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What are the Rockets thinking?

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Free Agency, Summer League, Future Plans, Hank Scorpio

Try to imagine a scenario over the years where the majority of pundits in the NBA Commentariat would think the Rockets got it right. It’s tough, isn’t it?

They overwhelmingly did not when the Rockets traded for Chris Paul last summer. Sure, a few brave souls said “Yeah, that’s going to work great.” but their voices were drowned out in chorus of negativity. We were told, to our shock and dismay, that “there’s only one ball”.

This summer has been a cakewalk for doubters. Instead of adding a HoF player, the Rockets lost a starter in Trevor Ariza, and an important reserve in Luc Mbah a Moute. Clint Capela remains unsigned. (I don’t see that as a huge issue, as I’d expect the Rockets to capitulate at some point if the difference is between $85 and $100 million over four years, as I have gleaned from “internet sources”. The Rockets would like another bidder to confirm this pricing, and there are no bidders. So the possibility of it all going very wrong remains, but so does the possibility of the Rockets simply meeting Capela’s demand, or meeting in the middle at say $92 million/4 yrs.)

A bit of pointless speculation: the Magical NBA Summer of Cash in 2019 is going to be a disaster for most teams, only with teams rushing to underpay, rather than overpay like in 2016. The higher payers will get what they want, mostly everyone else will get nothing much.

Some naysayers are so down on the Rockets that you’d think losing Ariza was like Cleveland losing Lebron. Their tone suggests the Rockets might not make the playoffs or something. That Harden and Paul aren’t locked up. This is a 65 win team that I’d argue was a Chris Paul injury away from the Finals. Odds are they’re still going to be good.

How many wins do you think Ariza was worth over replacement? Five? If so, with no other help, it’s a 60 win team.

Also, LMAM, as much as I like him, was worth less than nothing in the playoffs. It’s sad, and I don’t blame him, but honestly, there’s no replacing to do, as he wasn’t really there. It’d be tough for James Ennis to be somehow worse than Moute in the playoffs.

So while this hand-wringing is understandable to me, at some point you’d think (Executive of The Year) Morey has earned the benefit of the doubt. Yet the story seems one of Rockets failings, somehow combined with Daryl Morey’s usual portrayal as some sort of mysterious, possibly sinister figure, and master of the dark arts. A flailing Bond Villain, perhaps, with my favorite comparison being Hank Scorpio. Hank’s got a cool plan, and an impressive base, but it’s gonna blow up for sure, because a guy in a tuxedo punched a bunch of other guys. Only he didn’t fail, in The Simpsons, anyway.

Like most Bond Villains, Morey strikes me as extremely straightforward. He’ll tell you his plan, at length. He wants to tell you his plan, because it is brilliant. He’s done the analysis and arrived at a conclusion, and he expects you’ll be able to do the same, if only you would, instead of trying to punch him. So when Morey says the point is to have the team they want by April 15, he doesn’t mean 4/15/18. He means ready for a playoff run in the coming season.

What could he be thinking?

1 - By mid-season onwards, the Ryan Anderson deal can be treated essentially as expiring. There’s only one season of playing him/paying him/hand-wringing/character assassination remaining at that point. Other teams will get to see him play in the regular season, and not be Basketball Ebola, as his problems are mostly against one specific team.

Konsider Kanter’s kurious kase. Kan’t Play Kanter was OKC’s konsensus konclusion (ok I’ll stop) in their playoff series with the Rockets. The Rockets concluded much the same with Anderson against Golden State. Yet, look at Kanter’s season for the Knicks. It was good, not ok, good (24PER, 7.6 WS, 63% TS and still only 25). If a team is realistic and understands that a playoff series against GS or Houston only ends one way, then Ryan Anderson could have a lot to contribute outside of that.

The Rockets could take extra years of money on a deal from another team in an Anderson deal and send them one year back. This could make whatever else the Rockets are offering look more attractive.

2- The Rockets, after totally cleaning out the cupboards for the Chris Paul deal, have another batch of intriguing young guys. Melton’s playing at the top of VSL guards didn’t go unnoticed. Zhou Qi and Hartenstein showed well, and the Rockets may be acquiring a number of cheap, useful, players they can rehabilitate, and burnish their value. (Someday I’m going to sit down and prove that the Rockets have introduced more players getting real and productive minutes over the last 5-10 years than any other team.)

3- The Rockets currently have picks again. Not likely to be high picks, granted, but picks seem to be more valuable than ever. The potential to control a rotation player on a (cheap) rookie deal is especially attractive in the current environment, and a collection of picks will help facilitate deals in the presumed crazy summer of 2019. The depth of talent is such that a late first offers some teams the speculative opportunity of a 2nd round pick, with the cost/contract certainty of a first. If a team is good at talent spotting, this is quite valuable.

What this means to me is that Rockets, far from giving up, are trying to get better in the spots they can get better, and they will have “assets” to do that. We know that their “risk profile” is high right now, and I believe Morey would choose, and with Tillman Fertitta, indeed has chosen, to gamble on improving a spot, rather than, at best, remaining static and hoping against age related declines. Hoping against those declines in a max contract player is worry enough without spreading the pain.

I predict that before the upcoming season is over the Rockets will have upgraded both their PF and SF spots, not only over what they have now, but over what they had last season.

Poll

Will the Rockets improve their roster over last year’s?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Yes. Morey’s plan is genius, I tell you, genius!
    (626 votes)
  • 17%
    No, you ask the impossible. (Explosions off stage.)
    (184 votes)
  • 11%
    They would have, if not for those meddling kids!
    (117 votes)
  • 11%
    Mavs will improve THEIR roster! Mavs in three! Muhahaha!
    (126 votes)
1053 votes total Vote Now