Making sense of the Carlos Delfino signing

If you’re reading this, you already are aware that yesterday, the Houston Rockets agreed to terms with Carlos Delfino.  With a second year team option, the move holds little financial significance.  The real concern are the other ramifications.

Delfino, 29, is a good player.  He averaged 9ppg (36% from deep)  last season for Milwaukee.  He also, even if re-signed, would not be around as a Rocket when the team is again relevant.

I spent much of the last month lauding the Rockets for their decision to finally go young and relinquish the failed blueprint of simultaneous ‘rebuilding contention.’  For that reason, one can understand why I’m slightly concerned.

The team traded Dalembert because it netted a higher draft pick.  They amnestied Scola for the flexibility needed to potentially acquire Howard.  While both moves made the team younger, they conformed with other objectives.  I really hope I wasn’t premature with my praise.

The Delfino signing beckons interesting philosophical questions about team-building, prime among them being, “is a rebuilding project compatible at all with having veteran players?”

Let’s assume that this means Kevin Martin will be traded.  The likely scenario is that Delfino and Jeremy Lamb will split minutes at the ‘2’.  What does this mean?

Some would argue that having Delfino blocks Lamb’s development: as the former is probably the better player at this point, its likely that Kevin McHale would be inclined to play him over Lamb in late game situations.

So what are the alternatives in a rebuilding project?  a) having only young players on the roster b) if acquiring veterans, ensuring that those acquired are so bad that there is no potential of development blocking.

A prevalent school of thought is that rebuilding projects must have veterans.  This school of thought holds that a young player’s confidence can be shattered if thrown into the fire too quickly and/or that veterans are needed to aid with personal development. In addition, one theory is that if a group of young players experiences too much losing early on, they will come to accept it.

I agree in principle with these notions, but as I mentioned above, there is a simple solution: incompetent veterans.

The problem with Delfino is that he’s actually good.  McHale might play him over Lamb.  And he also might help you win games (which, as I’ve detailed over the past few years, is a very, very bad thing.  Winning through veterans that won’t be around is empty success.)

Rebuilding teams need guys like Juwan Howard.  Players who know that their time has past and that are currently so bad that there is no question as to their role on the team and no threat of blocking potential development; players that set a good example in the lockerroom and serve as mentor figures and not as direct competition.

In the past, the Rockets have collected assets like Delfino to use in the highly awaited blockbuster trade and to win games in the present.  The thinking was that winning would raise value across the board for the young players.  It hasn’t happened.

I don’t want to come off as ‘Chicken Little’, but the signing concerns me.  We’ll see what the Rockets do next but I truly hope they are committed to rebuilding as was assumed.

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

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