The Rockets' midseason acquisitions redefined their season. Signing Josh Smith to an agreeable contract after he was cut by the Pistons and trading for Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni gave the Rockets one of the league's best benches, which they rode to the Western Conference Finals.
Absent from the conversation are several individuals who have worn the ketchup, white, gray and mustard for the Rockets this year. Let's pay a brief tribute to the ones who were left behind:
The first Rocket jettisoned, Cisco was waived on Dec. 19 to clear room for the Corey Brewer trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Garcia had been a valuable defender and shooter player for the Rockets since 2012, but he fell off a cliff this year. He shot 22 percent from behind the arc for 14 games and was genuinely awful in nearly every facet of the game. We'll miss you, oh Dominican Enforcer, but it was time for you to go.
That very same day, in that very same deal, we said goodbye to Troy. He still has an insanely fast release and is good for 9 points in 30 seconds some games, but he was beyond lost on the court if the activity didn't involve catching and shooting. He somehow managed to be a -8.3 in box score plus/minus in just 108 minutes, according to basketball-reference.
Since moving on to
greener other pastures, Daniels struggled for 19 games in Minnesota before he and Mo Williams were shipped to Charlotte for Gary Neal. Troy blossomed for the Hornets in his brief stint there, with a .620 true shooting percentage and 47.5 percent from three-point range in 11 games there. He has another year on his contract there for a team that will strive -- again -- to make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference.
The Rockets, meanwhile, will always have this shot:
Oh, Tarik Black. The victim of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, the one that lets teams cut and sign young, inexperienced players willy nilly while forcing GMs to reckon with the decision of signing Joey Dorsey to a two-year, $2 million contract.
When Daryl Morey wanted to sign J-Smoove, the Rockets had the cash to do it, but not the roster space. Cutting Dorsey halfway through the first year of that contract meant swallowing $1.5 million; not something Les Alexander would do lightly. Tarik Black, however, had an unguaranteed contract and was therefore significantly cheaper. Smith turned into another of Morey's master strokes, while Dorsey remained, the unplayable tire fire the Rockets couldn't rid themselves of.
Black started a number of games at center for the Rockets after Dwight Howard went down with leg injuries to start the year, and he played well, too. He averaged 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, including an astonishing 5.3 offensive board per 36 minutes. Those are Tristan Thompson numbers.
He continued his solid play once the Lakers claimed him off waivers, but I'm sure it was little consolation to him, playing for laughing stock of the league, watching his maiden NBA voyage sail to a better tomorrow. I expect we'll see Coffee Black around the league for more than a few years.
The career leader in TDS comments demanding he play to actual minutes ratio, can shoot. And he can jump, despite having to stand on the tippiest of toes to reach 6-foot-nothing. He could handle the ball a little bit, and Patrick Beverley's early-season injuries put Kevin McHale in a tough spot: play a young dude, which he is loath to do, or take Jason Terry out of his bench shooter role.
McHale elected to start Lil' Sip, and things started to get fun. The Rockets won seven of the nines games he started. He was dumping in almost three deep shots a game, kept turnovers low, and kept the team afloat. When Beverley came back, his playing time vanished, but not before turning in a 24-point, 6-rebound, 4-assist, 4-steal game in a win over the Kings.
Canaan showed promise, but not as much as K.J. McDaniels, the Sixers rookie he was traded for who hardly sniffed the floor in three months in Houston. But the Rockets needed neither. Brewer and Prigioni made them redundant and expendable.
It's rare that a GM so nakedly declares his intentions to trade a player before he's even acquired him, but that's what Daryl Morey did in the Curious Case of Alexey Shved. He came over on the same day as Corey Brewer, but the presence of Beverley, Terry, Canaan and Nick Johnson waiting by the Rio Grande for his shot made Shved irrelevant. When he did play, it was very occasionally OK, but largely terrible. I was way off about him:
This is his third year in the NBA, and he's averaging a career high in assist percentage (31 percent of his team's buckets are via his assist when he's on the floor this year, per basketball-reference), a career low turnover rate (10.4 percent) and a career high in PER (19.4). He's a good player.
WHOOPS. He was shipped to the Knicks for Prigioni, which completed one of Daryl Morey's weirdest, yet most effective trade deadline. Give up Canaan and Shved for Prigs and McDaniels? This only got more lopsided as Prigioni started to find his footing in Houston.
Shved actually played passably once he got under the lights of Madison Square Garden. He averaged 14.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 26.4 minutes per game, and somehow shot 37.6 percent from long range. He started nine of the 16 games in which he played, which is just one of the myriad reasons why the Knicks had the worst record in the NBA this year.
Despite his critics, Daryl Morey remains one of the top GMs in the game today. These five dudes all had their moment contributing to the Southwest Division crown and third-best record in the NBA, but ultimately the Rockets were better off with the dudes who replaced them. This is a tough business. Hopefully some of these guys (Daniels maybe?) on a roster long enough for Morey to snatch them up for pennies on the dollar. Again.