Alright, so this post has been delayed by my whole "professional career and school" thing picking back up but these things happen. I was also told when I got this gig to make the titles something that would increase traffic to the site, so I'm pandering shamelessly there. I’m not all that keen on the draft because I feel like college basketball is roughly two players surrounded by 20 far less talented players trying to figure out what’s going on. I just know that whenever Euros shoot up the mock draft charts the way they have lately it’s never a good sign for the strength of a draft class. I don’t want to beat a dead horse with the talk of what Dallas’s win means for the Rockets (Team > Individual stars is my synopsis, take heart my Houston friends). So I figure why not address Rockets needs heading into the offseason with a list of who is available and what the NFL lockout could mean for the NBA.
The current roster is stacked with talent but it is necessary to scrounge up just how much. If we break this down by position we can shed some light on where the focus for upgrades should be.
Point Guard – Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic.
This position is pretty well set with Dragic happy to be a back up and putting up a triple double in his last game of the season. Kyle Lowry needs to continue playing as well as he did (or nearly) in the second half. If his progress wasn’t an aberration we have a legitimate elite point guard on our roster in Lowry. He’s entering his fifth year in the league and become a complete point guard, which is fantastic news for Houston.
Shooting Guard – Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee
Another position I feel is pretty well set but offers some of the most enticing trade discussions. The biggest question at this position is "How bad do you want it?" And no, I’m not talking about the last time your significant other thought it’d be hilarious to tease you… Kevin Martin is an alluring trade object because let’s face it, he’s the perfect complimentary player. What you get back for him is the key to the discussion because I’m fairly certain no one would gripe if Courtney Lee, one of the rare two-way players in the NBA, were to take the starting job on a rebuilding team looking to add defense to its repertoire. We’ll get to the enticing trade targets on this team at the end of this assessment.
Small Forward – Chase Budinger and Terrence Williams
This position is the most mysterious for me. We have Chase and we know what we get there, he’s a decent rebounder in my opinion, can handle the ball a bit, and his shot is sweet enough to make you the next Wilford Brimley. You know as well as I do he can attain the point of (or about) 20 points per game with minimal defense. Terrence Williams offers some tantalizing ingredients and if you’re not sold check his scouting report because it’s obvious he’s been caged up pretty well since entering the NBA http://www.nbadraft.net/players/terrence-williams. This position cries out for another player in this cog but caution if we’re looking to pull a deal. It’s confusing because it has youth and upside but there are questions as to what the ceiling on these two are.
Power Forward – Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, Jordan Hill(ish), Chuck Hayes(ish)
Welcome to the cluster-freak position on the Rockets. We have the wily vet (with a backloaded contract and bum-knee) in Luis Scola, a man very nearly at 20 points and 10 boards per game. You know what you get with him and you know that he’s not blocking any shots or finishing above the rim. Patrick Patterson has shown flashes of the fact that his ceiling is a vastly superior defensive Luis Scola. He’s got a smooth shot, a powerful finish at the rim, and plays ridiculous help-side defense. I think Patterson replaces Scola ASAP (preferably day one since we should be working to trade Luis). This is Jordan’s natural position and if we draft a C, I expect to see Jordan back here. He flashed really hard that he is something special, it’s tough to re-live your rookie season and not have the time to put on the bulk to play Center then be told "Sink or swim". We did that with Jordan and he responded well, albeit slowly, in my opinion. Chuck is listed here as a formality, if he’s playing center for this team again we’re boned.
Center – Chuck Hayes, Hasheem Thabeet, Brad Miller
For all intensive purposes let’s laugh Brad Miller off this list, the 2 MPH point-center shouldn’t reasonably be considered viable in Houston anymore. Chuck Hayes, if he’s starting the position I think it’s for continuity. He’s proven how well player development works in Houston (Seriously, everyone questioning Thabeet needs to consider Chuck came into the league with defense only and he slowly put together offense and refined every facet of his game, this player development staff is fantastic here if the guys get floor time to prove it). Thabeet is a question mark and we need to evaluate what we have on tap because he has a qualifying offer coming up. I look for him to get legitimate time this year since the 2011-2012 season is as near as can be a throw away in the rebuilding process.
Now, you may not agree with my assessment of positions but our positions of solidification/guarantee are Small Forward and Center. I emphasize Small Forward more so because we have one definite at that position in Budinger and we know he’s not a long-term solution. At center we have question marks in Hasheem Thabeet and Jordan Hill in that I think they can be more than they currently are/assumed to be. The draft is rife with SGs and SFs and I think it’s easiest to address the SF issue out of the draft and still go with the Best Player Available (BPA) option. Center will be addressed/reinforced through trade or free agency but I believe we’ll still give Hasheem a shot this year.
Who is available on the free agent market in general? I will provide two lists depending on how you like to look them over. ESPN lists the free agents by team, focus on unrestricted free agents because attaining restricted free agents is incredibly difficult and rare. HoopsWorld lists them by position in a relatively mashed together way. Apparently Microsoft Word charts are rare or damn near impossible in HTML format.
http://www.hoopsworld.com/story.asp?story_id=18192 (If you see a * it means the player is essentially a RFA)
As I survey that list it’s a lot like the menu at an authentic Asian restaurant (authentic as in turtles, bugs, and the bits most Americans don’t eat are on the menu). You have a lot of options but none of it is really something you want. My only standouts are Chris Douglas Roberts and Marcus Thornton. The big men available are most likely not relocating or are on the downswing of their careers (Kenyon Martin, Andrei Kirilenko, etc…). So when it comes to free agency, I feel like we could insure ourselves in case we trade Kevin Martin because I think CDR and Marcus Thornton are completely viable options. Which brings me about to this next option on our plate.
Let’s make a deal! Not the kind of game we played last season where Ish Smith and a pack of Skittles got us Lebron James. Guys conceivably on the trade block are Kevin Martin and Luis Scola. Reports state that there is no such thing as an untouchable Rocket. I subscribe to the Animal Farm notion that no Rocket is untouchable but some are more untouchable than others.
Sacred Calves – Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, and Patrick Patterson
It would take a quality deal to get these guys out of Houston. Kyle’s progress was ridiculous and makes him super valuable. Courtney Lee was a hard bargain point a while ago where we tried raking Chicago over the coals and they weren’t caving. Patterson is a Scola replacement and showed the league 14 was way too low for him to go last year.
You’re Auditioning, Consider Buying – Terrence Williams, Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill
All three of these guys have potential that went largely untapped/unobserved. Williams has tools at his disposal, Thabeet has that height you can’t teach and a scary good offensive game no one unwrapped ("basic" as it is, it’s scary good for a guy everyone assumed lacks the ability to walk and chew gum simultaneously), and Jordan has a keen eye for his offensive game and in post game interviews emphasized his willingness to do whatever is asked of him. He did shut down Pau Gasol solo, which was entertaining to watch.
That said, these guys are expendable in a deal and not worth demanding more from the other team. If I were them I’d audition hard this year and pay attention around the trade deadline.
Rent, Don’t Buy – Kevin Martin, Luis Scola
The elder statesmen of the team and our highly valuable players, Scola’s contract and his nagging knee problem make him tougher to move now and Kevin Martin will be in high demand because top five shooting guards are by nature limited to five. It’s abundantly clear we’re looking to develop youth and become a two-way team, neither of these guys have that but both of them can put a contender over the top. I’m hedging on Scola because I don’t believe in his knee at the present moment
Not Worth Mentioning, Cut or Safe/Unwanted by Others – Chuck Hayes, Brad Miller, Goran Dragic
Chuck might be in demand but he will probably be brought back on the cheap because he’s a company man. He’ll be safe in Houston if he signs. Brad, pack it up and get the Hell out. Goran, I feel like he’s generally safe unless we land a guy like Kemba Walker.
When it comes to trade discussion, keep in mind what guys like those on our roster offer. The NBA draft will see a lot of chatter with Kevin Martin and Luis Scola revolving around that number two pick in Minnesota.
This could all be for naught (Free Agency evaluations) however, if the NFL Lockout comes down on the side of the players. The NFL is currently trying to reconcile salaries amongst players, revenue sharing amongst franchises, and flexibility of individual choice in employment decisions. The NBA could learn a thing or two from the way the NFL has conducted business amongst franchises though. Greater revenue sharing offers more financial viability for the organizations. Your New York markets don’t dominate everything since the money gets distributed to players (a smaller percentage versus higher percentage/stability is a sticking point in their negotiations) and organizations so that small markets (Much love to Buffalo) are nearly as viable as teams like the Giants. Revenue sharing would help ensure that teams such as the Grizzlies can compete with teams like the Lakers and their lucrative contracts. The NHL influence should impart with a hard cap and greater revenue sharing to increase competitiveness and parity around the NBA outside of fluke years like this one. I digress though.
My current terror of a player victory in NFL labor negotiations is (Granted a COURT victory, not a negotiated one) because if the players win in court then all of professional sports stands to face a labor stoppage. By nature professional sports in the US violates Anti-Trust laws. For those of you unaware of what a trust is, a trust, loosely, is a business structure where all the participants in a market set prices and rules for participation willingly and openly. That’s professional sports. Independent franchises banding together, setting limits on salaries, employment duration, and rules of employment. More accurately they are a cartel, cartels are most famously noted for Latin American drug organizations or blood diamond organizations by which you have a decentralized structure (Franchises) adhering to terms set out by one entity at the top (League office). So if the players win and professional sports leagues are deemed violation of Anti-Trust laws the only way to dodge it is with a CBA and negotiation out of court. You have to avoid setting precedent because then it becomes viable law. If the NFL players win the NBA will have to restructure itself. The MLB doesn’t face this problem as much because there is no salary cap, so one of the biggest reasons to head to court is gone. They still have the same decision structure but would you like to see an NBA like the MLB? The Knicks/Lakers finals every year until we die would have to get boring eventually, right
Well, that’s where I’ll shut up for now, I guess, I haven’t written in a while and this should be enough to dodge my responsibilities for another few weeks.