On Carmelo and the Rockets

The buzz around the basketball world the last few days has been focused around one man–Carmelo Anthony. This is no surprise, since Carmelo is probably just a little jealous that this summer didn’t feature any discussion around his name because he chose to prematurely sign a contract extension during his first few seasons in the NBA. Now, he apparently doesn’t want to wait one year to hog the limelight all to himself but is creating waves by trying to get traded away from the Nuggets. The Rockets have come up over and over again because of Daryl Morey’s wealth of trade assets–ranging from expired contracts (9 of the players on our roster will be coming up for new contracts next year) to young talent (Hill, Budinger, Brooks) to two New York Knicks draft picks that could be pretty high if the Knicks don’t gel with their new-look team.

Rockets fans over the entire interwebs have been chiming into support several different trade scenarios–ranging from giving them bench pieces that we don’t really need to trading away most of our starting line-up. I am on the more conservative end of this spectrum. My opinion: Carmelo would be a nice add, but we shouldn’t wreck the team just to get him.

Last season, people did not expect the Rockets to be a team that won more games than it lost. Admittedly, we shaved it close finishing the season 42-40, but in doing so we demonstrated that you don’t need a superstar talent to be successful in the NBA–at least not in the regular season. In fact, our mid-season trade to unload McGrady at the expense of Carl Landry, thus fetching Martin in return, although a very savvy trade executed by Morey, probably ended up keeping us out of the playoffs. Our team chemistry was pretty good, Landry and Scola were monsters off the bench at the PF and the rest of the team was contributing pretty well. When we traded Landry away, K-Mart came in and wasn’t immediately explosive and didn’t start producing at his expected levels immediately. Given that the Western Conference playoff race is always this tight, this was a dealbreaker for us that prevented us from qualifying to the playoffs. Martin getting injured shortly after joining didn’t help us, either.

We’ve now got the same core from last season that are great playing with each other and we’ve added a superstar talent–Yao Ming. People tend to take a lot of credit away from Yao just because they expect him to be a lot better since he is a lot bigger than every one else. This is unfair to Yao. Shawn Bradley, for example, was 7’6″ and the second overall draft pick but ended his careers with extremely average numbers (8.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG). Unless Yao loses an arm or something, his numbers won’t drop that low because he is a solid basketball player, not just a tall one. We have to give Yao a shot with this team. One of our major weaknesses last year was at the center–we had 6’6″ Chuck Hayes starting, backed up on the bench by 3-point sharpshooter David Anderson. Scola/Hill sometimes played the center spot but they were out of their comfort zone. Teams could play our guards tight and yet we shot through the roof–or at least AB did.

With Yao, we’ve now got a legitimate post players who may require two defenders when he’s playing well. We’ve got perimeter sharpshooters galore in the form of AB, K-Mart, Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and Shane Battier. Heck, even Brad Miller can knock down a corner three. These guys will be getting a lot more open looks if Yao can get the ball to them. We now have the flexibility to play both big (Yao, Scola, PP + 2 guards) as well as small (3 guards + Scola + Hayes) lineups depending on whether we need to run and gun or slow down the clock. Trading away key pieces to this flexible offense to get Carmelo seems foolhardy to me, especially if the trade is going to happen before the season gets underway.

To summarize, I’m not against a trade for Carmelo but I don’t want to do it for the core of our team, and especially not if it must be done now rather than closer to the trade deadline. Carmelo, although matured, isn’t the most stable person and he’s coming from a culture where players are more reliant on their own talent (J.R. Smith is a trigger shooter and Billups is a former SG turned PG). The Nuggets, for example, were 18th in the NBA in assists per game, compared with the 11th that the Rockets were. The only notable teams below them on the list were OkC (23), Orlando (25) and Miami (28).

Darly Morey has shown a good track record of making decisions that both help our team out strategically as well as financially. Let’s hope he continues this trend and doesn’t fall into the trap other GMs have fallen into in the past, of thinking that you can simply drag and drop a player from another environment and expect the production level to be the same or better, immediately. Carmelo over a few months would probably make up for trading a bunch of our best players away since he is that good, but we’d probably be burning the season in exchange for someone who could take off and leave for NY as soon as the season is over.

houston rockets 2010-2011

I’m going to go ahead and take a premature look at the Houston Rockets outfit for the upcoming NBA season. Premature because Morey may still have a few aces up his sleeve. If so, these will probably have to be sign-and-trades since it appears that we have used up our salary cap while renewing the contracts of Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola.

Starters

#0 Aaron Brooks (PG)

Aaron Brooks will come back as starting point guard after a stellar year last season, where he won the Most Improved Player honor from the NBA. Brooks led the NBA in three pointers made last season and took on the role of our primary scoring option (at least for the beginning of the season) as the Trevor Ariza experiment kind of failed and Kevin Martin was finding his feet.

This season, Yao is back which means that our guards should get even more open shots as teams try to crowd the middle and double Yao. This should mean more open looks for Aaron Brooks and as long as he keeps up the performances, more points. With several scoring options on the team now, with Yao back and Kevin Martin having the summer to work his way into Adelman’s offense, Brooks will have to tone down his shooting game a bit and look for his teammates. Let’s see if he’s up for the challenge!

#12 Kevin Martin (SG)

When the rockets pulled off the blockbuster deal earlier this year, signing Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill and a couple of other guys, they were making an investment in a young shooting guard who could become our primary scoring option after Tracy McGrady moved on. Kevin Martin took some time to find his feet in Adelman’s offense and although his final season numbers left a bit to be desired (about 21 PPG), he did miss a significant portion of the end of our season, due to injury (and the fact that we were probably not going to qualify to the playoffs).

Here’s hoping that Martin has worked his way into Adelman’s offense over the summer and that he is less of a ball-hog. That stuff worked in Sacramento where apart from Tyreke Evans, he was the only dependable scorer, but the Rockets are looking at several scorers on the roster now, so Martin will need to share the ball a bit. He’s got to be our go-to guy, though!

#1 Trevor Ariza (SF)

Trevor Ariza was our main pickup last offseason after being a pretty clutch player down the stretch for the Lakers in their 2009 NBA championship. With Artest leaving for the Lakers, it was effectively a trade. Artest had been okay for us–his defense had been good but his offense left a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, Ariza has struggled with more of the same problems during his year at the Rockets. Of course, it was unfair to ask a player coming off the bench to start and be our primary scorer, but I do think Ariza’s talents were overrated a bit.

Ariza contributed 15 points a game last year, but what he was best at was his defense. He’s not as strong as Artest by any stretch of the imagination, but he plays the passing lanes really well and he can finish strong on fast breaks. His nearly 2 steals a game was good enough for #6 in the league. His defensive contribution is inarguable but he definitely needs to improve his shot selection to continue to justify his place in the starting line-up (although we don’t really have much in the bank to replace him with).

#4 Luis Scola (PF)

Luis Scola just signed a huge contract with the Rockets. Although it has not yet been confirmed, the contract is rumored to be worth $47 million over 5 years. Considering that Scola made a little over $3 million last year, that can be considered quite a huge upgrade. And he’s worth it, too.

Scola is an absolute workhorse and probably cannot be matched in the league for hustle. He’s new to the league but he’s shown that good talent can succeed in any league. With Yao out for all of last season, Scola had to step up and help the undersized Chuck Hayes guard the paint. His offense wasn’t bad, either, putting up 16 points a game along with 2 assists. His stat line was certainly impressive.

With Yao back in the starting line-up, Scola will be even more effective in offense on the weak side. Defensively, he’ll probably allow Yao to play smaller minutes and help out a guy like Jordan Hill or Chuck Hayes coming off the bench at the center position. Scola is on the wrong side of youth, though, so his 5-year contract may well see him finish off his career in the Rockets uniform. Let’s hope he can continue contributing as he did last year. Oh, and let’s also hope that he stops flopping so much.

#11 Yao Ming (C)

For a team that was missing it’s starting center (and such a huge one at that), the Rockets did pretty well to finish as the only team in the league with a winning record but no playoff berth. Of course, Adelman tweaked our offense quite a bit to have us run more and play smaller, especially with our 3-guard line-ups and with Chuck Hayes starting at center.

Our offense this year is going to be a lot different with Yao comingĀ  back, and especially a ginger-footed Yao coming back (one who cannot really run the court, if he even had that ability before–luckily we have Scola for that!). However, it will not hurt to have a shot-blocking presence in the paint once again.

At his peak, Yao was getting 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He’s going to be a lot less than that statistically speaking, but I think he’s going to have a huge effect on the intangibles. With Brooks, Martin and Ariza all able 3-point shooters, we should be able to work an inside-outside game into our offense. We just need to keep Yao healthy, which means he’s probably going to have low minutes. I sure hope Jack Sikma has been working Jordan Hill into NBA shape!

Bench

The Rockets have the luxury of having one of the deeper benches in the league, although some of that advantage is wiped out by not having an incandescent (I’m stealing a word from NBA 2K10, here) starting line-up. Let’s take a look at our bench:

Centers

Our back-up centers list consists of David Anderson and Chuck Hayes with Jordan Hill filling in sometimes. Certainly not an impressive list, but one that is capable. David Anderson is a different kind of center in that he has almost no post game but has a really good outside shot. However, towards the end of last season he was showing off a few post moves, so hopefully an offseason with Sikma will have done him wonders. The Chuckwagon is… well… the Chuckwagon. He’s not going to blow anyone away, but he’s had a few good games.

Power Forwards

Our power forwards list consists of Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries and Patrick Patterson. Of this bunch, I think Hill is probably the biggest prospect because he’s young, tall and athletic. Recent press from Sikma suggests that Hill hasn’t developed as quickly as desired. I’m hoping that they are just being tight-lipped about it! Jeffries is a decent back-up forward. He gets a lot of offensive boards and doesn’t like dunking. He’s more in the team to fill up minutes and I suppose clear cap space next season when his contract expires. Patrick Patterson is our first round draft pick but I unfortunately did not follow enough NCAA basketball to comment on him.

Small Forwards

Our backup small forwards come in the form of Chase Budinger, Shane Battier and Mike Harris (if he get’s re-signed from the D-League). Budinger could be more accurately classified as a shooting guard given how much of a scorer he is, but he’s usually not playing that position when he’s in the rotation. Budinger remains one of our shinier prospects off the bench next year. Battier used to be our defensive backbone but his performances have fallen off a bit. I personally think his best basketball is past him, but he could still be useful, given that most of our current line-up is all offense and not so much defense. Harris came from Rice (woot!) and has been dominating the D-League without managing to secure a long-term NBA contract. He’s around more for backup due to injury.

Guards

The final two players off the bench are Kyle Lowry, who recently signed a 4-year deal worth $24 million, and Jermaine Taylor. Taylor is a scrub, so not much to talk about him (apart from his great athletic ability). Lowry if a player who is coming into his own in the NBA, as our 3-guard rotations demonstrated last year. He’s great at running the fast-break and drawing fouls and he’s also worked a hell of a lot on his 3-point shot. Lowry is a pass-first point guard so he would be useful in situations where Brooks is not shooting well. Definitely a good guy to hang on to, although I foresee him being traded away towards the end of his contract.

So that’s basically it! I’m pumped for the NBA season although there are still several months to go!


the new rockets

Well, the draft deadline has officially passed and contingent on a few physicals, it seems like the dust has settled for the new Rockets team. Honestly speaking, and after thinking over it for a while, seems like we’ve come out on top. The only current piece that we traded away from our line-up was Landry. Landry was probably our best player this season but he was not the kind of dominating player that could take us to the playoffs. He did play really well in Adelman’s offense, though, and is in the middle of his break-out year. For his sake, I hope going to Sacramento doesn’t effectively end his career.

Let’s look at the trades:

Houston get: Kevin Martin (SAC), Hilton Armstrong (SAC), Jared Jeffries (NYK) and Jordan Hill (NYK)
Sacramento get: Carl Landry (HOU), Joey Dorsey (HOU), Larry Hughes (NYK)
New York get: Tracy McGrady (HOU), Sergio Rodriguez (SAC)

Kevin Martin was definitely a big pickup and if he starts, as expected, it’ll add some offense to our starting line-up that has been struggling as Ariza has lost his touch. The worrying factor, though, is the pick up of the contracts, which pretty much douses our free agency hopes. Not that we were planning to go for a big name, anyway, but this more or less gets rid of that potential drama. Both Jeffries and Hill have non-expiring contracts, a combined $10m next year. Martin adds another $9m-ish to the spectrum, an estimate based on the fact that he earns $8.7m this year. Armstrong earned $2m this year… and I’m not sure what his contract looks like, either. But all-in-all, it appears that we picked up all the non-expiring contracts. This adds up to about $21m, approximately equivalent to the amount T-Mac earns this year ($23m). So we did dump T-Mac, but we ended up picking approximately the same in contracts. We will also have to make a decision on Scola and Lowry… so with all these contracts, it doesn’t look like we’ll have a lot of space to pull a free agent in.

From an actual basketball point of view, this may be a good thing. The starting line-up will probably be Brooks and Martin as the guards, Ariza and Scola as the forwards and Hayes at center. David Anderson will have to share his minutes with Hilton and Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries will probably end up sharing Landry’s minutes. When Lowry comes back are rotation will end up being pretty long, especially with Budinger performing well of the bench this season. I suspect this isn’t as much of a problem, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be playing any of these guys except for Martin for a lot of minutes, unless they show themselves to be spectacular.

All in all, I’d say I’m pretty pleased about how things worked out. Definitely better than the 2-team trade with Sacramento which was trading Dorsey, Landry and T-Mac for Martin, Armstrong, Sergio Rodriguez and Kenny Thomas. That seemed to bring in a lot of pieces that we did not need.

Let’s see how quickly these guys can get into Adelman’s offense!