During the Morey era, the Rockets have had a higher rate of roster turnover than any other franchise in the league, practically fielding a completely new team every season. The end–establishing a high growth foundation–justified the means, but in the process, some old friends were lost. I thought I’d take a moment to check in on these former fan favorites through channeling some colleagues on the ‘sphere.
Note: Every player on this list, to some large degree, was a lovable figure exuding the grit which had defined this franchise for the past few years. Except for Trevor Ariza. He is here for no other reason than that a figure so polarizing simply could not be left off.
Blake Murphy, Raptors Republic: Kyle Lowry has had a pretty tumultuous start with the Raptors. His first handful of games had the fanbase going insane with optimism, and even inspired me to write this about the joy of watching him. In the fourth game of the season, though, he went down hurt. When he returned after a seven-game absence, he didn’t look the same. His defense was less inspired, he got caught up playing hero ball at the end of tight games, and the team went 1-11, bringing their record with him to 2-14. Then a tricep injury, timed nicely with an injury to Andrea Bargnani and a team meeting allegedly directed at Bargs’ softness and Lowry’s trust issues.
Cue a 5-2 run and some calling for Lowry’s head. However, in the five games since he’s returned he’s looked fairly comfortable in a reserve role supporting Jose Calderon and re-focusing on defense and ball distribution. So it’s difficult to judge him, really. He’s played 21 games but split into three distinct and separated chunks. Overall, his offensive efficiency numbers are great, but he’s only bought into the team dynamic sometimes and his defense has been inconsistent.
Would I still give up a top-3 protected pick for him? Yes, absolutely. It looks like the Raptors will give up a pick in the 8-12 range which shouldn’t be a huge deal in this draft, while Lowry has value for at least another season with his team-friendly deal. Beyond that, we’ve seen at times what Lowry looks like when it’s “all together” and it’s very, very exciting. I’d pay a mid-to-late lottery pick in a weak draft to roll the dice that he can figure it out on a consistent basis.
Rahat: Lowry’s really the first guy this blog ever got behind, so it was tough to see him go. Still, given that the pick that trade provided got us James Harden, there’s absolutely no regrets.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: Dragic has been the Suns’ best player and has been worth every cent of his $7.5 mil/year deal. The Suns still run a point guard-centric offense in which Dragic dominates the ball most of the time and he has proven to be an able scorer and distributor … so long as you don’t compare him to the guy who used to run the show in the desert. The problem is that when Dragic is your best player you aren’t going to be a very good team, and that’s where the Suns are. However, to get one of their building blocks at a reasonable price makes Dragic the Suns’ best offseason acquisition.
Rahat: Time will tell whether Houston made the right move in choosing Dragic over Lin. Things are at least looking much, much better on that front.
Thomas Pruitt, Bullets Forever: Trevor Ariza’s time with the Washington Wizards has been, well, almost exactly like his stints in New Orleans and Houston. Ariza’s taken more than his share of bad shots, passed well, been an up and down defender and missed a good chunk of the season with injuries. All in all he’s been a mild disappointment, although I have a feeling he’ll step up his effort level once the team starts winning more. If there’s one area where he’s been a true standout, it’s on the glass, where he’s averaging 7.1 total rebounds and 1.7 offensive board per 36 minutes.
So is this worth $15 million over the next two years? No, but there are worse contracts out there and Ariza fits the team perfectly. With a backcourt of a healthy John Wall and an emerging Bradley Beal, Washington desperately needs a lockdown defender and good passer at small forward, two things that a healthy and motivated Ariza can provide. Washington’s set in the backcourt and Nene’s obviously a keeper if he stays healthy, though, so the team will likely try to upgrade one of its forward spots in the draft this year. If they bring in a power forward, Ariza’s worth keeping. If they bring in a wing? Well, a solid veteran small forward on an expiring deal is very tradeable.
Rahat: I’ve followed the Rockets since 1994. Since that span, there have been numerous players on this team who were not very good whom I wished the team had not employed. Among them, there has only been one player whom I literally detested. That player was Trevor Ariza. From his bizarre sense of self-entitlement to that absolutely disgraceful cheap shot on DeMar DeRozan, it was far more than Ariza’s God-awful play on the court that made me feel he did not belong as a ‘Houston Rocket.’ In the Morey era, every other major figure has exuded a certain ethos of lovability characteristic of the team itself; Ariza was hopelessly miscast.
Metta World Peace
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Four years into the Ron Artest/Metta World Peace signing and I can firmly say he’s lived up to his contract. In his first campaign the Lakers won a championship and Ron played a vital role in that team’s success. The entire season he played a tenacity that group fed off of and in the playoffs he hit some very big shots that no Laker fan will soon forget. His next two seasons were somewhat disappointing, however. Especially last year’s lockout shortened one where Ron was out of shape most of the year, and then got suspended for his elbow on James Harden once he did start to find his game.
This season, though, Ron has been playing very good ball (at least until some recent struggles). He came into camp in tremendous shape and that’s translated to his play on both sides of the ball. He’s shooting better, beating his man easier in wing isolations and from the post, rebounding well, and is still playing above average defense on most nights. He’s clearly lost the ability to play his top gear on defense for long stretches and, with diminished foot speed, is no longer the great perimeter stopper of his prime, but his quick hands and intelligence on that end still make him a very good defender.
It’s his return to good play this year and that first season of intensity and ultimate team success that leave me concluding he’s earned his contract up to this point. I’m sure some would disagree with me since his middle two seasons were not up to that same standard, but as a player making a mid-level contract from the old CBA, I’m more than okay with what he’s provided.
Rahat: Ron was loads of fun but parting ways was the right decision. And I’d say, in my opinion, it didn’t matter what Metta did at all after year 1 of his current deal. He basically singlehandedly won that team a title with his Game 7 Finals performance in 2010. Kobe owes him a Rolex, or something.
From SBNation’s Celtics Blog, dated January 12:
The first few months of the year were more forgettable than not for Courtney Lee. He was having trouble adapting to the new system, his role fluctuated between starting and coming off the bench, and we was flat out in a shooting slump.
I’ve been pretty consistent in my belief that he’s going to come around eventually. Shooters shoot and eventually his shots were bound to start falling. He also plays good defense more often than not, and that is always valuable. In truth, his progression has been gradually leaning towards the positive.
Rahat: I loved Lee. A genuinely cool guy who knew his strengths and limitations. It also helped that he was Trevor Ariza’s direct replacement. Sad to see him go but it made sense.
Jordan Ramirez, WarriorsWorld: The Warriors signed Carl Landry to a two year, $8 million deal this past off-season in what has turned out to be one of the bigger steals from this past free agent market. The contract (which includes a player option in his second season) has been well worth it for the Warriors, who before signing the former Purdue Boilermaker were in dire need of depth in the frontcourt. More specifically, the Warriors needed help for David Lee in the scoring department, and Landry has definitely filled that void. Landry has proven to be a vital piece to the Warriors early season success as his production and leadership skills have been crucial to Mark Jackson’s young squad.
Jackson’s confidence in Landry has been noticeable since the first slew of games as Landry is closing out games next to David Lee in the frontcourt. While slightly undersized for the position he’s asked to play (he’s considered the “center” next to Lee), Landry’s offensive skill-set, tenacity and veteran presence have proven invaluable for a team formerly lacking in all those departments. If it wasn’t for Jamal Crawford’s outstanding season Landry would be well in the discussion (and possibly the lead) for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. It’s hard to imagine this team operating without the likes of Landry, and for two years at a measly $4 million per, the Warriors are more than happy with their investment.
Rahat: Great to see Landry doing well. I don’t recall ever seeing a Rocket’s repertoire grow so markedly as Landry’s did during his infancy stages. Then again, I wasn’t around when the Dreamshake was invented.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: Scola has had something of an inconsistent season, but that’s largely been a function of Alvin Gentry trying to figure out the best rotation for his team. He began the season as the starter, went to the bench in favor of Markieff Morris and is now back to starting. He has been a monster of late, with outings of 33, 24 and 21 points in recent games, providing the Suns with something of a go-to scoring threat that they have lacked all season.
Overall, he ranks behind only Dragic in scoring average and has been a tremendous value for the bargain basement price the Suns acquired him for at auction. However, I’m not sure if he would have been worth his contractual price pre-amnesty auction, so obviously Scola was a different story for the Rockets. With this being a total rebuilding year for the Suns, I still feel like the best way for the Suns to get something for their amnesty bid is by trading Scola this offseason for an asset that can aid in that rebuilding project more than this dependable veteran can.
Rahat: Amnestying Scola was one of the best moves made in the Morey era. I wish they had cut ties earlier. Great guy, very good player, but didn’t fit the plan post-Yao.
Rahat: Given the present situation in Sacramento, I was not able to get thoughts on Hayes, so my own will have to suffice. Chuck’s making $5.5million this year, averaging 2.6ppg and 3.9 rebounds. Out of everyone on this list, he was the toughest to see go. When Yao went down in ’09, Hayes gave us a chance, completely shutting down either of Bynum or Gasol, allowing the team to force a Game 7. In the ensuing years, even at just 6’6, he was this team’s rock, both physically and emotionally as its leader. On a personal level, no other player has made me feel more comfortable to ask whatever has been on my mind than Chuck Hayes.
I’m in the minority, but I thought that rather than Scola, Hayes should have rounded out the team’s ’00 All-Decade squad.