Yesterday I tackled why trading for Rudy Gay could be Houston’s first step towards associating their basketball team with wins, prime time television slots, and clear identification. But when it’s placed in a vacuum, the acquisition feels inadequate. Gay is expensive, and to build around him—and him alone—would be a mistake.
After watching his entire career (including college) I get the feeling he’s too serene of a person to consistently lead others on the basketball court. That doesn’t mean he’ll never win a championship, only that as the best player on a team, he’d be a more marketable version of Joe Johnson.
When the Celtics moved the No. 5 pick for Ray Allen five years ago, it felt like the team just bought Paul Pierce a new car, only the doors were locked, and the keys were rendered useless on the driver’s seat. Then Danny Ainge jimmied the window open, sparked the ignition, and placed Kevin Garnett’s foot on the gas.
Today I’ll be covering a much bigger fish, giving reason to why Gay as a secondary option could take the Houston Rockets to the places they want to go. This ensuing transaction is the type of move that wipes mist off the windshield.The Rockets send Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, Marcus Morris, this year’s 14th or 16th pick (whichever they didn’t already surrender in the deal for Gay), a 2013 top 10 protected first round pick, and Dallas’ first round pick from the Derek Fisher trade to Orlando for Dwight Howard.
Why Orlando would do it: The Magic have three options right now, and one of them isn’t under their control.
They can hang onto Dwight Howard and get nothing if he walks after next season. They can re-sign him to a five-year, $120 million deal once the year ends. Or they can trade him and begin their rebuilding process. Given his embryonic unpredictability over the past year or so, the smartest plan from Orlando’s point of view might be to part ways.
With no chance of replacing Howard’s on-court production, the Magic should be looking for a combination of draft picks, young assets, and a central building block to kick start the whole process. Luckily, the Rockets have all of those things.
Clearly, the liquid sugar in this cup of coffee are the three first rounders—including one this year that would give Orlando two first round picks to play with (they currently have the 19th and 49th picks). The draft is a cheap yet very difficult, and possibly inefficient, path to rebuilding a team, but frankly, what other choices do the Magic have right now? Seriously? Trade for Bynum and then do the whole thing over again with another big man who shares the same “I’m larger than life” complex that Howard has? Good luck with that.
With Jameer Nelson reportedly prepared to opt out of his contract, Lowry becomes the centerpiece of this deal. He’s one of the premier point guards in the game who just so happens to currently be had on an affordable contract. Lowry is also looking to bounce back from a season that ended on an unfortunate note. He has much to prove—and much to gain, as he’s set to become a free agent in 2013.
Marcus Morris is an untapped lottery pick, effectively a rookie heading into next season with a future that’s uncertain in a way that he could either end up serving some team’s rotation for the common good, or flaming out into utter uselessness. Nobody knows.
(As for Luis Scola? Well, the money to make this deal possible has to come from somewhere, right?)
Nobody wants to fall TOO far (see: Bobcats, Charlotte), but by grabbing Scola and Lowry, two high character guys who play basketball in a tough yet fair way, and having them lead the way for the next couple years, rebuilding shouldn’t be so bleak. That team won’t roll over for anybody, and as a fan that’s something you’ve got to be proud with.
Who knows? Maybe you win the lottery next year and get Cody Zeller or Nerlens Noel? The sooner they deal Howard, the better off they’ll be.
Why Houston would do it: By trading for a superstar who’s in the final year of his contract, the Rockets would be placing themselves in the same risky situation that Brooklyn did with Deron Williams. There’s always the possibility that he walks away, but with Gay on board, and the chance to offer Howard an extra year and more money than any other team bidding for his services, the Rockets would have a convincing advantage.
The fact is, grabbing Howard has never been more pertinent. With Anthony Davis in the division for the foreseeable future, Bynum about to enter his prime, and teams like Sacramento, Utah, Golden State, and Memphis all centralizing their strength around a formidable front court, in a couple years the Western Conference playoffs could be like hiking through a treacherous mountain range.
It goes without saying that if the Rockets move Lowry they can’t afford to let Goran Dragic go. Signing him would be crucial, which begs the asking of an important question: Can Houston really afford all of this?
With Gay and Howard you’d have two players signed to contracts totaling approximately $35.9 million next year. (To give this some context, Oklahoma City will have $29 million tied into Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant next season, and $31.6 the year after that.)
The Rockets would have a starting lineup of Dragic, Lee (a question mark because of his restricted free agency, but maybe he takes a discount to be reunited with Howard), Gay, Patrick Patterson, and Dwight Howard. That unit is talented enough to win a championship, in my opinion, but it’s the bench where things grow dicey.
Let’s say they sign Lee to a generous five-year, $35 million deal. They’ll have just under $55 million tied into Howard, Gay, Lee, Dragic (at $9 million), Budinger, and Patterson. This doesn’t include Sam Dalembert who’s guaranteed $1.5 million, and if he isn’t waived on or before July 8th the price tag jumps to $6.7 million. It also doesn’t include the combined $1.4 million the team could option to keep Courtney Fortson and Diamon Simpson, two players who combine for a grand total of 95 minutes playing in the NBA.
Taking them both into consideration, the team gets to approximately $57.9 million, which is just about the salary cap’s ceiling. They’d have about $12 million to spend on four or five more players to fill out the bench before they cross the luxury tax.
Here’s the list of veterans who might be willing to chase a title on a one year, league minimum salary: Tracy McGrady, Antawn Jamison, Leandro Barbosa, Matt Barnes, DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Bibby, Michael Redd, and Grant Hill. That’s pretty sums up all the realistic options, and to be frank, I think that team could be good enough to win a title.
In the end it’s a risky plan, but risks bring reward. Right now anything is better than more of the same.
All salary information was provided by the ever-valuable ShamSports.