Dear, Corey Brewer and K.J. McDaniels.
Even though you don't know what a Botana platter is, and you've never eaten at El Pato, and you have no idea that there is a giant Killer Bee statue down the street from where the Houston Rockets D-League affiliate plays, please step forward and accept your honorary degree from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. You're graduates.
Grab your Vipers cap and gown. Take some sweet graduation pictures at the McAllen Wal-Mart photo studio. You're alumni.
In the coming playoff run Brewer and McDaniels are set to be the Rockets designated spark plugs. Their combination of instant offense and perimeter defense help give the Rockets their deepest bench in recent memory.
To thank for it, the Rockets arguably have Daryl Morey's innovative use of the D-League to showcase replacement level NBA talent and transform Isaiah Canaan and Troy Daniels into trade assets used to acquire Brewer and McDaniels.
D-League Assets Morey Has Traded
- Assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers six times in less than two years.
- Averaged 21.8 ppg, 8.2 apg, 4.0 rpg and 2.3 3fgm in 18 games for Vipers in 2013-2014
- Averaged 6.16 ppg for Rockets in 2014-2015, in 25 games.
- Averaged 4.59 ppg for Rockets in 2013-2014, in 22 games.
- Signed a three-year league minimum contract with the Rockets in 2013.
- Traded along with a second round pick for K.J. McDaniels.
- Assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers three times in less than two years.
- Signed to four contracts by two teams to start career.
- Averaged 21.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 5.0 3fgm in 48 games for Vipers in 2013-2014.
- Averaged 2.71 ppg for Rockets in 2014-2015, in 17 games.
- Averaged 8.4 ppg for Rockets in 2013-2014, in 8 games.
- Known performer of playoff heroics.
- Signed a two-year $2 million contract with the Rockets in 2015.
- Traded along with a second round pick and cash for Corey Brewer.
Canaan, Daniels and McDaniels are all young players who will each have a window of opportunity to prove their worth in the NBA. At this point McDaniels appears ready to be an NBA contributor each night. Canaan and Daniels appear to be replacement level NBA contributors on their way to being certified journeymen.
Both Canaan and Daniels have a tangible use. This use and their worth was proven not in the NBA, but with the perpetual shooting displays they put on as members of the Vipers. Each player posted over 20 ppg in the unique uptempo office geared toward threes and gaudy statistics.
With the Vipers, Daryl Morey has created a unique set of mutually beneficial circumstances for young players and the Rockets. By signing players like Daniels and Canaan to low dollar multi-year contracts he creates immediate value. By assigning them to the Vipers the players get the opportunity to prove they're NBA ready talent. At the same time Morey gets to prove they're NBA ready talent on low budget contracts, available upon request.
It's very clearly all by design. Despite Daniel's heroics, both he and Canaan served the larger purpose of trade bait and greasing the wheels on future trades by posting eye-popping D-League numbers.
D-League Assets Morey Has Developed
Greg Smith and Robert Covington. Both have proven to be basic NBA components after Morey instituted stints with the Vipers. The Rockets ultimately waived both players due to roster constraints. But there's no doubt Morey was trying to pull the trigger on deals for both players before having to make those moves.
And who's to blame Morey. If you're an NBA team in contention you'd probably give a second round pick for Covington at this moment.
- Assigned to Vipers three times between 2012 and 2013.
- Averaged 16.58 ppg, 7.81 rpg, 1.15 bpg and .668 FG% in 26 games for Vipers in 2011-2012.
- Averaged 6.01 ppg, 4.59 rpg and .620 FG% in 70 games for Rockets in 2012-2013.
- Rockets waive Greg Smith in 2014 ahead of playoff run.
- Signed to a three-year league minimum contract with the Rockets in 2012.
Smith is an unfortunate story for the Rockets. The big man played 70 games for the Rockets in 2012-2013 after proving himself in the D-League. A knee injury and surgery sidelined him for nearly all of last year and ultimately led to his release ahead of the playoffs. The Rockets replaced him with NBA Champion and Houston-area product Dexter Pittman, who is now an answer at pub-night trivia in Rosenberg.
His D-League performance and continual injuries to Rockets big men put Greg Smith front and center on a developing Rockets team and proved his worth to future teams. Smith's trade value was proven by the Dallas Mavericks who swapped a little known Georgian forward for Smith in the 2014 off-season. Acquiring the reasonably priced former Rocket from the Bulls who had given him a two-year contract.
- Assigned to Vipers six times in less than a year.
- Averaged 23.21 ppg, 9.17 rpg, 2.4 spg and 1.36 bpg in 42 games for Vipers in 2013-2014.
- Averaged 2.29 ppg in 7 games for the Rockets in 2013-2014.
- Averaged 13.24 ppg, 4.74 rpg and 1.52 spg in 46 games for 76ers in 2014-2015.
- Went undrafted in 2013 NBA Draft.
- Signed a two-year league minimum contract with the Rockets in 2013.
- Won NBA D-League Rookie of the Year 2014.
- Waived by Rockets in 2014.
- Signed to four-year $4.2 million contract by Philadelphia 76ers in 2014.
The Big Trade
This practice and process isn't anything new. It's just made more feasible thanks to D-League affiliation with NBA franchises and Morey has pounced on the opportunity. This model has been successful at the NBA level as well:
Actual Headline: "John Paxson selects LaMarcus Aldridge at No. 2, then swaps for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa"
Yea. One-time clutch shot maker turned general manager John Paxson traded NBA All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 29.8 points per game against the Rockets in the heartbreaking first round playoff series. Aldridge's series-long performance including a full undressing of the Houston defense by dropping 43+ in the first two games, both Portland wins. Theoretically the whole thing never would have happened without a 2006 draft night trade including NBA washout, one time trade asset and future Euro-Basket champion CSKA Moscow forward Viktor Khryapa.
The story goes like this... The 2005-2006 Portland Trail Blazers were bad. 21 wins bad (for current context the Utah Jazz currently have 21 wins). This awful Trail Blazers team invested in the future by giving 21.6 minutes per game and 53 starts to Khryapa, a second year Russian forward who played in only 32 games the previous season.
Khryapa's 5.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg didn't catch the eyes of any fantasy basketball players but it was enough to show promise and grease the wheels on the 2006 draft day trade of LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 2 pick) and Tyrus Thomas (No. 4 pick). Yea, a league-altering trade putting Portland on the path to be a Western Conference power included Russian forward Viktor Khryapa at the request of Bulls GM John Paxson.
Can the future of the NBA occasionally rest on the trade value of a second year Russian forward who will flame out of the NBA in two years? Or Isaiah Canaan? Or Troy Daniels? Or Greg Smith? Or Robert Covington?
Daryl Morey is set to find out with the help of the Vipers. What up, Nick Johnson and Clint Capela.
h/t Valley product @thevandaley for the intro references.