One day closer

Three things happened today:

1. Timberwolves rookie sensation Ricky Rubio was lost for the season.

2. Point guard Goran Dragic had yet another stellar performance filling in for starter Kyle Lowry, scoring 21 points and dishing out 8 assists in a winning effort.

3. Kevin Martin was benched to close out yet another close fourth quarter.

What does it all mean?  First, that despite the recent struggles, the Rockets might not mail it in and sell off the farm – they’re still very much in this race.  Second, there’s a serious possibility that either one or both of the starting guards could be traded next week.

Why the speculation? Consider: we’re talking about a team that traded two starters at last year’s deadline and then, just months later in December, traded two more of the remaining three opening day starters to the Lakers [only to have the deal nixed.]  It’s not outlandish to surmise that deals will be made.

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in columns

Huq’s Pen: the trade deadline looms

It’s been a wild 24 hours with reports surfacing from credible outlets that the Houston Rockets have been in pursuit of Lakers center Pau Gasol, Bucks center Andrew Bogut, and Magic center Dwight Howard.  According to the reports, the Lakers are insistent on the inclusion of point guard Kyle Lowry in any deal.  A Howard deal would almost certainly require Lowry.

Despite his injury problems, I would trade any player on the roster, not named Lowry, for Bogut.  When healthy, other than Dwight Howard, I have not seen a center in all of basketball have more impact on the defensive end.  He’s completely dominated games against the Rockets simply through his presence in the paint.  In my opinion, Bogut is superior to Marc Gasol and if acquired without losing Lowry, would give the Rockets the starting framework of a Memphis-model championship team.  While this season would be sacrificed, the future would be very bright.

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in columns

[blackbirdpie id=”178107059466797058″]

UPDATES below.

In other tweets, he also says that the Thunder have balked at an Ibaka/Harden asking price, and that trading Howard to the Celtics for Rondo would be Eastern Conference suicide.

If this report is true, it would be a no-brainer, especially given recent developments in the standings.  The Rockets could swing for the fences and if striking out over the summer and losing Howard, they’d have a fresh slate with which to rebuild.  The mediocrity train would be averted.

UPDATED: I’m pretty skeptical of this report.  It’s not saying that “if the Magic were to trade Dwight to Houston, they would prefer Lowry.”  It’s insinuating that, in contrasting against a Hawks offer, that they prefer and covet a Houston deal centered around Lowry over anything else in the field.  That’s really pretty hard to believe, but stranger things have happened.  If I were Orlando, I would take Bynum or just play out the season with Dwight.

In any event, if the report is true, it’s a no-brainer for Houston.  Dealing Lowry for Pau is a major risk, and one I probably wouldn’t take, because it potentially perpetuates mediocrity.  With this, if Dwight leaves, the Rockets would have a fresh slate, something they desperately need.  Right now, unless Les Alexander sells the team or Morey leaves, I don’t see any other way for the team to deroute from this current track.  They’re simply too good at talent evaluation to be organically bad.  They have to swing for the fences.

Depending on who all would be sent to Florida, you could make a run for the playoffs this year with Dwight, Dragic, Martin, and Scola, hoping to convince the big man of his surroundings.  Then in the summer, you fly in Hakeem, dust off the phonebook of Chinese contacts, and pray for the best.  If the Mavs are unable to trade Shawn Marion next week, they will not have the capacity to sign both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams.

If the plan fails, the team is lotto-bound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given the current state of affairs.  If all works out, you could end up with a nucleus of Williams, Martin, Howard, one of Scola/Patterson, and certainly at least one of Lee, Morris, Budinger, and Parsons.

UPDATE: Now that I re-read it, I actually think those two clauses are meant to be taken separately ie: “If Orlando were to take a Houston deal, they’d want Lowry in it.” which isn’t anything we already didn’t know.

in musings

My stance on tanking

Many of you have expressed confusion over my stance on ‘tanking’ in recent days.  I’m writing this here because 140 characters won’t suffice.  You’ll most likely see me link to this as reference during our chats, as the season progresses.

When I promote ‘tanking’, it should be understood that I mean that that is what should have been done from the start, or early on.  I am not advocating that it should now be a policy going forward.  

Despite the team’s recent string of losses, it’s now far too late to tank; it would be pointless.  If even continuing to lose at a consistent rate, the Rockets’ current record already precludes a top draft slot.  Getting a pick in the #10 to #14 range would serve little benefit.  It’s unlikely that the player chosen would even break the rotation (see: Morris, Marcus) and he would tie up scarce resources.  Donatas Motiejunas is already slated to return and teams do not like to carry multiple high-priced rookies.

[I’ve already explained in depth why the Rockets should have tanked from the start.]

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in from the editor

How analytics can help the Rockets

With ideas capable of upgrading organizations and making life easier for coaches, players, and team executives, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is somewhat of a dream scenario for those who make their living in the business of sports. Words like “groundbreaking” and “innovative” don’t begin to do the presented research justice. But at the same time some of the separate findings contradict one another, making it difficult to weed through the results and select what might be constituted as the “right” way. One paper, titled “Experience and Winning in the National Basketball Association”, suggests that keeping a starting five intact from year to year increases postseason win totals. “NBA Chemistry: Positive and Negative Synergies in Basketball” indirectly challenged these findings by saying if the New Orleans Hornets had traded Chris Paul to Utah for Deron Williams before the 2010-11 season, both franchises would’ve benefited.

Now, a quick disclaimer before we dive deep into what I’ve found that could be helpful to the Rockets moving forward: Just because cutting-edge data says probabilities increase within the vacuum of a given situation does not mean anything is guaranteed or promised. It must be kept in mind that these numbers were berthed when thousands of players participated in hundreds of thousands of possessions, and that everything moving forward is technically separated from everything that happened in the past. The purpose of analytics isn’t to find absolute answers—sports is an entity ultimately decided by human error—but to make the long road to a championship a bit less foggy. [read more…]

in essays