Huq’s Pen: Trade deadline thoughts, and Harden in the post

  • It’s 5:30 AM on Saturday morning as I type these words but by the time I hit publish, the Rockets could be all the way down to seventh in the standings. I don’t think I’m overly worried about the standings. The Rockets are thin right now and by the time the dust settles on the season, Houston will settle in at around third or fourth I’ll bet. As I’ve been saying, this team is going to look very different, and probably very deep, by the time the season ends, if health holds. There will be at least two new additions, one via the buyout market, and one via trade, meaning two moderate to significant contributors added to the rotation. If its Wesley Matthews and say, Nikola Mirotic, you wouldn’t agree that that team looks far more formidable than this current manifestation? More on this later.
  • Kenneth Faried’s offensive production is the latest (perhaps absolute?) proof of affirmation in the suspicion that Clint Capela’s offensive production is a function of the system. Accusations such as this one are often a difficult pill to swallow, hence I’ve treaded carefully around making this point on Twitter where I am vulnerable to the angry lynch mob. It’s safer here to utter such offenses on the page. Back to the point: given Capela’s shockingly drastic regression on the perimeter defensively, to the extent the team could replace his rim protection on the buyout market, they would be smart to deal him if it meant getting back a blue-chip contributor. This was the crux of my DeAndre Jordan argument, but several of you pointed out that Jordan has been very bad at the other end this season. So forget about that. We’ll hold onto Capela.
  • If all of the other suitors, such as Boston, have been scared off by Rich Paul’s threats, would Daryl Morey offer up say Clint Capela and three first round draft picks for Anthony Davis? Isn’t that at least close to on par with the Lakers’ pu pu platter of supposedly elite young talent? I mean, imagine if Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma were on say, the Milwaukee Bucks. They would not be regarded as highly as they have been by the national media thus far. Kuzma’s ceiling is as a fringe All-Star, and I don’t think people consider Ingram to be the Durant-lite prospect he once was thought to be. That’s not to assert that Houston’s best-case-offer is a king’s ransom, but if New Orleans were intent to not give Davis his wish, they could do far worse than the aforementioned package. If they’re not getting the assets Boston has amassed, they’re basically digging through the scraps. The one thing that always gives Morey a chance, and by extension gives Rockets fans hope, is that Daryl is willing to take the risk on free agency. He’d believe that if he got Davis here, in this program, alongside James Harden, he could get him to stay. That’s the wild card. But please, don’t take this to mean that I think Houston has a chance. There are better offers out there to be had for the Pelicans.
  • Where the Rockets should be looking is at Nikola Mirotic and Jrue Holiday. Mirotic slides in as a stretch 4 whose merits need not be recited. Holiday would be unconventional. The Rockets could start him in a three-guard set next to Chris Paul and James Harden and use him to harass Warriors guards the way he made life miserable for Damian Lillard in last year’s postseason. You can never have enough guards, particularly if Houston is able to sign Wes Mathews on the buyout market to fill their vacancy on the wing. Please no more James Ennis. It’s gotten difficult to watch. I think if you get Mathews, while he’s not the same defender he was before the injury, you probably turn your attention away from the Bazemore types and go for someone either taller and bigger or something out of the box like Holiday.
  • With just another year left on his contract, and in the midst of one of the worst years of his career, the Rockets should be looking to move Eric Gordon. To the extent he even has positive value at this point, it will only regress heading into the offseason as he will essentially then be an expiring rental. I wrote about the decision on extending Gordon for Forbes back in September, before his disastrous 2019 campaign had begun. Now shooting 39% overall and 30% from downtown on the year, its really difficult to see the Rockets resigning Gordon in two summers, at age 31, given their already dire-financial constraints. Hell, he’s been so bad, maybe he actually holds more value next year as just a mere expiring. But at some point, barring some miraculous turnaround and stretch of health and consistency, Morey will need to flip that salary into something useful because its one of the last big-money trade chips he’ll have in the Harden era. The Brandon Knight contract, while holding the same cap-matching cache, is a negative asset that would require considerable sweetener to return anything of value.
  • I’ve become convinced that a post-up game is the last act in James Harden’s basketball destiny, particularly after seeing how well he’s incorporated the floater into his arsenal. This transformation could take a few years, given that operation from down low will take Harden out of threat of the step-back, but a point will come where to conserve energy, it will only make sense to have his back to the basket, rather than needing to dribble through entire defenses. Given his size, strength, legendary footwork and vision, it will be a rather natural transition. While the obvious rebuttal some of you are formulating in your minds involves Mike D’Antoni’s infamous statement regarding the post-up being the least efficient shot in the game, this must be taken in context of D’Antoni and Morey’s beliefs regarding relative value. A post-up is generally bad because in general, its expectancy is lower than a possession of a different nature. The same holds for midrange shots because most players don’t shoot them well. But the distinguished pair gladly allow Chris Paul carte blanche from the midrange because he’s the deadliest from that area in the entire league. The same would probably go for Harden in the post once that time comes. This is all to say, they won’t be wasting possessions posting up Capela anytime soon, but Harden is a different story. I think we start seeing more glimpses around that age 31 season.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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