Terrence Jones was almost the future.
He had emerged, energetic, athletic, fiery and talented, the starting power forward on the No. 4 seed, 2013-2014 Houston Rockets, getting ready to play his first meaningful playoff minutes. He was the lone remnant of one of the most fascinating draft classes in any team's recent history: Jeremy Lamb, a key piece of the package to acquire James Harden; Royce White, a tragic, cautionary tale if ever there was one on banking on talent over personal readiness for a pro basketball career; and Jones.
He'd played most of his rookie year in the D-League as Harden emerged as a superstar and the Rockets squeaked into the playoffs as an 8-seed before falling to the Thunder. The next year, he started 71 games and averaged 12 points, 7 rebounds playing next to Dwight Howard. The pair had some spacing troubles, but Jones had a clear future as a starting power forward if he worked to extend his range.
Then LaMarcus Aldridge happened, and an unblemished rosy outlook took a big lump. Jones was so overmatched watching Aldridge drop 40-plus on him in back-to-back games that Kevin McHale had to reuse the Howard-Omer Asik double-big lineup that had been such a disaster in the regular season.
Then, last year happened. A freak nerve injury followed by a car accident and a collapsed lung left him on the sideline most of the year while Donatas Motiejunas and Josh Smith teamed up to play some of the best power forward the Rockets had in years. By the time Donuts threw out his back before the playoffs, McHale had to tinker with the bench magic by starting Josh Smith in the playoffs because Jones had been so bad.
Hope for redemption in the final year of his rookie contract never came. Jones got hurt in training camp — like half of the Rockets roster — and didn't get to warm up for the season. He played the first two games of the year, then suffered a lacerated eyelid in a bizarre injury. By the time he came back from that injury, the Rockets were on a four-game winning streak and were 4-3. Things, uh, did not go well when he returned.
I was shocked when reading over Jones' game log on basketball-reference to be reminded that Jones played in all but one game for the Rockets between Nov. 11 and Feb. 2, and had some great games, like a 17 and 9 in a December win over the Mavericks and a 20-4-3 with 3 steals and 3-5 shooting from deep in a win over the Grizzlies on Jan. 12.
But there were too many games where he spent more than 20 minutes on the floor and had nary an impact. By the time he got in a car crash in February and missed four games, the Rockets had traded for Josh Smith and Jones' minutes were already precarious. Starting in March, he would see the court again just once, in the Rockets' penultimate regular season game in garbage time against the Timberwolves.
He was officially active for many of the games he missed, despite originally going out with an upper respiratory illness. In the playoffs, when the Rockets could have used anyone for a spark, J.B. Bickerstaff never looked Jones' way. In Game 5, Jones was one of the Rockets' inactives, and it was confirmed that his Rockets' career would likely end in ignominy.
Jones is now a restricted free agent, and presents one of the more curious cases in the league. His injury history will scare people away, but a lot of it has been of the "freak accident" variety. But he has a not-small record of production: his career averages are 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He's always been a good offensive rebounder (defensive rebounding, much less so) and in 2013-2014 — his one fully healthy season — he had 7 win shares as a starter on a 54-win team. That's not nothing.
But that was also two years ago. Jones is just 24, but any notion of him sniffing the $10 million or more a year many thought he may fetch at some point before the season is gone now. The Rockets will be looking to clean house, but Jones doesn't have a large cap hold and there's no obvious reason to cut ties with him until he signs an offer sheet.
But, I'd be shocked if we see T-Jones in a Rockets uniform next year. I can't imagine he feels great about his Rockets' tenure, since his benching this year on a subpar team cost him millions. Any GM would rather have Donatas Motiejunas over him, and the Rockets' frontcourt should look radically different in 2016-2017.
What a strange tenure Jones had with Houston. Where does he fit in Rockets history? He never did anything wrong, per se, but he was like the sick kid at school, missing chunks of time for the weirdest of reasons, and falling behind in his classwork as anyone would.
He could play with fire, is a capable ballhandler and sometimes made plays that could bring fans out of their seats. Would you rather have his Rockets' tenure than, say, Carl Landry's? Fans think of Landry a little more fondly, but I hope Jones is welcomed back to the Toyota Center as an opponent. The guy couldn't catch a break, and it'll be better for everyone to just clear the 2015-2016 from history entirely.