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.