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Originally published Aug. 17, 2012.
Dwight Howard is now a Laker.
Take a breath Rockets fans, all is not lost. Your GM, Daryl Morey, is not an idiot. I know it’s alarming that he is not following the en vogue Oklahoma City model, but he’s doing a decent job establishing a model of his own. If you don’t want to suffer through twenty-win seasons for the next half decade, you’ll quit whining.
Not to further agitate what’s left of the NBA’s fan base in Seattle, but most franchises don’t have the opportunity to coordinate a tanking-season with a relocation-season. The transition might not have been so smooth for the Zombie Sonics had Oklahoma City fans been the ones that suffered through an extra season of non-competitive basketball.
With the news of Yao Ming’s retirement in 2010, the Rockets were forced into a rebuilding stage. Instead of completely dismembering the team, however, Daryl Morey led the franchise down a path that fielded a competitive, sometimes even fun, team on the court at all times. Though the Rockets narrowly missed the playoffs each of the last two years, they managed to finish with a winning record both times.
It’s been fairly clear since The Veto that Morey has been acquiring prospects piled upon assets shoved along side expiring contracts in the hopes of parlaying some combination into a Dollar-Bill caliber player.
As it stands, the pu pu platter of a roster includes — brace yourself — Jeremy Lin, Kevin Martin, Omer Asik, Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, Jeremy Lamb, Marcus Morris, Royce White, Gary Forbes, Carlos Delfino, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, JaJuan Johnson, Jon Brockman, Chandler Parsons plus non-guaranteed contracts (what, Shaun Livingston isn’t going to make the team?). I counted 15, you?
This off-season, the team moved starting point guard Kyle Lowry for a first-round pick from Toronto (top-3 protected this year). The move came after Lowry made public statements indicating he wouldn’t want to continue to play for Rockets coach Kevin McHale.
Lowry seemed to be headed down a bad path with the team, better to get value while you still can…Jesus Christ, did Morey get more for Kyle Lowry than the Magic did for Dwight Howard?
- Three first round picks (all lottery protected), two second round picks (from the Nuggets and Lakers, probably in the 50s), 3 years and $21 million of Al Harrington, who is 32 years young, fwi, plus Aaron Afflalo (hold the defense) at $7.7 million for the next 4 years
- The Raptors’ first round pick (Protected if it lands at or higher than 3 this year, 2 the next and so on until it becomes unprotected in 2015 if necessary).
I guess you could talk me into Door #1…with a gun. Rob Hennigan, ladies and gentleman. I digress.
Instead of re-signing Goran Dragic to fill Lowry’s shoes (after Dragic did all he could to demonstrate his capabilities as a starter, averaging almost 19 points and 7.7 assists per game in April while Lowry was out), the Rockets allowed him to sign in Phoenix, and instead made offers to Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.
We’ll cover Lin first. Here’s the thing about his signing: it was actually fantastic. Though the Rockets have to pay a balloon payment to Lin in the third year (if they still have him) of just under $15 million, his cap hit will be spread out evenly over all three years (fancy new CBA, huh?)
While the Knicks were (apparently) freaking out at the prospect of paying Lin and his corresponding luxury tax, the Rockets were quietly exuberant over somehow finding another opportunity to tap into a market that dwarfs ever NBA market in the league 10-fold.
I’ll put this another way. There are 300 million people in China….who play basketball. Chinese viewership is skyrocketing, and the next most prominent player of Chinese descent in the league is Yi Jianlian. Think he’ll sell some jerseys?
It’s obviously extremely difficult to project just how well Lin will play next year based on the sample size and lack of comparable cases. However, it seems apparent that at worst he is a top-25 point guard in the league. If he plays at, or even close to, the level he did during his two-month rise to fame last year, you’ll hear his name in the top-10.
In a best-case scenario, Lin proves that his play last year was no fluke, and he continues to develop into an elite point guard. In a worst-case scenario, Lin regresses and settles in as a middling starter, or potentially sixth man. Either way, with no Superman to rescue the team from another year developing prospects while competing for an eight-seed, Lin will make the Rockets millions upon millions as the face of their franchise at home and abroad.
The reality is two years from now the Rockets will either have a $15 million expiring contract on their hands, or they’ll be looking to re-sign two-time All-Star Jeremy Lin.
As for Asik, his contract is completely defensible as well. His average cap hit is a staggering $8.3 million per year, but it’s important to keep things in context. Emeka Okafor is making $13 million, Andris Biedrins is making $9 million. Zaza Pachulia is making $5 million. Charlie Villanueva is apparently still stealing money from the Pistons, $8.1 million this year (side note: you cheap bastards, amnesty him already); Anderson Varejao’s getting upwards of $8 million. So is Tyrus Thomas. So, given that we all agree Asik’s defense is better than anyone listed above, is $8.3 million really too much?
Taking it one step further, looking up and down the Rockets’ salary obligations over the next few years, the flexibility that Morey has left them with is astounding. Say what you will about the price they paid for their newly acquired free agents; the Rockets could potentially enter next year’s free agency with close to $30 million in cap space (with Lin, Asik, Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas as the only guaranteed contracts).
The summer of 2013 should be a fun one for Rockets fans. The team could take a run at a restricted free agent like Tyreke Evans, or swing for the fences and offer a max deal to James Harden in the hopes that Oklahoma City wouldn’t match. Andre Iguodala and Monta Ellis both have early termination options in their deals; one or both could become an option.
Josh Smith is slotted to become an unrestricted free agent, he could certainly slide in next to Asik nicely. Then, of course, there’s still the chance that Dwight’s never-ending desire for greener pastures could lead him to opt-out himself, (In that scenario Asik could be moved for another asset, especially with the assortment of additional players the Rockets could toss in) so there’s even that too.
Keep doing you Dork Elvis. You’re doing it just fine.
By Michael Levkowitz (Twitter)
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