The Houston Rockets are reportedly on the precipice of landing a "Big Three" that would arguably make them the NBA's biggest challengers to the defending champion Miami Heat.
Amid reports that Dwight Howard has chosen Houston as his destination, Zach Klein of WSB-TV in Atlanta reported that the Rockets were also hard at work trying to carve out a sign-and-trade deal for Josh Smith:
NBA league source tells me Hawks and Rockets working on sign and trade for Josh Smith— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) July 5, 2013
UPDATE: Saturday, July 6, at 3:01 p.m. ET by Kyle Vassalo
According to Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski, Josh Smith is headed to Detroit:
Josh Smith has agreed to a four year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons, league sources tell Y! Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 6, 2013
---End of Update---
UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 11:31 p.m. ET by Kyle Vassalo
Dwight Howard released a statement about officially joining the Rockets:
I've decided to become a member of the Houston Rockets. I feel its the best place for me and I am excited about joining the Rockets and I'm looking forward to a great season. I want to thank the fans in Los Angeles and wish them the best."
With D12 in Houston, it will be interesting to see how the Josh Smith trade scenario plays out.
---End of Update---
UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 8:39 p.m. ET by Kyle Vassalo
Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski claims while the deal hasn't been discussed yet, the scenario can't be ruled out:
Houston and Atlanta haven't discussed a Josh Smith sign-and-trade, but that's a conversation that could happen soon, league sources tell Y!— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 6, 2013
---End of update---
There was no word on how amenable the Hawks would be to such an arrangement, nor were there any stipulations of a possible deal reported. Smith has spent his first nine NBA seasons in Atlanta, which drafted the College Park, Ga. native with the No. 17 overall pick in 2004.
Though his basketball relationship with the Hawks has mostly been fruitful—they have made the playoffs each of the past six seasons—Smith has become disenchanted with the franchise in recent years. He was the hottest name on the trade block as February's deadline approached, but Atlanta did not find an acceptable deal and decided to keep the 27-year-old forward.
While the motivation for Atlanta keeping Smith is unclear, the team is open to recouping some assets for him this summer. ESPN's Brian Windhorst is reporting that the Hawks will listen should a team—Houston or otherwise—come calling about a potential sign-and-trade:
The Hawks would listen on potential Josh Smith-to-Houston sign-and-trade proposals, according to sources.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 5, 2013
The Rockets, in an effort to stay under the salary cap, would likely have to send equivalent salary in return.
Houston's motivation in all of this, however, is crystal clear. USA Today's Sam Amick reported earlier this week that the Rockets were making a hard push to land Dwight Howard and Smith, this summer's most sought-after free agents following Chris Paul's decision to return to the Clippers.
Howard and Smith are both from the Atlanta area and are good friends dating back to their days playing together on the AAU circuit. The Rockets' pitch of possibly landing Smith could have really persuaded Howard during their Monday meeting—especially considering recent reports on the All-Star center's status.
USA Today's Sam Amick was the first to report that Howard, who had spent Friday informing teams where they stand, had chosen the Rockets. The Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Hawks were all allegedly informed that they were no longer in the running for the offseason's most coveted free agent.
Howard's decision then came down to the Lakers and Rockets, with Amick's report being the first to note he was headed to Houston.
Reports quickly conflicted—the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan reported that the Lakers have yet to be informed, and Houston general manager Daryl Morey noted the same thing on his Twitter account—but Howard heading to the Rockets seems like a mere formality.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Howard was finalizing a contract with Houston, though it's unclear when the agreement between the two sides will be set in stone.
"He hopes to finalize his decision [Friday night] or [Saturday] morning," Dan Fegan, Howard's agent, said to Wojnarowski.
With Howard's decision still in flux (for now), reaching a congenial agreement with Smith could be the final piece of the puzzle. The Rockets would have to send comparable contract value back to Atlanta in exchange for Smith or work out a three-team proposal where salaries are sent elsewhere.
One possibility would be center Omer Asik, who has no interest in being a backup to Howard or playing alongside him, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. Chris Broussard of ESPN speculated that the Hawks could ask for Jeremy Lin and Asik in any trade involving Smith:
I'm told Hawks and Rockets working on sign&trade to bring Josh Smith to Hou, probably for Asik and JLin— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 5, 2013
Lin and Asik, the Rockets' two major offseason signings last summer, are under contract through the 2014-15 season. They have a combined cap hit of about $16.7 million next season, which would fall in line with the expected borderline max-level contract Smith will command.
Neither the Hawks nor the Rockets have commented on these negotiations.