They didn’t land the biggest names on the board last summer, but they did spend on players such as Randle and Morris, and young players like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson provide hope for the future. This team should be better than it is. Instead, the reality is they are tied for dead last in the league in net rating (-10.2, the same as the Memphis Grizzlies).

We have yet to see evidence of the culture change Mills and Perry have said they wanted to bring. Changing coaches early in the season (or making another front-office change) would re-enforce the belief among players and agents around the league there is a lack of stability in New York — and that instability starts at the very top of the organization. Also, Fizdale and everyone in the front office has multiple years left on their contracts — Dolan would have to eat a lot of money to let someone go.

Thursday night Kristaps Porzingis returns to Madison Square Garden, wearing the colors of the Dallas Mavericks, for a nationally televised game. If that is another embarrassment, like the game Sunday, all bets are off on the Knicks being patient and not making changes.