The Window of Opportunity

The year is 2007. Present any Celtics fan (let’s go with Bill Simmons) a hypothetical situation. You have Paul Pierce at the apex of his career. He is wasting his prime on a 24-58 team where Ryan Gomes is the third-best player on the team and Rajon Rondo is benched in favor of Sebastian Telfair. Goodness gracious, that team was dysfunction personified.

Let’s say I tell Bill that they will get Undisclosed Superstar A, Undisclosed Superstar B, give their roster a massive overhaul, beginning with the release of the immortal Allan Ray. We’ll also provide Bill with a semi-functional basketball GPS, letting him know before the season starts that sometime between 2007 and 2012, the team will win a championship, but the year when that happens will be kept a mystery.

If I’m Bill Simmons, or any sane basketball fan for that matter, I would say yes without batting an eyelash. That’s a Larry O’Brien we’re talking about here. Whether it takes place in 2008 or 2011, a title is a title. Of course, we can say this because of this too-late-the-hero superpower everyone in the world is gifted with: hindsight.

There have been two methods to creating a contender, much akin to a house: buy or build. The Celtics went with buy, going after Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The Heat went with buy, hoarding LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The Lakers rigged Pau Gasol in a trade. Twice, for those of you keeping score.

On the other hand, the Thunder went the opposite way, farming young talent with the hope that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden mesh and succeed. Only time will tell where that direction takes them. The Bulls are somewhere in between while the Spurs are the result of the perfect storm consisting of a David Robinson injury at the right time, extensive scouting and picturesque chemistry.

And how about those Houston Rockets? They are neither buying nor building. They are the highly liquid team who doesn’t want to spend on a marquee asset or two. Somehow, it works. Since 2002, they’ve only had one losing season. They toil through the season with quasi-decency and flame out in the playoffs. In a previous article, Daryl Morey has been chided on focusing too much on statistics, thereby bloating the offense while compromising the defense.

The thing is, Morey is a great GM. But he has been so enamored with his Moreyball approach, grabbing value-for-money players. The problem is that there are too many what-ifs. For example, he picked up Donatas Motiejunas with the 20th pick, a 21-year old 7-footer with an outside touch. That pick is decent, mind you, but at the same time I am troubled with how Morey plays the waiting game. A bit too long, in all honesty.

You see, the problem is Morey is banking on unrealized gains possibly more than any other GM. If this were a finance class, you could say that he keeps computing at the future value of money but has no context on the repercussions of the Euro crisis or the Nigerian oil price inflation, a byproduct of economics.

Going back to D-Mo (as Kevin McHale calls him), let’s say he jumps to the NBA at the age of 25. That would be sometime in 2016 or 2017. What if Kyle Lowry suffers a season-ending injury that year, knock on wood? There are too many variables.

The point I am driving at is that Houston should aim buy, not build. Building would mean that Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson, and Marcus Morris get as much, if not more playing time that Samuel Dalembert and Luis Scola. That isn’t the case. McHale stubbornly keeps his best five in, not the five that should be bringing this team forward. His decision to play Chandler Parsons and hand over the keys to Lowry have been the two best decisions he has made as the Rockets’ coach so far.

I do not mind dropping this truncated season with a record of 24-42. None of you would remember how many wins the Rockets had in this season seven or eight years from now unless you have an eidetic memory. Trivia: What was the Rockets’ win-loss record in 2005-2006, the year both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were significantly sidelined? My point exactly.

Now, I know most of you will point out the Knicks as an example of a team that bought talent, bringing in Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but the payroll has not yet translated to wins, if it ever will. That concern is understandable. You see, the team was so infatuated at the idea of “AnthoNY” back in his home turf that they were oblivious on how gutted their roster was post-trade.

Let’s tip our caps to the Rockets. The team is giving their full effort, eking out wins against the Blazers and Spurs. However, the wins are flukes, the exception rather than the norm. It would be nice to be keeping in step with the Clippers, who prove that the sun does shine, even for the unluckiest of franchises. A team with so much potential cannot be kept waiting, going for one Pyrrhic victory after another.

There is only one instance where the build scenario works out: the 2012 draft pick. Build on that pick, whether it turns out to be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Austin Rivers. Then dole out. Buy talent. This team also needs to sell some tickets, so a true superstar that can draw the masses would be very much welcome. Their game against Sacramento saw people coming in to cheer for the Jimmer. That was a sad sight to witness.

As we have seen, the Celtics’ window lasted four seasons, as they have spiraled downward this year and are looking more like a washed-up team than a Gatorade-pouring one. But that four-year window has been much better than anything the Rockets had going for the last 15 years.

The Dwight Howard Sweepstakes is coming up, and it would be better to punch in a ticket for that miniscule fraction of a chance. Remember, it was thanks to another big man that the Rockets were able to raise a couple of banners.

Because counting division title banners is so lame.

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Houston Rockets vs Detroit Pistons – January 17, 2012 7:00PM

The gist: The Pistons have lost seven of their last eight, the latest one coming in a 99-91 loss at the hands of the Warriors. Led by Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, the Rockets have won their last three games to climb to a decent 6-7 record.

Key matchup: Kyle Lowry vs Brandon Knight

Heaps and dollops of raves have been directed towards Lowry’s way, and deservingly so. He continues to burn unsuspecting defenses with plays that demand a high basketball IQ. Knight will have his hands full, but one thing he has going for him is a wide 6-6 wingspan that could frustrate Lowry. However, Knight also has a knack for turning the ball over (3.1 TO/game).

X-factor: Luis Scola

Pitted against the Swedish swingman Jonas Jerebko, it will be a classic case of offense against defense. Scola will have a harder time than usual getting his points as Jerebko is expected to use his athleticism and 6’10” frame. On the flipside, Scola and his marshmallow-soft defense has to recognize that Jerebko has a mediocre outside shot and should bang bodies once Jerebko takes it to the low post area.

Code Red: Greg Monroe has been the lone bright spot for the Pistons and the team’s only true threat on a nightly basis. Guys like Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey have seen significant dropoffs in terms of scoring and Ben Wallace has been reduced to a screen-setter, nowhere near the defensive stalwart he once was.

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From the Ninetyfourums: Breaking down the schedule

A reader, Sir Thursday, has conducted an analysis of sorts of the Rockets’ schedule:

I’m going to split the other teams into the league into 5 categories depending on how likely we are to beat them:

Easy wins (we should win 100% of these):

Sacramento x3 (1-0)
Toronto x2
Washington x2
Charlotte x2 (1-0)
Detroit x1
New Jersey x1

Expected score: 11-0
Current score: 2-0

Favoured (I’d like to win 75% of these):

Phoenix x4
Minnesota x4
Golden State x3
New Orleans x3
Milwaukee x1
Cleveland x1

Expected score: 12-4
Current Score: 0-0

Even (50%):

Memphis x4 (0-1)
Utah x3
Indiana
Boston
New York
Atlanta (1-0)

Expected score: 6-5
Current score: 1-1

Underdogs (25%):

Denver x4
San Antonio x4 (1-1)
Portland x3 (1-0)
Philadelphia

Expected score: 3-9
Current score: 2-1

Games we’d be lucky to get anything out of:

OKC x4 (0-2)
Dallas x3
LA Lakers x3 (0-1)
LA Clippers x3 (0-1)
Chicago
Miami
Orlando (0-1)

Expected score: 0-16
Current score: 0-5

Projected record: 32-34
Current record: 4-7

If previous years are anything to go by, we’ll need around 35 wins to make the 8th seed. That means we’ll need to pick up an extra three games from somewhere. Any ideas where those might come from? We’re already doing reasonably well in the ‘underdogs’ section…

I’ll try to keep this updated as the season goes on so we can keep track of how we’re doing against expectations. Hopefully that will start with a win today!

Follow the breakdown.

 

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Rapid Reaction: Houston Rockets 114, Washington Wizards 106

Houston Rockets114Final
Recap | Box Score
106Washington Wizards
Luis Scola, PF 31 MIN | 8-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 18 PTS | +12

Another game by the Houston Rockets, another rock hard performance by their starting power forward.

Chandler Parsons, F 29 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 8 PTS | +11

Chandler Parsons assisted on three of Houston’s first four baskets. He also did the near impossible by swatting a John Wall-in-transition shot into the stands. Solid game from the rookie, who continues to play unafraid, difference-making basketball.

Samuel Dalembert, C 31 MIN | 9-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 20 PTS | +7

Monster game from Sammy. He was awesome on the defensive end, very active and fear inducing. On the other end, he nearly finished the game perfect from the field. The Rockets are a MUCH different team when he plays like this.

Kevin Martin, SG 42 MIN | 7-16 FG | 10-10 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 25 PTS | +15

A throwback Kevin Martin performance. He was a quiet assassin, tip-toeing to the free-throw line 10 times and making all his attempts. Martin also finished with 8 assists—I watched the game and can’t remember a single one. It’s the type of invisible impact he has on basketball games.

Kyle Lowry, PG 32 MIN | 4-14 FG | 6-6 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 16 PTS | +20

Lowry started slower than slow, but still managed to put up a solid, albeit subpar to the bar he’s set for himself, performance. His decision making on the fast break is one positive I’ll take away from this game, though. He always makes the easy pass with such lay-up abiding precision. His teammates must wake up loving the fact he’s on board.

Goran Dragic, PG 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 9 PTS | -19

Thank goodness for Dragic. While Lowry was playing inconsistent basketball, the Rockets’ backup point guard stepped in and was brilliant. He attacked the lane and created for his teammates better than we’ve seen in most of his appearances this season.

Four Things We Saw

  1. I’d like to start things off with John Wall, a player so fast he’s exhausting to watch while laying on a couch. The sophomore had a career high 38 point performance to go along with eight assists, six rebounds, and two turnovers. With the Rockets up 19 in the third quarter, Wall cut the lead down to five single-handedly. It was the first time this season I’ve seen him take over a basketball game.
  2. Maybe it was the quality opponent (yea, that’s probably it), but the Rockets defense looked outstanding today, swarming the ball and smothering every Wizards opportunity…apart from those unstoppable John Wall one man fast breaks.
  3. If you didn’t see Chandler Parsons’ put back dunk on JaVale McGee, please go watch it.
  4. After attempting just four free-throws in the first quarter, the Rockets ended the game going 25-26 from the line.

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Pocket Rocket – January 10-16, 2012

The number of the week is 13. That was how many minutes Chase Budinger saw in the overtime loss to the Spurs. He was invisible, going scoreless and only grabbing four rebounds.

The Rockets continue to stay reliable at the line, going 61/75 (81.3%) in the past four games. Highlighted by Kevin Martin’s 12/13 display against Portland, the Rockets will always be a threat for as long as they do not settle for contested jumpers.

For one week, at least, the Rockets could exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. Their last four opponents failed to capitalize on open three point looks, going for a combined 19/75 (25.3%).

Stat of the week: Kyle Lowry – 33 points, 8 rebounds (2 on the offensive end), 9 assists

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