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The Houston Rockets always seemed like the most likely destination for Smith because of their ability to offer him the bi-annual exception, a starting spot and a chance to contend. At this point in his career, Smith is clearly better as a complimentary option rather than a featured one. Alongside his childhood friend Dwight Howard, James Harden and Trevor Ariza, Smith will be able to get back to doing the things he does best: serving as a finisher offensively and a really quality help defender.
Despite the fact that the Pistons were willing to eat the remaining $27 million left on Smith’s deal after this season to rid themselves of him, this is still a major addition for the Rockets. They had hopes of signing him two summers ago when they originally signed Howard, but Smith was out for a big payday and they couldn’t get the Hawks to agree to any of their sign-and-trade pitches.
Smith will slide in to the starting power forward spot that has been vacant due to the injury of Terrance Jones, who has been out for much of the year. After missing out on Rajon Rondo, who ended up with their new front office rivals in the Dallas Mavericks, this is an unexpected midseason boost that could end up making a big difference for the Rockets. Smith is motivated, in an ideal situation and will have ample opportunity to prove to the league how good he still is.
This is the worst-case scenario for Varejao and the Cavaliers. For Varejao, he was finally going to get the opportunity to play for a contender after being the lone survivor on the team from the original LeBron James era. James mentioned him specifically in his letter announcing his decision to return to Cleveland and was a really excited about being reunited with him. Varejao was averaging 9.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 21 minutes a night for a Cavaliers team that was already thin on the frontline.
The Cavaliers have been mentioned in association with just about every semi available big man on the market. They’re in desperate need of another center now, but also have to be concerned about Varejao’s long-term status as they just inked him to a three-year, $30 million extension earlier this season. Of the $30 million, $19 million in guaranteed.
The Cavaliers are expected to apply for a disabled player’s exception that should be worth $5 million. They are also more willing to trade the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round pick that they own as well in attempts to find a replacement for Varejao.
McHale was the only coach in the league working without a deal in place for next year and has done a Coach of the Year worthy coaching job so far this season, so this deal is well deserved. You cannot have a coach on an expiring contract if you’re a championship contending team like the Rockets are. They needed to get this distraction out of the way and clearly, even after last year’s disappointing finish, McHale is a guy who has control of the Rockets locker room and is suited to lead them for the foreseeable future.
This season he’s been without Howard for the majority of the year and working with a second unit of primarily cheap, unproven options that he’s gotten the most out of. Yet, the team hasn’t faltered; they’re 20-7, are in fourth place in the Western Conference, and just three games behind the league-leading Golden State Warriors.
With Smith signed, this Rockets team has the fourth option they needed at their weakest position. The most important thing moving forward is for this team to come together and form chemistry, and knowing that McHale is going to be around for at least the next three years should go a long way in helping with that.
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