Embracing the void

This hasn’t been the best week for the Houston Rockets. Starting with the moment Chandler Parsons signed an offer sheet in a nightclub to the moment the Rockets declined to match that offer, everything that could go wrong seemingly went wrong. What at first looked like risky but positive moves have now culminated in what can only be called a step backwards. It may be in the interest of taking a much larger step forward, but there’s a gap between this Rockets team and the one that stepped off the court in April. There’s a void.

The natural response is to shy from it, to turn away from that void and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s easy to view this week through any number of lenses that ameliorate the unhappy knowledge that there’s a gap. That gap is there whether we look or not, and depending on the outcome of this summer, the void may spread out and negate the entire season. Unless a major move is made, the Rockets have stepped back from even the marginal contention they were at before. There’s no use in ignoring it. The only option left is to acknowledge this void, to embrace it.

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Houston Rockets decline to match on Chandler Parsons, sun rises Monday morning

All of my initial reactions to this story are on Twitter.

  • This is not the end of the world.  Friday, when Chris Bosh spurned the team, was the end of the world.
  • I am definitely shocked by this news.  As I had written over the weekend, I fully expected the team to match on Parsons.
  • I had been operating under the premise that even after bringing back Parsons, the team would still have the flexibility to make another impact move.  The staff determined that that would not be possible.
  • If bringing back Parsons means that that is essentially your team, that that is it, are you ok with that?
  • In response to the above, many of you have answered in the affirmative, wondering when the tinkering will ever stop.  One reader asked, quite poignantly, “when will Morey’s final team ever happen?”  I’d raise that one notch: Morey is in a race to realize his “final team” before Dwight Howard’s prime expires.  Problem: Dwight Howard’s prime is expiring.
  • Ariza is roughly similar to Parsons, we can all agree.  But today, you’re a worse team than you would have been had you matched on Parsons, simply by not having both Parsons or Ariza.  Though you keep open the hope, albeit slim, of drastic improvement via a later trade.  This whole thing gives rise to fascinating philosophical basketball questions: at what point do you stop?  at what point do you stop trading the present for hope on the future?  The Rockets could have gone all in this year, and they would have been better than they probably will be.  But on the flip side, they would not have been as good as they possibly can be if the right trade comes along.  Is that a wise gamble?  I don’t know.  The clock is ticking on Dwight Howard’s prime.
  • Unless it was the case that letting Parsons hit free agency was a condition precedent to Dwight Howard’s signing, on the part of Dan Fegan, Houston’s handling of the Parsons situation goes down, unequivocally as the biggest blunder of Daryl Morey’s career.
  • The team could have brought back Parsons at a shade under $1million next season.  Now, in hopes of securing him long term, they’ve allowed him to walk altogether, to a conference rival.  A horrible miscalculation.
  • This offseason can only be classified as a complete and unmitigated disaster.  Nabbing a star free agent had been Houston’s ultimate end-game all along, as they had refused to take back multi-year contracts in any trade made in-season (see: fake trade deadline, Asik).  They pushed forward all of their chips and whiffed.
  • There is much ire this morning directed towards Daryl Morey.  I don’t know if that’s justified.  As I’ve been saying, this was a colossal miscalculation on his part, but I can never blame a guy for swinging for the fences.  He had a clear and coherent plan and it simply backfired.  Sometimes in life, when you take chances, they don’t pan out.  I have to wonder whether those of you so furious with Morey would prefer he just aimlessly sign the likes of Mo Taylor and Moochie Norris.
  • It appears the “he only treats his players as assets” brigade has found it convenient to rear its head over this turn of events.  Again, I have to point out, if Morey didn’t “treat his players as assets”, we’d still be rolling with a nucleus of Chuck Hayes, Trevor Ariza, Kyle Lowry, and Aaron Brooks.  There would be no Dwight Howard.  You can’t have it both ways.
  • One wonders what caused Morey to exude such confidence regarding an Anthony/whomever signing by going so far as letting Parsons hit free agency.  It almost makes me feel this was a condition set by Fegan.
  • I have agreed with the plan all along and am still in defense of it, in hindsight.  But I think it has to stop now.  They need to use the flexibility saved in a trade in-season, or towards future trades.  But I do not support an eye towards 2015 free agency.  That game has become too great of a gamble.  What we’ve learned is that Dwight Howard was the outlier, not the norm upon which to bet futures.

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My worst nightmare realized: Trevor Ariza returns to the Houston Rockets

The title is for grins, a running shtick with my loyal followers on Twitter who so kindly checked on my wellbeing upon news of this acquisition.  This was a very good signing.  Make no mistake about that.  If viewed from the prism of Bosh, it is difficult not to be incredibly underwhelmed.  In relation to the team’s master-plan, coming away with Trevor Ariza instead of Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh, can only be described as a total disappointment.  I can assure you Daryl Morey and friends will not be going out for drinks upon completion of this deal.  But in vacuo of those considerations–as difficult as it is to distance oneself from prior expectations–this was a good signing, especially at this cost.

When I first saw the news, I was firmly anticipating the numbers to come in at above $11 million per annum.  Trevor Ariza at 8 is very good value, undoubtedly better value than the money the team will be paying Chandler Parsons once they match his offer sheet later today.  Ariza hit 41% on 3′s last season, the highest mark of his career, chipping in a shade over 14 points per game.  He instantly becomes the team’s best shooter and arrives as its sole competent wing defender.  If they match on Parsons, the Rockets today are a better team than the one that closed out the regular season.  (I’m not going to go so far as to say they are better than the playoff version because Asik played a significant role in the playoffs, unlike the regular season, and it remains to be seen if added wing depth holds a greater impact than depth on the frontline).

I learned a lot about basketball from Trevor Ariza.  He was the first player whose game I ever closely looked into; he was the most frustrating player I’ve ever seen in a Houston Rockets uniform.  Watching him play made me understand the nature of ball-handling and ‘creating’ in the NBA, propositions which were only reaffirmed these past few years during my observations of Jeremy Lin.  Ariza has a functional, aesthetically above-par handle, and plus-level athleticism/quickness.  Upon his initial signing, fans with whom I interacted in those days (this was right before the launch of Red94)(and even the team’s broadcasters), immediately assumed Ariza could be the new torch-bearer, sort of a McGrady-lite.  The thinking went that if you can kind of dribble and you can blow by your man, you were a “creator.” These assumptions were categorically false.

A lot like Jeremy Lin, Ariza would blow past his initial defender but never know what to do against the second line of defense*.  He’d get caught in the lane, picking up his dribble and having to toss it back out to save the play.  You can’t just always drive in.  This point was reaffirmed by the return of Tracy McGrady, as I wrote extensively, even as a complete shell of his former self.  Go to your local gym and watch a pickup game between amateurs.  Want to know the difference between the very best and guys that are just good?  By and large, most guys with quickness and a competent handle get tunnel vision when driving the lane.  They’re just going straight in without a plan – their entire objective is to get past their own man.  The elite–the McGrady’s, the Paul’s–are playing chess.  They’re not just trying to blow by and get to the basket.  They’re thinking about the second defender, so they’re slowing down their dribble, attacking at different speeds, squeezing off midrange shots, anticipating the help.  I think the most important skill for a perimeter player is to be able to attack at different speeds.

Due to the presence of James Harden, Ariza won’t be given the opportunity to waste the team’s possessions this time around.  He’ll spot up from ’3′, where hopefully his touch from last year will be retained, he’ll play defense, and he’ll run the floors.  Again, at $8million, this is a good deal.

The team has other avenues to improve and some other options which they are still exploring.  While the last few days’ chain of events no doubt comes as a disappointment, this signing in and of itself was a good one, and it helps the team.  We’ll see what else they are able to do.

*In a conversation that I found utterly fascinating, Steve Nash told Bill Simmons that Amare Stoudemire came into his own in the season when he began being able to read the second line of defense before making his initial move.

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The Kubler Ross Model: Acceptance

We’re going to be ok.  I went through the first four stages yesterday, and I think talking things out over the podcast really helped as well.  This is all going to be ok.  Yesterday was a very bad dream and we are going to get through this.  Together.  We got through the Steve Francis era.  We survived The Trevor Ariza era.  Oh wait…

You know how when someone has a bad breakup, or is spurned, etc., they get over it by vilifying the other person?  Or usually what happens is, the person’s friends start the vilification process for them: “he was a loser anyway, you can do way better!”  I’ve begun convincing myself that Bosh never held genuine interest in the Rockets to begin with and was only using them to coax the max out of Miami.  Who knows if that’s true, but it has made me feel significantly better.  Such are the tactics which must be employed during times of such grief.  Understand that for a solid five hours yesterday afternoon, the Houston Rockets had the best starting lineup in basketball.  Fifty years from now, tell that to your grandkids.  When you tell them about the Matt Bullard-Carlos Rogers-Walt Williams frontline of 2000, the Kelvin Cato “10 block game”, and that Zan Tabak actually went on to be pretty decent, tell them that for five or six glorious hours on July the 11th, the Houston Rockets had the best starting lineup in basketball.

Chris Bosh spurn photo forrestwalker_zps50b15fa9.png

The grey is not me, folks.  The grey is not me.

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The Red94 Podcast: The healing process begins

In today’s episode, Forrest Walker and I begin the healing process after Chris Bosh leaves the Rockets at the altar.

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