The Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to release veteran forward Joe Smith on Sunday, setting the stage for him to sign with a playoff contender like the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Smith, who was acquired from Cleveland in an August trade, had been relegated to the bench in Oklahoma City but could be a valuable asset for a team making a playoff push. Rumors have circulated that the Cavaliers would be interested in Smith, particularly after they lost Ben Wallace to a broken leg.
Smith averaged 8.1 points and 5.0 rebounds in 27 games down the stretch with Cleveland last year. He was averaging 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds this season with the Thunder, but hadn't played the last eight games.
"This allows us the roster flexibility to look to add pieces. I feel like having Malik (Rose), Chucky (Atkins) and Desmond (Mason) continues to give us a veteran presence," Thunder general manager Sam Presti told The Associated Press. "Right now, a lot of the minutes in our frontcourt are being used up by some of our young guys."
Smith was included in the Thunder's trade to New Orleans for center Tyson Chandler that fell apart when Chandler failed his physical. Soon after, reports surfaced that Smith might instead seek a buyout so he could pursue a contract with a contender like Cleveland, the Boston Celtics or the San Antonio Spurs.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft, Smith had repeatedly denied that he was seeking a buyout.
With him seldom getting onto the court in Oklahoma City and his contract running out at the end of the season, the Thunder had little reason to prevent him from seeking other options.
Smith was a regular in Oklahoma City's rotation at the beginning of the season, but he was sidelined by a leg injury about the time the Thunder signed center Nenad Krstic in December. He hasn't been playing nearly as much since then.
Smith, who's averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds with nine NBA teams, could clear waivers as early as Wednesday.
"This was something that was brought to us by Joe and his representatives," Presti said. "We were able to reach an agreement that will allow him to pursue another opportunity."
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