The Rockets behavior this off-season has been described as "Going All In" so often that Dwight Howard and poker games are fused inextricably in my mind. Houston, indeed, went "all in" to get Dwight Howard. They didn't win the hand. But did they lose it?
The Rockets, in essence, pushed a whole team - Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, Marcus Camby, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, and Samuel Dalembert into the middle of the table to win the pot. (Dwight Howard being the "pot", perhaps of "Pot & Kettle" fame.) That's not a championship team, but I'll point out that there were willing buyers for the services of every single guy on that list. (You could argue Scola, Dragic, perhaps. Whither Kevin Martin? We'll see.)
I love to stretch a metaphor, strain a simile and torture an analogy more than most. Even so I couldn't come up with a valid poker scenario that would accurately describe the action that lead to the Howard trade. This is possibly bad news for my little conceit for this piece, and my understanding of poker. It may also be evidence that the Howard trade could not be simulated without warping card values and rules beyond recognition as "poker".
The really good stuff is after the jump.
Ok, I lied. its more of the same.
The values of the cards in poker are, of course, fixed*. The values of NBA players, picks, and salary structures are, of course, fluid. There is no hierarchy of winning hands. Even so, and allowing a lot of latitude, I just can't see how Orlando won anything besides a hand full of discards. The Lakers continue their amazing streak of getting everything for almost nothing, since I see no way they were signing Andrew Bynum next season anyway. It's uncanny, but far from unreal. (It's all too real. The Dodgers just showed the world that LA teams scoff at puny luxury taxes, so stand by on the Lakers signings.)
Usually players who "go all in" unsuccessfully are subsequently considered "busted out". They are then found bumming cab fare, asking about your couch 'just for tonight', maybe dredging the last fragments of potato chips through the dried residue of dip. But here's the thing - the Rockets folded out of the showdown. The "chips" or "assets", or as Daryl Morey in fonder moments calls them, "basketball playing employees" look very different from the ones that were moved to the center of the felt to win the affections of Dwight Howard, (the NBA's Hamlet).
The Rockets didn't bust out, they bought in, with a whole new team.
With 4 rookies (really 6 with Lin and Morris) joining the team, the Rockets are back in the game, with a new strategy. That's the real departure from poker - by going all in for Howard the Rockets didn't push their chips to the middle of the table only to lose them. They got picks, and players, back. The Rockets got, in essence, a new deal. (Sorry, I couldn't pass it up.)
Those picks and players, and not Dwight Howard, as it turns out, will be the foundation of the next great Rockets team. The chips (or assets, or as Daryl Morey in tender moments calls them "statistical result effectors") are mostly shiny and new, and we're not quite sure what the Rockets are holding now, or what they're worth. That is fine, they're still Rockets.
My prediction is that the young talent on the Rockets has the potential to be excellent. Not good, but excellent. In about three years. Honestly, though, three years is just about right. Its just as well the Rockets aren't desperately trying to build a contender around one player and the smoking crater of a roster.
Why? Because the stage is set for two teams to have high
advertising revenue drama battles in the finals for the next couple of seasons. Los Angeles, for however long Kobe, Nash and Gasol hold up, are a favorite to win a title with Howard aboard. Miami just won a title with its three star roster and can attract infinite numbers of crusty, but useful, veterans cheaply.
If not those two, then OKC still has superstar players just now approaching their prime. Boston has reloaded for yet another Last Hurrah, and can trouble Miami if health permits. Chicago and San Antonio lurk menacingly, in fundamentally sound fashion, in dark corners. CP3 wants you to believe the Clippers aren't frauds.
Where would a Rockets team with Howard fit into that scheme? Is he enough on his own? Given what the Rockets moved to gather assets for trade, and what they likely would have given up, little enough would have been left on the roster.
Dwight Howard at his best, I hate to say, almost is enough. Enough, at least, to get to the finals with a sound team and a great coach. Not enough to win that way, though, not in this climate. It's hard to see what more than "a sound team" the Rockets could have put around Howard in under two or three years.
In those same two or three years I think our homegrown players will be ready to make some noise anyway. Our own pick, or Toronto's, may yet land us the franchise star we're craving. Or he might, just might, be on the roster already.
I'll admit I'm irked by how this all went down. Being honest, it is because I am sick of watching the Rockets get bitten by the snake when they try to make a big move. I want to see the big move work for a change. But even more, I now want to see the young guns on the Rockets start blasting holes in the NBA.
I'm all in for the most entertaining bad team in the NBA. How about you?
Conspiracy Theory Alert - Here's what I think happened with the Rockets offer to Orlando. It got worse than it was on Draft Day. Why? One, Les Alexander went to Las Vegas for Summer League and saw his rookies play and fell a bit in love with them. Two, I think the Rockets reply to Orlando's (sensible) question "How did this deal get worse from draft night?" was "We just got three of the top 12 players in the draft. Before then we were only offering the average value of the pick. These guys are worth more" It looks as though Orlando disagreed.
Also of Note - if you haven't listened to the podcast with Jeff and Stan Van Gundy and Dan LeBatard you should. Now. Its generally hilarious. There's an amazing amount of sympathy for NBA players in general, and some funny stuff about the Howard/Stan Van Gundy situation.Also, if you were wondering whether Jeff Van Gundy was still angry about the refs treatment of Yao Ming in the Rockets/Mavericks playoff series, he is.)