The only item left now for the Rockets to cap off a pretty good offseason is securing a long term commitment to power forward Donatas Motiejunas. I wrote at length earlier in the summer about the Rockets’ woes this season, and surmised that, from what the numbers were indicating, a big factor in the drop-off was the replacement in the lineup of Donatas Motiejunas with Terrence Jones and a host of other underwhelming characters. The Rockets, of course, due to concerns over Motiejunas’ health, opted to deal the power forward to the Detroit Pistons for that team’s first round draft pick, an agreement which was rescinded when the Pistons too decided the proposition was too great of a risk. So Motiejunas came back, showed some flashes, and then looked kind of injured again and not entirely like himself.
But the rights to Jones were renounced, while a qualifying offer of $3,278,996 was extended to Motiejunas. The Rockets want Motiejunas back, but, as they do with all of their players not named James Harden, they want to let the market dictate his price. So, as of September 1, that’s where we stand.
In this week’s episode, I looked back on one of the most controversial moves in Houston Rockets history: the 1996 trade that sent budding stars Robert Horry and Sam Cassell to Phoenix for future Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. Many feel now that the deal was ill-advised, prematurely breaking up a team that had won consecutive NBA championships. However, as I explain in Episode 103, I still maintain to this day that the move was the right one to make.
It wasn’t until after I had finished recording the episode that I remembered that during All-Star weekend in Houston a few years back, I had actually asked both Horry and Cassell about their thoughts on the trade. Interestingly, Horry, unsolicited, mentioned the Kevin Willis angle, a twist on things I touched on briefly in the ‘pod:
I remember watching them and I was saying to myself, if they would’ve added Kevin Willis and Eddie Johnson to us…those were the two pieces that we needed. Two other veteran guys that could deal with some inside presence, a guy that could give us some outside shooting. If you look at it, we would have had a great lineup, we would have been able to compete. I’m not saying we would have won a championship, but we would have been right there to compete. And I know Utah wouldn’t have beaten us.
Cassell mentioned the flurry of injuries the team suffered in 1995-1996, an important backdrop to the trade. He also responded, when I asked if he was surprised when he heard news of the trade, that he was, and that “[he] never got a chance to be the starting point guard for [the] organization.” That Cassell would feel this way makes perfect sense, but is so revealing to hear after all of these years. Those old enough to remember will recall that amongst the fans and the media, point guard was a major controversy at the time, with many people clamoring for the more talented Cassell to replace Kenny Smith in the lineup. For his part, Sam said all the right things at the time and played his role, never creating a stir. But you can sense the resentment in his voice in this clip – almost a feeling of being robbed of an opportunity for which he had bided his time for so long. It’s always interesting to discover, after the fact, the emotions that might have existed behind the scenes.
Patrick Beverley thinks so. The no-brainer choice as the frontrunner would be Russell Westbrook not just because you can see him obliterating every usage and shot attempt record in existence, but also because if the Thunder have any degree of success this year, the media will be all over the narrative. Durant and Curry would seem to cancel each other out and I see Lebron taking an even greater step back to save himself for the stretch run. Anthony Davis would be a natural choice if the Pelicans could manage to not be horrible, leaving you with just Chris Paul and Blake Griffin who will both be injured for extended periods.
That brings us to Harden, who, despite producing at historic levels in 2016, couldn’t even make his way onto an All-NBA team. Remember when the Rockets were lovable? Does Dwight Howard leaving remove the stench of negativity that had been surrounding this team? Many of you seem to think so, but I’m wondering if people hate Harden for Harden, or if people just hate anything associated with Dwight Howard. Because people definitely hate Dwight Howard.
Jason Terry very recently expressed his disappointment with his former team saying that “they didn’t know what they wanted to do,” and ultimately remarking that his former teammates that had been jettisoned were “a trash can of Rockets that [had] been thrown away.”
First, that I’m writing on this is a good indicator that its late August. Secondly, its hard to blame Terry for the obvious frustration he felt over last season’s outcome. After actually starting down the stretch during the team’s most successful season in two decades, Terry clearly returned with a belief that the team would do big things and build upon its 2015 campaign. But its hard to interpret Terry’s true meaning here. On the one hand, he criticizes management on a string of desperation moves, but then by the same token, expresses his bewilderment that certain underperforming players were not brought back. I mean, Terrence Jones…really? That’s not exactly the sword to fall on when trying to make a case against Morey’s summer.
Above all of this, I think its amazing to recall that the team reached the West Finals with Terry as its starter, especially given the competition at that position. In theory, even an average level replacement should have catapulted the team.
In a recent podcast interview with ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz, Daryl Morey named DeAndre Jordan, in response to the question as to what player he most regrets missing out on. Jordan, of course, was the 35th overall pick in 2008, born in Houston, attending high school in Humble, and college at Texas A&M. More importantly, Jordan’s game is essentially identical to what Morey had in mind when he signed Dwight Howard, before the latter embarked upon his quest for self-reinvention.
Houston took Nicolas Batum that year at 25, but ended up with Ron Artest and Joey Dorsey through trade. Batum was a miss, but Artest was instrumental that season; Dorsey did not become “Ray Lewis with a basketball.” Looking back over that draft, a lot more teams than just the Rockets have reason for regret. Aside from Russell Westbrook, Jordan turned out to be far and away the most valuable player selected. (Ironically, current Rockets Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson were also both selected that year, at 7th and 21st respectively).