On December 28th, the Houston Rockets were 16-12, and sitting in the sixth seed. They had won five in a row, seven of their last ten, and were knocking on the door just outside the elite 4 (Clippers, Grizzlies, Spurs, Thunder). Today, they sit at .500, losers of eight of their last ten games, occupying their familiar ninth seed.Those marginal few who have maintained interest, despite not being able to actually watch the games, (a demographic pretty much confined to this readership), have been wondering, “what the hell happened?”To begin, it was unrealistic to think that this team, with the manner in which they were winning, would be able to maintain that level of success. The Rockets were essentially, literally, running teams off the court with the highest pace in the league. When the grind of NBA travel caught up on this recent road trip, legs got tired and those shots which were originally falling stopped going in.At the same time, this team is not nearly as bad as it’s ‘Last 10’ record indicates. As with anything, reality is almost always closer to the mean.I think you’ll see the team make a few adjustments and close out the season somewhere between 7 and 9. (I know I’m really going out on a limb there.) I don’t think they’ll continue to slip enough for the gap to close between them and the Wolves; for now, there seems to be at the least, a decent cushion between Houston and the bottom tier.
- The recent struggles have left many wondering what Houston will try to do to right the ship at the deadline. Those thinking such losing necessitates a trade haven’t been watching Morey very closely. As always, unless a deal fits into the long term plan, Houston won’t make it. For instance, power forward is very obviously the biggest problem spot on this roster. But just because the team is losing, while getting nothing from the ‘4’, doesn’t mean he’ll rush to upgrade the position. Any acquisition would either have to be a guy that they like enough to want long term (think a pipe dream like Kevin Love) or someone who can help this year while not tying them down in the future (think, last year’s Marcus Camby deal.)
- Continuing from above, the problem is that this year, there is no Marcus Camby – that was essentially a dream scenario where a quality vet–at a position of need–on an expiring deal was rotting away on a cellar dwellar. Houston was able to give up two players with zero value in Thabeet and Flynn and get Camby for the playoff push while removing him from their cap in the summer. If there is someone else like that out there this year, Morey will consider it.
- This will make you cringe, but I don’t think you can rule out the Rockets if the Lakers are really considering moving Gasol. He fits the team’s plans in that he expires in ’14, but can greatly help the team now. And I don’t buy for a second that he’s anywhere near as bad as he’s looked under D’Antoni. If the Rockets can get a bargain, I think they’d make the move. Gasol would give them a halfcourt low-post option through which they can facilitate their offense, something they don’t have. The challenge would be coming up with the salaries to make it work.
- If they think they even have any chance at signing Dwight Howard this summer, Houston won’t move on Gasol. The interesting point there is that with the Lakers’ struggles, and the existence of James Harden on Houston’s roster, a snowball seems to slowly be taking shape in Hell. Still, as was always the obstacle, an outright signing of Howard in the summer would require that the center leave money on the table.
- Would the Lakers really entertain trading Howard as some recent reports have indicated? Unless they got a slam dunk of a deal (think Kevin Love), I just can’t see it. This was their summer coup, maybe the heist of the decade. They won’t just deal him because of this season, especially if he’s likely to re-up. And I’d be shocked if anything Houston was offering was enough to keep Mitch Kupchak from hanging up the phone. Chandler Parsons is a nice player, but a package of the small forward coupled with tweener 4’s and Jeremy Lin is not something over which one gives up on a man who was formerly the second best player in basketball.
- Closing up on Dwightmare, if either scenario were a possibility–meaning free agency or trade–would Houston fans accept Howard? His antics are beyond tiresome to the point where he’s probably, in my opinion, the least likable personality in basketball. But, even I’d admit, you’d have to set that disdain aside for basketball reasons. A team frontlined by Harden and Howard would instantly form one of the most enviable cores in the league.
‘Huq’s Pen’ is an infrequent potpourri of musings, penned by editor Rahat Huq.