I haven’t cared much for the draft, the older I’ve gotten. I don’t know how much of that is cynicism and how much is the fact that the Rockets haven’t had a high lottery pick in what seems like ages. When I was a kid, I thought every player we picked was going to turn into a superstar. Now, I expect everyone to end up in China [even though Daryl Morey has had a great track record with late-draft success.] The first player the Rockets ever drafted during my life as a fan was Zan Tabak. He was terrible and quickly became the butt of jokes among my friends. To be called Zan Tabak on the basketball court was a common insult. In ’96, the Rockets took Othella Harrington, Allen Iverson’s running mate at Georgetown. He quickly became good and developed a reliable jump hook; Bill Worrell informed everyone every game that Carroll Dawson had been working with Othella. I think I thought he was going to become an All-Star which was pretty dumb. But I was 11 at the time, so I don’t feel too bad about it. After we got Steve Francis, my obsession became finding the perfect runningmate for the future of our franchise. I didn’t think Cuttino Mobley was the right guy for the job; my dismissal of Mobley due to his second round origins was elitist snobbery for which I am ashamed. The trade for the late Eddie Griffin was one of the most exciting days of my young life, particularly because we already had Yao Ming. I thought that would be the next great team in the NBA and so did Les Alexander because he proclaimed the young Rockets were “one of the great teams ever assembled” shortly after. That was embarrassing. And of course, I’ve written at length about the Rudy Gay-Shane Battier trade that offended my sensibilities. I was dead wrong on that one.
This is all to say I haven’t cared much in recent years and don’t even study up on the prospects. That stems from the fact that I absolutely hate college basketball. Here we are on the eve of another draft. Yawn.
It’s odd to contemplate the Spurs as anything but a contender because that’s what they’ve been during my entire lifetime as an NBA fan, but that will most likely no longer be the case entering next season. It felt as though every single year of Tim Duncan’s career was spent pondering the question, “is this the year the Spurs will finally fall off?” And now it seems on the verge of happening. Maybe Timmy was the glue that held the Spurs organization together and not Pop? It’s difficult to conceive of a Spurs team being enveloped by the drama which has unfolded in the past week surrounding Kawhi Leonard, but it’s happened. This is the sort of thing that tears apart other teams, not the Spurs. (An aside: how many of you all are old enough to remember when Scottie Pippen went on television and declared that Charles Barkley owed him an apology for “coming to play with his sorry fat butt.” In hindsight, I can’t believe that actually happened.)
So here we are. They have to trade him or he’ll just walk the following summer. This was decades in the works, dating back to Pop first stabbing Bob Hill in the back and taking over a 62 win team which had only plummeted in the standings because of David Robinson’s back injury. What amazing, amazing fortune to land Duncan in the draft to bridge the end of Robinson’s career. Meanwhile, we got Steve Francis and were treated to the darkest period in Rockets history. (Some of you will argue me on that. Leave it in the comments.) To me–and anyone else actually following this situation–it seems like Boston is the obvious fit, particularly if they are able to maintain a core containing Irving, Tatum, and Horford in the aftermath of the deal. With Lebron’s expected departure, you can pencil Boston into the Finals for next season.
How does any of this affect the Rockets? For one, they won’t have to worry about San Antonio for the remaining peak years of James Harden’s prime. And 2) Lebron’s fate could be tied to how this plays out. I still think James/George/Leonard is a trio better suited to knock off Golden State than what the Rockets’ star trio would look like, though many of you disagree. I stated on Twitter the other day that Houston’s depth would be ravaged in a James trade, to which many of you responded pointing out that I was overlooking the Lakers’ lack of depth. My point was that Houston’s main advantage, if controlling for the star trios in such a scenario, would have been their depth, which would be gutted. We are imagining here that Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker would both be needed in a trade. Ultimately, it’s all a moot point anyways because it doesn’t matter where Kawhi is wanting to go – the Spurs don’t have to send him there. All that matters is where else Kawhi is okay with going, similar to the ‘Melo situation last summer.
I posed the question in the title a week or so ago on Twitter. I didn’t make it a poll, though I should have. Now, its too late to go back. Instead, I have to write a post here about it.
Several of you expressed your indignation over this perceived insult of a question. “How is this even a question bro?” One of my most favorite things about running a blog is when this happens because, unbeknownst to these respondents, there are usually just as many people supporting the opposing viewpoint. And so it actually is a question. And that’s what happened here. Almost as many of you said you’d rather have Paul George than Lebron James. I don’t fall into that category, but I see where the George route has its advantages.
I wrote about one such advantage last week. The greatest player in the world comes with baggage. Daryl Morey would risk having to endure the headache that managing Lebron James inevitably creates. But he wouldn’t face any of those concerns with George. George, on the other hand, gives Houston a longer window. He’s the same age as Harden, and bringing him into the fold keeps Houston in 65 win territory long after Chris Paul slows down. (I’ve written at lengths as to how the baseline for a James Harden led team is 50 wins.)
But a reader raised a fascinating point which I hadn’t before considered or at least, one the implications of which I’ve tried to suppress. One of you said to me on Twitter that if Paul George is the choice, we still have to rely on James Harden. If it’s Lebron, he’s done it before, and we know he can bring it home for us. I feel uncomfortable about the fact that I agree with that statement. I’m going to tread carefully because I know how sensitive some of you get regarding criticism of Harden. But while he didn’t flame out the way he did against San Antonio last season, it’s not inaccurate to state that Harden’s best games in the postseason this year came early on in each series. It was Chris Paul who closed out the Jazz and Chris Paul who pushed Golden State to the brink in Game 5.
I think of Paul George as sort of a very souped up Eric Gordon. His norms are Gordon’s peak offensively and defensively. And we know what the Rockets look like when Eric Gordon plays well. In my mind, Lebron is obviously the prize. But you are pushing 70 wins with George and a resigned Chris Paul. Good choices to have.