Just as we did here last Wednesday and will be doing every week for the rest of the off-season, today we're going to revisit one of Daryl Morey's past moves and re-evaluate it after the passage of time. Today's topic? The Tracy McGrady trade.
Going into the 2009-10 season, the Rockets' future was murky. Yao was lost for the season. Trevor Ariza had replaced Ron Artest. The one glimmer of hope that remained was that Tracy McGrady could either return to form or net the Rockets an All-Star when they traded his massive expiring contract.
After six uninspiring performances in first quarter cameos, the Rockets decided to shut McGrady down for two weeks to allow him to work on his conditioning, a sign that the writing was on the wall for McGrady's departure. McGrady would not play another game for the Rockets, and the team would work diligently to trade him over the coming weeks.
As the trade deadline approached, two serious suitors for McGrady's contract emerged, the New York Knicks and the Sacramento Kings. The Knicks were eager to rid themselves of Jared Jeffries' contract and were willing to give up assets to do so, and the Kings wanted to clear a spot for Tyreke Evans, who had not meshed with Kevin Martin.
The early reports in the newspaper on February 19th were that the Rockets had agreed to send McGrady, Joey Dorsey, and Carl Landry to Sacramento for Kenny Thomas, Kevin Martin, and Sergio Rodriguez, but the deal was later amended to include the Knicks, allowing the Rockets to collect the Knicks' assets to take on Jeffries' contract as well as finding a go-to scorer.
The final haul was somewhat staggering at first glance: Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Hilton Armstrong (!), a future first round pick, and the right to swap picks with New York in the 2011 Draft. At the time, Hill was a rookie with a ton of potential and looked like a future starter in his time as a rookie with the Rockets. He'd be a disappointment in future years, but the team managed to get a first round pick for him from the Lakers.
If you're counting at home, the Rockets managed to acquire Kevin Martin and two first round picks (one of which would become Royce White), for the cost of taking on Jeffries' contract and Carl Landry. Martin struggled last year, but he gave the Rockets All-Star level production in 2010-11, finishing the season fourth among shooting guards in PER and seventh among all guards.
The original intent of the deal was to give the Rockets a suitable running mate and consistent perimeter shooter when Yao returned from injury. The quest to build a team around Yao was what motivated the Trevor Ariza signing, the big contracts given to Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry, and the Kevin Martin acquisition.
Ariza's disappointing first year motivated the Rockets to trade him for Courtney Lee, and when Yao got re-injured, the Rockets eventually rid themselves of the other contracts, trading Lowry for a lottery pick, and amnestying Scola. Now, Martin is the only one that remains of the core the Rockets envisioned alongside Yao.
Just like the case was with the other deals, just because Yao didn't return comeback healthy doesn't make it the wrong call. The Rockets were never going to have significant cap room in the summer of 2010, so the extra financial burden was nothing more than another check Les Alexander had to cut. Two and a half years later, the Rockets are in a better position because of the trade, with an extra first rounder in hand for trade talks and a talented young player in Royce White. When the team adds in the potential return they can get for Martin at the trade deadline, you have a win for Morey, just not as big of a win as many envisioned on that day in February of 2010.
Check back later today when I discuss the greatest trade in Rockets history.
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