What a championship would really mean

According to VegasInsider.com, Houston’s current odds to win the NBA championship are 100:1, same as Utah, Portland, and Atlanta. Their chances of winning the West, and simply making an appearance in the Finals, are 40:1. Now, obviously those odds aren’t the best, and with Kyle Lowry—the team’s most important player—out indefinitely with a freak illness, they’re somewhat appropriately marked. For all we know the fumes this courageous bunch is currently running on could evaporate tomorrow, and the Rockets could miss the playoffs altogether.

(According to John Hollinger’s most recent Power Rankings, the Rockets have the ninth highest probability of making the postseason, placing them on the outside looking in.) But doesn’t it feel like if they can just get there anything could happen? With multiple shock waves from the infamous “Veto” and lingering lockout still reverberating throughout the league, some absolutely insane, totally unpredictable outcomes could be brewing in the months ahead. Veterans are wearing down, key players who have moved are shifting tides, and some franchises appear to have already set their sights on next season.

If you make the playoffs this season, especially in the Western Conference, the NBA’s current circumstances will give you a great chance to not only make a little noise, but force your neighbors to call the cops.

Hollinger’s current Playoff Odds give them a 0.2% chance at winning the title, but what would it mean if the Houston Rockets actually did it? What would it say about the way most organizations currently prioritize the allocation of their revenue, and would it have any impact whatsoever on the widely accepted fact that building a champion and acquiring the “best” players are one in the same thing?

Daryl Morey has gone on record as saying his team-building strategy revolves around acquiring a superstar, whether that be through the draft, making a run at a highly valued free agent with carefully carved cap space, or conducting a classic “multiple assets for transcendental impact player” blockbuster trade (the best example being the Celtics and Kevin Garnett). Year after year those first two options look a lot like that scene from “Deep Impact” where everybody from the East Coast is using the same highway to get as far from the Atlantic Ocean as possible. All these people are scrambling to do the same thing at the exact same time, and the result is one SERIOUS traffic jam. Once the asteroid hits Earth, pretty much everyone who thought taking the highway was a good idea gets obliterated. Using this analogy with team building, everyone who doesn’t have a top-10 player (all but about five teams) is either shedding cap space, or positioning themselves to rebuild through the lottery. The result is a major increase in demand with a seriously limited supply.

Looking at it from a marketing perspective, right now the Rockets are zigging while almost everyone else in their industry is zagging. Free agency and the draft are two scenarios where luck plays a substantial role, more so than any general manager would like. In the third option, the future is a bit more controllable. By acquiring young players with upside (in any of the methods described above) team executives have the flexibility to either cash in on a low cost, high reward asset, or keep the cycle moving and flip him for something of more value. This is the less traveled road Houston’s currently riding down. It’s a basic fact of life that nothing is free. In order to receive something you want, you must give up something of value you already have.

Only a few teams are successfully employing the same strategy as the Rockets, but none have publicly stated a desire to deal their assets for that elusive superstar. When done correctly, it’s an easier strategy that gives them financial flexibility to compete—which this season is synonymous with contend. At the trade deadline we saw the Rockets trade three busts from the 2009 draft class for a possible first round pick and a big man with playoff experience who strengthens the team’s largest weakness. The moves were brilliant in that nothing was sacrificed while something was gained; it’s indisputable that the team is closer to a championship today than it was one week ago.

If in the first round Houston faces off against Oklahoma City, a team that was constructed almost entirely through the draft, it won’t just be a seven game series pitting two basketball teams against one another. It’ll be more. This will be the great clashing of two separate ideological structures, two different means towards the same elusive end. If they make the playoffs, the Rockets can match-up well with every single team in the West, and right now their only real weakness is the lack of a universally recognized “superstar”.

The odds may be large right now, but if this team can just get one foot in the post-season’s door, the way we look at team-building strategies on a league-wide scale could undergo a dramatic modification. That is, if 0.2% can become a reality.


Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

in essays
  • Voecklen


  • Voecklen

    So yesterday you can’t say anything good about the team after perhaps the best win of the season and today you’re talking about winning a championship.  Seriously?  

  • GetBucketsFT

    If the Rockets play the Thunder in the first round, they will lose. Even if they didn’t, the margin for error of what Morey is trying to accomplish is essentially zero while almost anyone can put together a decent team with three straight Top 5 picks.

  • rahathuq

    If it was that hard to notice, we have multiple writers on this site.  Michael Pina, who wrote this piece, has not written since last Thursday.

  • Voecklen

     @rahathuq   I missed that.  Was a little too positive for your style.

  • TwistedNematic

    Nice article, contrasts nicely with Rahat’s “this team sucks” attitude (gross oversimplification but you get the idea). I like reading the mixed opinions about the teams future. Personally, as logical as chasing a high draft pick is, I am mentally and physically incapable of rooting for the Rockets too lose.
    I’m dying to see the Rockets in the playoffs, the first reason as selfish as it maybe is because I don’t have League Pass and since the national media thinks we’re  as entertaining as the bobcats, I only get to see the Rockets when we play the two LA teams. A playoff appearance would guarantee ate least four full games.
    Second, imagine that the fates reverse this year and in the first game of the first round durant and westbrooks ACLs explode. You never know whats gonna happen, but you gotta be there to take advantage of it. 
    GetBuckets, what about the kings, bobcats, wizards, pistons, raptors..all have drafted high for years now but I don’t see them getting out of the basement anytime soon. 

  • TwistedNematic

     Voecklen, Rahat just tells like it is, sometimes homers like us need a reality check.

  • Voecklen

     @TwistedNematic No,  he’s just telling  it like he sees it.   Doesn’t make it real.  Or correct.  From where I stand, I like what I see.  It’s not perfect but I’ll take it.  I like the direction.  There is no guaranteed path to success.  

  • rahathuq

    i think this team can beat any other west team (except the LA teams) in a series.  I think they can get out of the first round against OKC.  I don’t think they can win a title. 
    I don’t think there’s any guaranteed path to success.  But I would prefer that the team pursue the highest probability path to success. 
    I think Daryl Morey is doing a fantastic job.  I think his hands are also tied.

  • TwistedNematic

     @rahathuq While you’re here Rahat, where can I get detailed information about Lowry’s ailment? I don’t wanna sound to “conspiracy theorist” but isn’t this when his court date for his off season scuffle was supposed to happen? Do you think Stern offered him some sort of under the table suspension? “Sit out for a few weeks and we’ll tell everybody you got sick so that it doesn’t tarnish your image” I can’t seem to find any real information about what is wrong with him?

  • rahathuq

     @TwistedNematic your guess is as good as mine on that.  bill worrell had said on the broadcast the other night that lowry would be out for the rest of the season but i spoke with someone with the rockets the other day who cleared up that that was just bill speculating.  no word on his expected return.

  • Voecklen

     @rahathuq In general, I agree with most of this.  Still, how would one know the “highest probability path to success.”  That’s really what I’m saying.  The highest probability path is unknown.  If it were, everyone would do it (well at least most would.  There’s some fools out there.)
    Additionally, care to comment on my comments in yesterdays thread where you talk about you concerns about Dragic.  I’d like to hear your thoughts in more depth.

  • Voecklen

     @rahathuq This is in response to the comment above about your take on team direction.  Not sure what I did to post it here.

  • rahathuq

    sure, i’m a bit tied up right now but i’ll respond to your two questions later tonight when i get a chance.

  • bob schmidt

     That court thing was resolved a while back. He was ordered to do like 100 hours of public service and paid a small fine. I also cannot find any info about his illness, but have heard that a mystery stomach disorder has actually been fatal in Texas this past month. Serious bacterial infections can be quite serious. Hopefully, his meds are working and recovery won’t take too long.

  • rahathuq

    regarding your first point: you know the highest probability path from past data which in this case is the sample of what other teams did.  and daryl morey himself said what they are attempting to do “has never been done.”  
    as far as dragic, high assist totals aren’t necessarily indicative of good quarterbacking.  they’re not dispositive but they aren’t necessarily indicative.  dragic is far more aggressive in attacking and a better penetrator, thus the high totals, but i think kyle is better at protecting the ball.  but like i said, the best course right now is to resign goran and trade kyle.  because the alternative might be losing goran for nothing.

  • willdarling1609

     @GetBucketsFT I’m actually inclined disagree with this. Out of the top 3 in the west (Thunder, Spurs, Lakers), I think Houstons chances are easily best against the Thunder. Houston split the season series 2-2 ( the most recent game was a win in OKC without Martin or Lowry)

  • Voecklen

     @rahathuq Thanks for responding to my query.  
    Regarding point one, I’ll just don’t think you can “know” what caused success in the past. Too many variables to ever truly know so it’s an oversimplification I’m unwilling to make.  I think we could agree that good management making good decisions is critical.  I have faith in Morey as I believe you do as well. I’m sure he’ll make as good as decisions as he can using all available past data possible.  We’ll just have to wait and see what that brings.
    Re Dragic, clearly no one metric, or several even,  can paint a complete picture.  Still, what I see is a team moving the ball beautifully and developing a chemistry that goes along with that type of play.  And I’m not the only  one noticing it as the Chronicle ran an article on this very subject today.  As to Lowry protecting the ball better, I would agree.  But turnovers are somewhat a function of Dragic’s style of play.  It’s the bad that goes along with the good.  If he would just cut down on some of the silly mistakes he makes, I’d be satisfied with his TO rate.  Also, consider this.  Steve Nash has never been a low TO rate guy but he’s certainly one of  the all time great offensive point guards.  Now, I’m not comparing Dragic to Nash but the way he’s bringing the team together is very similar to what I’ve seen Nash do over the years.  Perhaps keep an open mind over the upcoming games and see how the team progresses.

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