Greg Smith looks forward to DeJuan Blair-like role with Mavs

LAS VEGAS — While he won’t garner the attention or headlines that the rest of the Dallas Mavericks’ summer additions have received, newly-acquired big man Greg Smith could play a role just as valuable for the team next season.

Last week, the Mavericks announced that they had acquired the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Smith from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for the rights to Tadija Dragicevic. Smith is now expected to back up center Tyson Chandler and fill the void down low left by the departure of DeJuan Blair, who the Mavs dealt to Washington in a sign-and-trade two days later in exchange for the rights to Emir Preldzic.

“You know, Greg Smith, we’ve been trying to trade for him for two years, so we’re thrilled,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said while in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League. “Backing up Tyson and being able to bang, he’s athletic, he’s really skilled and he’s young, so like most big men it takes a bit of time. He banged against Dwight [Howard] last year, so he’s got some experience there, too. So, I mean, he can play.”

The three-year veteran averaged 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 14.4 minutes in 89 career games, making 10 starts during his tenure with Houston to provide depth behind Howard and fellow big man Omer Asik. Smith was then released by the Rockets on April 10, signing four days later in Chicago but never playing for the Bulls. 

Smith will now try to put a season of nagging injuries behind him, looking to learn from Chandler’s and 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki’s veteran presence while also providing the Mavericks with the same physical play that Blair displayed during his lone season in Dallas.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot, playing with Tyson Chandler,” Smith told while joining Dallas’ summer-league squad in Las Vegas last week. “I’ve learned a lot playing with Dwight and Big O, so playing with [Chandler] I’m going to learn a lot more. He’s a great guy. And even playing with Dirk, I’m going to learn a lot on the offensive end. And just being in Texas, the fans there are wonderful. So, I’m going to go out there and just fill that void of DeJuan Blair and bring that toughness and bring that big body every night. Just show people that I’ve been working out for the past five months and I’m ready to prove that I’m healthy.”

During the 2012-13 campaign, Smith made 10 starts and suited up for the Rockets in 70 games, averaging 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 62.0 percent from the field. Those numbers compare to Blair’s production last season, when the undersized big man started 13 of his 78 appearances while averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds an outing, connecting on 53.4 percent from the field.

Smith, a former standout at Fresno State, will now try to fortify a Dallas front line that already features Chandler, Nowitzki and athletic big man Brandan Wright. He’ll also attempt to help the Mavericks build on last season’s success, after the team pushed the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s a blessing, man. I’ve got family out there, my grandparents, so it’s like coming home. And they’re a great organization. Mark Cuban is great and [Donnie] Nelson is great. Even Rick Carlisle is great and the whole team. Playing with Dirk and Tyson Chandler, this is going to be a great experience for me,” Smith explained.

He added: “I think they were missing Tyson. If they would have had Tyson last year, they would have beat the Spurs. I think they would have. But this year, I think we’re going to be a lot better. I think starter-wise and coming off the bench we’re going to be a lot better and have a full complete team. I think a lot of people in the West need to look out for us, ’cause we’re going to go in deep.”