K.J. McDaniels, fresh off signing a three-year, $10 million contract this offseason, was assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League today, the team announced. It's a disappointing move for Rockets fans hoping to see his athleticism help the big league squad.
McDaniels hasn't seen the floor for any major time so far, despite Houston's early injury problems, playing a total of six minutes in three games. That brings his total playing time in Houston to 39 minutes after coming over Feb. 19 last season. In the four month he played for the Philadelphia 76ers his rookie year, he played more than 1,300. That he emerged in that time as one of the league's best athletes and shot-blockers on the wing didn't matter to Kevin McHale, who glued him to the bench almost immediately.
K.J. has a world of talent, and the silver lining is now he'll get regular playing time with a coach in RGV, Matt Brase, who has been in Rockets player development for years. He'll learn how to play in the Rockets' system. Clint Capela spent almost all of last year in the D-League and look at him now.
But Capela is on a cheap rookie deal, and he was sent down to the D-League when no one thought he could make an NBA impact. McDaniels has over 1,000 minutes of evidence that he's an NBA player already, and he's getting paid more than $3 million a year.
It's not as if this is clearing the way for him to play next year either: Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza, the guys theoretically blocking him from playing, are both under contract for three years, just like McDaniels. Of course, both of those guys have bigger contracts that could be used to balance out a trade for a power forward, but the whole situation just perplexes.
No one would be surprised if, like Capela last year, McDaniels dominates the junior circuit and leads the league in blocks, proving he's ready for the big time. But considering Brewer has yet to find any semblance of a shot from the outside (or at the rim, frankly), demoting McDaniels rather than giving him even a shot at playing real minutes is a big letdown.
McHale said before the season began that he wanted a rotation of 9, 10 guys max, which foretold of doom and gloom on McDaniels' part. Marcus Thornton's emergence (more on that later) certainly sealed his fate. And if K.J. had been given a shot to perform in the regular season and floundered, this would be a lot easier to stomach. But, instead, McHale dug his heels in, refused to play him, and now McDaniels is headed to Hidalgo.