Rockets Roundup: 02/18/2015

A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days. 

Sports IllustratedJames Harden, the NBA’s unlikely MVP.

“The private plane that transported James Harden into Texas on the morning of Oct. 28, 2012, was silent except for the muffled beats leaking from his chunky headphones… He had just spent the summer on the U.S. Olympic team, with Thunder running mates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, fantasizing about the championships they seemed destined to capture. What do I do now? Harden asked himself. He was going from sixth man on a budding dynasty to leading man on a bubble team…”

Nylon Calculus. The Rockets without Dwight Howard.

“James Harden put on a one man show against the Phoenix Suns last Tuesday with 40 points, 9 assists, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block. He did all while his would-be partner-in-crime Dwight Howard looked on in an, as noted by friend of the site Charles Barkley, an equally impressive suit. Other than lacking some of the post moves of traditional bigs, Howard has seemed the perfect complement to Harden in a Moreyball system that keeps Harden slashing to the basket or behind the three-point line and Howard rolling out of pick-and-rolls like a man possessed.”

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The Red94 Podcast: Can the Rockets get Dragic?

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Is Goran Dragic worth the max?

I’ve had a few tweets directed towards me, and seen some others retweeted by people I follow, underscoring the disparity in Goran Dragic’s career averages.  Essentially, he played out of his mind last season, and has regressed to his career median again this year.  I’m not exactly sure what’s being insinuated here.  This isn’t exactly some novel discovery here.  I thought it was pretty common knowledge that he had a career year last season and has tailed off in 2015 in having to play off the ball alongside two other point guards.  What’s everyone’s point?

The question of value is a recurrent theme in sports, especially in the NBA where an artificial cap pervades.  In a vacuum, Dragic isn’t worth the contract it will likely take this summer to keep him in Houston, if the Rockets are able to swing a trade.  In a vacuum, maybe Chris Bosh wasn’t worth it either.  Very few players are absolutely worth their max figures, in vacuo of external considerations.  James Harden fits that bill; Dwight, even despite his injury problems, probably still is as well, for what he brings defensively alone.

Dragic means more to Houston, in theory, because he would represent what they would believe to be their missing piece.  They would be willing to pay more than he is actually worth because they would believe he would complete them.  Moreover, compounding this point are the time constraints and financial realities of the salary cap.  Houston can’t wait around for someone who might truly be worth the max to become available, because they are operating on Dwight Howard’s diminishing timeline.  Further, and even more importantly, the longer the Rockets wait, the longer they remain in the holding pattern they’ve been in for years whereby they have had to sacrifice continuity for the sake of flexibility.  For instance, let’s say there’s only ten other guys in the league who you feel are truly worth a max contract.  If you think you’re not going to move until one of those guys becomes available, you can’t resign any of your role players in the interim, the way the Rockets had to let Chandler Parsons walk this summer.  If Houston gets Dragic, it can work to keep Corey Brewer and Josh Smith as well.

So the question isn’t whether Goran Dragic is worth the max.  In a vacuum, he’s not.  The question is whether he can be the final piece of a championship core that already includes James Harden and Dwight Howard.  Resoundingly, I think that answer is yes, especially when weighing the odds and difficulty of acquiring anyone else.

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Suns preferring to move Thomas?

The above from Marc Stein this morning, just as I was warming up my coffee.  Such a course makes sense and is the route I thought all along would actually come to fruition.  The thinking there would be that Dragic is the superior player but Thomas could yield the higher return in trade.  Why trade Dragic for pennies on the dollar?  There are, of course, other variables.  If you trade Thomas, and then lose Dragic in the summer, you’ve really screwed up.  I think the question revolves around a determination of Thomas’ value.  He’s instant offense, locked up long term on a very cap friendly deal.  But on the other hand, he offers little else, has gotten a bad reputation, and really isn’t even amongst the top 20 point guards in the entire league.  By comparison, Aaron Brooks is making the league minimum.  Would someone be willing to give Phoenix an asset more valuable than New Orleans’ pick for Thomas?  I highly doubt it.

I think understandably, Phoenix will shop Thomas first and see what is being offered.  Concurrently, Morey offers the two second rounders he owns for Dragic.  If the Suns find something they like for Thomas, Morey calls them up and ups the ante, offering the Pelicans pick and a chance to avoid the scenario of losing both players (if Dragic were to leave outright in the summer).  And the Suns probably know he’s ready to play this card.  If someone blows Phoenix away with an unexpected offer for Thomas, that is obviously the best course of action.

It would be plausible for Phoenix to just hold onto both players for now and reassess the market this summer.  The risk there is that Dragic has made no indication toward loyalty, stating he will test the market.  What if they can’t find a deal they like for Thomas in July and Dragic walks?

Houston has to like its chances.  Understand that if they acquire Dragic, it would absolutely be with the intent of retaining him long term.  Further, this would be it and this would be their team.  They’d be locked into a core of Harden/Howard/Dragic and would then hope to retain the likes of Josh Smith and Corey Brewer.  Is that team good enough to sacrifice flexibility?  Absolutely.

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More on Houston’s Goran Dragic chase

From ESPN:

The Lakers, meanwhile, also have coveted Dragic for some time and likewise are said to be intent on testing the Suns’ resolve when it comes to their Slovenian point guard. Sources say L.A. plans to chase Dragic this summer anyway with an aggressive four-year offer that would be valued as high as an estimated $80 million if it approaches max-contract territory.

Other suitors for Dragic are sure to emerge, too, even though the Suns’ first choice is believed to be pursuing other trades that balance out their guard- and wing-heavy roster and re-establish Dragic as more of an offensive focal point.

The article also reiterates Houston’s interest in the Suns point guard, as reported first yesterday.  Though the Lakers mention is interesting.  I don’t know why they’d desire to offer the 30-year-old a rich max offer, though I guess they haven’t had much luck getting anyone to go over there of late.  In any case, L.A.’s interest is fortunate, as without a viable threat to lose him outright in the summer, the Suns might not have been willing to trade.

I have a difficult time seeing other suitors emerging because, as I noted yesterday, what team would want Dragic?  Only a contender would be willing to trade real assets for a potential rental, and all of the contenders already employ All-Star caliber  point guards.  I suppose there is the possibility of a rebuilding team such as maybe Boston hoping to keep Dragic long term.  But that would be odd given his age.  For now, it’s a pretty terrible market for Phoenix and I’d have to think the Rockets have the strongest odds to land the Slovenian.

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