Howard and Harden as the “wrong” superstars

Andrew Sharp:

All of Morey’s stockpiling of assets and compulsive pick shuffling didland him two superstars. He just landed the wrong ones. Howard and Harden are good players, but terrible leaders, and at this point they don’t even like each other. It’s why the team has gone from title contender to playoff hopeful, and why Chris Bosh ultimately refused to chase another ring in Houston after Morey moved heaven and earth (and Chandler Parsons) to sign him in 2014. Still, Morey was close. Even I bought into the Rockets with Ty Lawson. It just didn’t work, and looking back, a lot of this comes back to landing the only two superstars in the league that nobody else wants to play with.

This is a point I’ve seen made in other corners of the internet and one I’ve tossed around before on these pages or on the podcast, in passing.  It’s relevant in light of the broader discussions we had six or seven years ago when this blog was in its infancy, as was Morey’s masterplan.  Everything has, in a way, come full circle, with the answers to thematic questions possibly in front of our eyes.  As some more loyal readers may remember, I advocated strongly in favor of tanking, asserting that greatness could not be achieved through mediocrity.  To my dismay, Morey avoided that route (possibly at the demands of Alexander, as evidence suggests), but somehow still got somewhere near the very top, in his own way.  He was a genius; he had done it!  He had built a contender without having to tank.

But now, maybe, we’re seeing why that was possible, as some are suggesting.  When you take shortcuts, it bites you in the end.  The theory goes now that the Thunder might not have been as willing to let Harden go had he fit into their culture (though I’d imagine there is some degree of revisionism in play there).  You were able to get Harden because he was flawed, and same with Howard.  The assertion, from this reasoning, is that the Rockets only have these two players because they are each inherently flawed.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been available to begin with.  That would mean then, in validation of the original premise, that the only way to build a team is through the draft, because that is the only way to acquire premiere talent in an unflawed state.

This is all a convenient reaction, however, to this season.  Unfortunately, it appears likely that such thinking will hold true.  But if they hire a disciplinarian, or something suddenly clicks for Harden from within, it would dispel the aforementioned notions.  As I’ve been writing now all season, that’s the only hope.

in musings

Sometimes the best games bring you the worst losses. As David Mitchell tells us, “I really hope my team wins, so it will turn out later, I’m enjoying myself now.” As Jason Terry’s last hurrah left his hands, as the shot arced toward the rim, we didn’t know if it was an awful loss or a great win. In that moment, before it went in and back out again, handing the Utah Jazz the 8th seed and the tiebreaker, it was an exhausting, exciting, and most of all close game. The good and bad, like the score, were teetering on the knife’s edge.

In the end, the game tipped over onto the bad side and fell hard.

But, hey, at least they tried.

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in game coverage

From Sam Amick’s piece today:

While it’s true that Howard never asked for a trade leading up to the deadline, the notion that his always-aggressive agent, Dan Fegan, wasn’t part of the process is about as believable as the notion of the Rockets winning it all this season. A message was being sent to the rest of the league in the days leading up to the deadline, with teams like Milwaukee, Charlotte and Atlanta learning firsthand that Howard’s top-dollar demands are very real. The fact that Howard was known to be seriously considering a change in representation at the time, meanwhile, only complicated an already-tricky situation.

Yet if Howard truly wanted out of Houston, he could have told those teams that he would pick up the player option for next season and push his free agency back to the summer of 2018. Instead, he stayed and the possibility of this partnership surviving thus remained.

The entire piece was about Howard’s uncertain future in Houston, but the interesting tidbit above pertains to Fegan.  It’s news to me that Howard was “seriously considering a change in representation”; I personally have written at lengths about the curious nature of the agent-athlete relationship, one which sometimes seems to push the bounds of fiduciary responsibility.  Exhibit A was Fegan’s insistence on steering Howard to the Mavs and Exhibit B, the odd agreement regarding Chandler Parsons: it didn’t benefit Howard at all when Fegan used him as leverage to secure a favorable scenario for a different client.

Now it seems Fegan was intent on shopping Howard to a destination where his bird rights would remain intact.  But I disagree with Amick on the conclusion.  That Howard didn’t agree to pick up his option doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t want out of Houston.  He could want out of Houston, but prefer to weigh all of his options in the summer, and go to the destination of his choice, rather than settle for staying with whoever was willing to make a trade.

Dwight Howard’s free agency was going to be a major theme heading into next summer, but its been grossly complicated by Houston’s embarrassment of a season.  Why come back at a discount to a losing situation?

in musings

Farewell, draft pick. Welcome, D-Mo

You can read my original thoughts from the Rockets’ trade of Donatas Motiejunas to the Pistons here and here.  While I’m certainly happy to have D-Mo back, the bad news here is that this basically confirms Houston’s reasoning in trading Motiejunas in the first place.  Now two professional medical staffs have determined the 25-year-old’s back to pose too great a risk to attach long term financial obligations.  Barring an unexpected display of recovery, the Rockets likely let Motiejunas walk in the summer, except without getting the pick they had received in the trade.  The best case might be D-Mo playing well for this stretch run, and then re-signing with the team at a drastically reduced price due to the attached risk involved.  Who knows.  Will he even get minutes?  He’s purportedly been cleared (see: his stint with RGV), but this affair could present some awkward issues.  J.B. Bickerstaff had declared the other night that the team would close the season, barring injury, with Josh Smith at power forward, presumably to instill at least some degree of continuity.  Does that go out the window?  I don’t see Motiejunas ever starting here again, but if he’s to even get minutes at all, what becomes of Terrence Jones?  (Then again, before Jones’ own injury, he hadn’t been getting minutes himself).  And if the Rockets don’t play a medically cleared Motiejunas, in a contract year, I’m sure that too could get messy from other angles.

Two other points: had they known they wouldn’t be able to deal Motiejunas, the Rockets probably would have dumped Jones for the bag of Doritos or whatever his value had become, to duck the tax.  Now, that of course, is out the window too.  Secondly, Marcus Thornton, unless bought out, returns, and K.J. McDaniels again, presumably, is back on the bench and out of the rotation.  The effect of the deal on McDaniels’ playing time was the one return I was most excited about following this weekend.

The strangest season I can ever remember just keeps getting stranger.  As I stated above, Les Alexander is now also back stuck paying luxury tax for the most disappointing team in the league.  That can’t be exciting, though except for some hard cap concerns, it also is not my problem.

in musings

More on Motiejunas

I’ve had almost three days now to digest the news of Houston’s trade of forward Donatas Motiejunas, and while some of the emotion has worn off, from an analytical standpoint, questions still remain.  To wit, it is not outside the realm of possibility that I/we are overrating him.  The description “25 year old, defensively capable, stretch-4 7 footer with post moves” while entirely accurate, conveys the impression of a future Hall of Famer, and most likely carries more semantic value than Motiejunas’ overall on-court impact to this point.  But still, should all uncertain commodities simply be cast aside?

Daryl Morey came out and said after the trade that the team would be in position this summer to offer two full max contracts.  I recognize and appreciate the business acumen in not emotionally attaching oneself to the Titanic and having the prescience to get out while one still can.  But at what point does the star-chasing end?  To try and maximize one’s chances in the biggest free agent bonanza in ages is not an unpardonable offense.  But the odds are, and due to no fault of the Rockets, they will most likely strike out yet again.

What about just building a team?  I’ve come to think recently, that in some sort of reactional snobbery, the basketball commentariat of today has begun to overrate draft picks, in remembrance of a day when former-athlete GM’s tossed them around like undiminishable resources.  It was sound and a product of shrewd bartering that Morey was able to fetch a pick for a future free agent.  That feat should certainly be celebrated.  But what is the macro effect on a team when having a revolving door of players, pushing out the old, in favor of a new stream of cheaper labor?  This might be unfair, but I think you see the effects in front of you.

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in musings

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