The Miami Heat have formally applied to the league office for a Disabled Player Exception in the wake of Josh McRoberts' season-ending knee injury in a move they hope will help them land free agent Josh Smith, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN.com on Monday night that the Heat have launched the application process in hopes of being granted the exception before Smith picks his next team once he clears waivers.
At present, Miami can offer only a $1.4 million veteran minimum contract to Smith, but a DPE after losing McRoberts would be valued at $2.65 million.
Sources say the Houston Rockets, however, remain confident they have the inside track to land Smith even if Miami is granted a DPE this week, given Houston's clear need at power forward and Smith's close friendship with Rockets center Dwight Howard.
The Rockets still have their biannual exception available, valued at nearly $2.1 million, to offer Smith, who was stunningly waived Monday by the Detroit Pistons with $26 million left on his contract over the next two seasons after this one.
Sources say the Rockets, with Howard leading their recruiting pitch, believe Smith will ultimately choose Houston over Miami and the Dallas Mavericks, whose recruiting effort is being spearheaded by guard Rajon Rondo -- another of Smith's close friends.
"He's just as close to Dwight as he is to Rondo," one source said late Monday, "and Dwight wants him."
Rondo, who said he talks to Smith "pretty much every day," believes his friend and former high school teammate would be a good fit for the Mavs.
"I think we can use an athletic big," Rondo said after the Mavs' 105-102 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. "They traded me for Brandan Wright. Besides Tyson [Chandler], our other bigs are perimeter shooters. Josh brings a lot to the game -- his intangibles, he can make plays, rebound, defend. He'd be a good fit anywhere, but especially here I think he'd be a good fit."
ESPN.com reported earlier Monday that the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers were also in the mix for Smith with Houston, Dallas and Miami. Grantland's Zach Lowe subsequently reported that the Memphis Grizzlies had also joined the race.
Prior to Monday's game, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed to local reporters that his team was trying to lure Smith to join the newly acquired Rondo as a power forward and small-ball center off the bench. Despite the fact it can offer him only a minimum salary, Dallas will try to sell Smith on the idea that he would assume the role of Wright.
"Josh is super talented and he fits the profile of the guy we love to bring in here," Cuban said. "He's one of those guys that gets a bad rap ... and we have a great track record of bringing the truth out about guys like that: Monta [Ellis], Stack [Jerry Stackhouse], Jet [Jason Terry]."
But the Rockets, sources say, are convinced that their status as a title contender -- along with Howard's presence and the minutes they can offer Smith at his preferred position of power forward -- will ultimately win out once Smith clears waivers.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the only team in the league with sufficient salary-cap space to claim Smith before he becomes a free agent Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET. But sources said Monday the Sixers have no plans to do so.
Smith was averaging 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game this season with the Pistons, yet he was on pace, according to ESPN Stats & Information, to become the first player in league history to shoot below 40 percent from the field and less than 50 percent from the free throw line while attempting at least 12 shots per game.
As ESPN.com reported in June and again in July, new Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy had opportunities to trade Smith to the Kings, only to back out of trade talks to keep the 29-year-old and see if his stint with the Pistons could be salvaged. Yet in recent weeks, Detroit again began shopping Smith, only to find very little interest.
The tepid market for Smith ultimately convinced the Pistons to take the rare step of releasing a player with more than $30 million in guaranteed money left on his contract -- including the money Smith is still owed this season -- as opposed to trying to force a trade that would have cost them additional assets, such as future draft picks.
"Our team has not performed the way we had expected throughout the first third of the season and adjustments need to be made in terms of our focus and direction," Van Gundy said in a statement.
"We are shifting priorities to aggressively develop our younger players while also expanding the roles of other players in the current rotation to improve performance and build for our future. As we expand certain roles, others will be reduced. In fairness to Josh, being a highly versatile 10-year veteran in this league, we feel it's best to give him his freedom to move forward. We have full respect for Josh as a player and a person."
Information from ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon was used in this report.