Lockout Season isn't as much fun as Regular Season. So, let's talk about that.
I've got two gift-wrapped presents as rewards for your patience. The first is a Q&A session I lazily conducted with Red 94's Rahat Huq over the course of two months, starting in July. By now you have read some of the packaged goods in other posts, but perhaps you'll find it interesting.
The second tidbit is a preview... THE preview. We're doing blogger previews again this year, season be damned. Check back in here Wednesday to catch The Dream Shake's contribution and be sure to read around the blogosphere if you're interested in how the other teams stack up.
Now, feast your eyes on my long-winded responses to otherwise simple questions. Also, I said Jonny Flynn has more promise than Terrence Williams. Yeah, bros. Take a look.
Rahat: Thoughts on the Marcus Morris pick?
Tom: Right as the commissioner mouthed the initial "m" in Marcus, I'll admit, the pick left me a little deflated.
Bleh. Marcus Morris. Of course it was Marcus Morris.
I was expecting to hear David Stern utter a crisp "k" for Kawhi (Leonard) or a softer "c" for Chris (Singleton). Each player was the best available at the position that Houston could most easily address -- small forward -- and neither was exactly a talent reach. Once Phoenix took Markieff Morris and not Leonard -- widely considered to be a top-ten selection entering the draft -- my focus abruptly shifted to the glaring hole in Houston's defense: wing stopper.
Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier - they no longer wore the red. It was time Houston brought in another shutdown defender.
Yet, when Morris' name was called, I should have known better. The Rockets had made no secret of their desire to draft for talent over need. All things considered, at fourteen, Marcus Morris was the best player available. The key question: what position does he play? Let's come back to that in a second.
Positional questions aside, I really like Morris. He's a do-it-all, efficient player without an elite skill (sound familiar?), but he is still capable of making big plays in any facet of the game. He killed my Missouri Tigers during his tenure at Kansas, and he killed them in a variety of different ways. There's no question that among Morris, Singleton and Leonard, Morris is by far the biggest offensive weapon, namely for his ability to stretch the floor and create his own offense.
Nothing that Morris does is strikingly creative or highlight-worthy, but in college, whether it was in the post or on the outside, Morris could always find ways to score. He was the itch that couldn't be scratched, and as an opponent, once you thought you'd gotten rid of him in one place, he'd show up somewhere else and go right back to work. I've written this before and I'll write it again: Morris was annoyingly good. I think that lies in his consistency, his tenacity and his mistake-free nature. I'd rather have him on my team than have to pay the toll that comes with facing him.
However, in keeping with the theme of the selection, I can't announce a verdict on the pick until Morris proves to everyone that he can play the three and play it well. Morris is quicker than some folks think, but he hasn't guarded the small forward position on a nightly basis since high school. If he's able to lug his giant frame around with slightly smaller, more agile NBA 3's, he's going to be a nightly mismatch for Houston opponents and should be able to take Battier's minimal small forward-on-small forward post game up another level.
Yet, if Morris proves that he's better suited as a power forward, I'll be the first among Houston fans to question the selection, barring a gigantic trade that brings Houston's power forward count back into single digits. (See what I did there?)
I'll give Houston this: they needed to make a do-or-die, boom-or-bust selection. Sure, Morris could be a disappointment. He could also present the Rockets with the dynamite scorer that they've been missing. As far as "gutsy" selections go, Morris has a very high floor. He isn't raw and he won't need to be taught the basics. Better yet, he apparently used draft interviews to convince teams that he could play small forward, so confidence at a new position won't be an issue.
Something to keep in mind: this isn't the first overall pick, it's the fourteenth. Like they did last year with the Patterson pick, the Rockets got very good value without having to move. Eventually, the "grade" will depend more on how Morris fits in with the Rockets and the surrounding roster.
What are your thoughts on the positional snafu? More specifically, I suppose I'll test your Morey backbone and inquire the following:
A) How comfortable are you with the picks Houston made?
B) How confident are you that Morey will be able to swing a deal now that Houston's roster is so devoid of balance? And will that finally be THE deal, or just another placeholder?
Of course, this is all assuming that the whole season isn't canceled.
I'm extremely confident with the picks just based on Morey's track record. He's pretty much struck gold on every first round pick he's ever had (Brooks, Patterson, even Donte Greene fetched Ron Artest).
That the team was willing to spend first-round money on Motiejunas tells me a lot about how they feel about him. The Rockets are the type of team that would avoid that 20-range and trade down for lesser financial commitments.
Morris is incredibly intriguing. With his size and skill-set, the team will now be able to force opponents to adjust to their gameplan; few small forwards will be able to contain him inside. I could easily see him averaging 20ppg at some point in his career.
As far as your second question, unfortunately I'm not confident at all. That speaks more about the circumstances of the league than about my confidence in Morey. Superstars simply hold all of the leverage these days in their choice of destination. Without a current star in place, there's little reason for one to cooperate in a trade to Houston.
I think the team's best bet will just have to be buying low and cultivating talent in-house. Which leads me to my next question: Of the four draft busts of 2009 on this roster (Thabeet, Hill, Williams, Flynn) which do you think has the greatest chance of turning it around?
Shocker alert to all of the T-Will apologists, but something tells me it's going to be Flynn.
A) Hasheem Thabeet, at the very best, will become Dikembe Mutombo, age 40. He could develop into an excellent shot blocker, but my goodness, his coordination looks like Jello. He's only going to be good for dunks, assuming he holds on to the ball.
B) I may be too rough on Jordan Hill, but hope for Hill merely comes in short glimpses. Due plainly to a lack of consistency, it's going to take a lot for him to live up to his potential. He's got plenty of tools -- a nice jumper, decent footwork and he has always shown flashes of defensive ability -- but too often he makes five bad plays or misses five defensive assignments for every positive step he takes.
C) Bear with me - this is an admittedly weird analogy.
If you take your hands and face them towards each other horizontally, it's easy to slide the fingers of one hand in between the fingers of the other. I view Terrence Williams' talent and makeup as two separate hands, each consisting of really nice, yet uneven fingers that simply bump into each other when attempting to mesh together.
Williams can do plenty of everything, but his skillsets don't match up. He can pass, but he's not a point guard. He's got good size for a shooting guard, but he can't shoot. He is explosive and athletic, but at the wrong times. For now, he is role-less: the easiest way for him to produce at this point would be for him to land on a bad team in need of a dominant ballhandler. Houston isn't one of those teams.
We'll see if Williams can work his way into the rotation with a new coach, but I have a hunch that Rick Adelman called this one from the beginning. There's no denying the talent; it's the role-filling ability that is the issue. You can't go from zero to hero as a ballhander: if he can't be effective without dominating the ball, he won't have a chance.
Note: An interesting stat about Williams: he has NEVER had a penchant for drawing fouls in his career. Want to earn some extra playing time? Copy off Kyle Lowry and earn the easy points at the line. Williams has flat-out never done that. He's also frankly terrible around the rim, which somewhat negates his athletic appeal. I'll likely have more on this in a post.
That leaves Flynn, who does have a position, but has yet to find a system that fits his best abilities. The Kurt Rambis experiment in Minnesota was a disaster, and perhaps nobody was hurt by the stint more than Flynn. He's not built for the triangle offense. That's been his story since his rookie season. I don't know if Houston is going to be where he makes his mark, but if given the opportunity, I think he's got a chance to be a very good backup, if not a capable starter down the road. He was a winner in college from the get-go and possesses a knack for scoring and playmaking. Perhaps the same can be said for Williams, but the difference is that Flynn's a guy whom you can point to and say, "I know exactly what I want him to do for me in this lineup." He has a defined role. Those types of players last longer in the league. You know what you're getting right away. On top of that, with Flynn, you don't have to re-arrange your approach the minute he takes the floor. It's difficult to say the same for Williams, whose presence often complicates more than it comforts.
On the topic of young players, exactly how young do you think Houston should go? Is holding onto Scola and/or Martin a smart move?
The Rockets' current model of team-building is predicated upon one objective: acquiring a veteran superstar. They want to stay competitive, if even mediocre, in hopes of luring a superstar either via trade or free agency. The problem is that after last year, and the Miami Heat and Carmelo Anthony trade, I'm not sure that will work. Today's stars want to play together.
I've been a believer that a team needs to hit rock bottom first before getting good. The middle-ground is the worst in sports. And to that end, keeping vets like Kevin Martin and Luis Scola might be counterproductive to the long-term plan of the team.
I'm not sure on Martin, but I would be shopping Scola hard. He's already in his 30's, but more importantly, the team has a very capable replacement in Patrick Patterson whom they need to be developing. What are your thoughts?
I'm inclined to turn this into an Astros or Texans discussion, because with those two franchises, we've been there before.
The Astros should have blown their operation to smithereens in 2008. They should have traded Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt that year, and they should have started rebuilding the minute it became clear that group's best days were behind them. Free agents couldn't solve Houston's problems -- that became evident once someone realized that Carlos Lee has never won anywhere. But that's baseball, and free agents (and to that point, individual players) affect basketball teams far more than they do teams in baseball.
To date, the Texans have taken the route of the Colts. They've built through the draft, and only once they solidified their core did they go out and sign a few big-name free agents. But that's football -- once again, the lure and impact of the free agent in basketball is far greater.
So perhaps we can't compare situations across sports. Baseball rebuilds through a minor league system wholly absent in basketball. Football rebuilds through a seven-round draft, as compared to the thin pickings of an NBA draft.
Basketball has become a game of free agents and favorites. And the Rockets don't figure into that game. They haven't been able to trade, they haven't been able to sign. But does that mean they'll be able to draft? Unfortunately, they may be forced to take that approach and hope for the best.
Trading Scola and Martin makes sense on the surface, but the return package is the key. Martin could probably score Houston a lottery pick, but it's risky: for every Yao Ming lingers a Kwame Brown or even a Jay Williams. And what would Scola bring to Houston? Another batch of mediocre semi-veterans or a few early burnouts like Jonny Flynn? Been there, done that. Would he procure a lottery pick? Certainly not. So then, I wonder: what's the point?
The point. Hmm. The point, sadly, is to lose. The point is to get rid of winners and those who best contribute to winning - i.e. Scola and Martin. The point is to do that and then to run the young, crazy, off-the-wall talent onto the court with the hope that they'll turn into studs, but secretly, we kind of hope they'll stink so we can move on and select Andre Drummond or some other incoming draft dynamo with our first overall pick. We did it with Yao Ming. We also basically did it with Steve Francis. That's the flawed, stupendous point.
I hate to resort to pessimism, but you're right: we need to hit rock bottom. Unless Miracle Free Agent X (Who Also Happens To Be Under 27 And In His Prime) stumbles down to Houston, there's not much to look forward to outside the draft. Attempting to make "The Trade" has turned into a pipe dream. Sure, Houston now has a wealth of young talent. Once again, they could make a trade. Is this the year? We ask ourselves this every year. It's never the year. It's grown old and weary and I do not like it anymore.
I'm just glad I don't have Daryl Morey's job. Somehow, he has managed to turn an array of calculated, intelligent moves into a recipe for a letdown. You have to wonder when he is going to start getting desperate.
A note from Tom: READ GALICAE'S EUROBASKET COVERAGE. It's been great.