This is where half of you indignantly turn your nose up in faux maturity.  “We’re a month away from the start of preseason!  Why waste our time over some pipe-dream when we can enjoy the team we have?!?!”  Relax.  Take a deep breath.  This is supposed to be fun.  And half of the fun of sports is imagining the possibilities of new players on your team.  Especially when the potential new player is one of the three most talented players in the league.  So let’s have at it.

I’ve already discussed why the Rockets will, at the very least, be given token consideration.  As they do every year, they’ll find the way to manufacture the cap space necessary to make this doable.  And unlike the previous free agents they’ve recruited (Bosh, Carmelo, Aldridge), Durant is close with resident superstar James Harden.  There isn’t even any cause this time around for the “do other stars hate Harden/Howard” doubts we’ve tried unsuccessfully to push from our minds after the previous failed attempts.*  And that last post on this topic was before this became relevant:

Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson were AAU teammates!  I mean, really, how perfect could that be?  We already learned last year that AAU saves lives and is the greatest force for good in the free world.  But now this, another connection.  And it’s not even like Lawson and Durant played together but secretly hated each other, and carried over that hatred into their respective adulthoods while everyone else speculated they were friends.  They are still friends!  Here’s a quote from Lawson about Durant, from earlier this year:

“I’ve talked to him about it, but I probably can’t tell you what he said,” Lawson laughingly told when the Nuggets visited last month….

“We talked about it. Everybody going home and playing for their respective cities,” Lawson said. “It would be cool, especially playing with the people you grew up with. I grew up with KD. It would be fun to play with them on one team.”

Wait, that might actually be bad for the point I’m trying to make here.  Never mind.  But the point is, the two persons in questions converse in the present day.  And through Google, I found some other quotes that weren’t so interesting, but which also confirmed the two are still friends (ie: the discourse is of pleasant nature).  So there you have it, folks.  James Harden and Kevin Durant.  Friends.  James Harden and Ty Lawson.  Friends, (though that one tweet a year or so ago about Harden’s defense was very mean-spirited).  Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson.  Friends.  *Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard.  Probably not the best of friends.  (But I have to seriously question the social aptitude of anyone who thinks that simply because Durant called Dwight Howard a p**** in the heat of the moment, it unequivocally rules out any consideration the former might have given to playing in Houston, where the latter is employed.  Is Dwight Howard, personally, unbearable to such a degree that one might avoid his team?  Possibly.  But one on-court incident, during a heated game, is not probative independently of such intent.  I bring this up because I’ve seen so many fans in different corners of the internet cite that moment as a “I guess that means Durant won’t come here!” proof.  Stop).

[read more…]

in essays


On bringing back Jason Terry

Isn’t our collective exuberance over bringing back Jason Terry a sign of the times?  This was the same guy who rained threes all over the Toyota Center, doing that obnoxious flying motion in humiliating McGrady’s Rockets ten years ago in bringing Dallas back from an 0-2 series deficit.  Oh, and he also claimed Rockets legend Kenny Smith’s nickname and asserted it as his own, even though being given the nickname because of one’s quickness is obviously much cooler than a self-prescribed acronym in using one’s initials.  But Terry is back, and we’re all thrilled, because he’s been there and we’re trying to get “there.”  I didn’t think he would even sniff the court last season and was brought on primarily as trade bait (due to his contract), and maybe the former would have been true (the latter certainly was) had Pat Beverley not gotten hurt and had Isaiah Canaan not had whatever issues he and Kevin McHale had.  But there Terry was, somehow starting games for the team in the freaking Western Conference Finals.  I won’t talk about that last round, but while Chris Paul was hurt, sure, isn’t it amazing to reflect that the Rockets actually didn’t really get killed at the point guard position in the semis?  That alone is further proof that those of you freaking out over Ty Lawson’s defensive problems need to chill the hell out.  We’re going to be fine.  Because we were fine with Terry and Prigioni manning the spot.

By the way, where are the people who said the Rockets don’t value chemistry?  After experiencing their best season in two decades, the team brought back Terry, Corey Brewer, and Pat Beverley, keeping its core intact.  Funny how that works, right?  As we had been writing, in previous years, it might not have made sense to bring back the former two, because the team wasn’t really in a place to value veteran contributions.  But now that they’re in an actual position to win, continuity is at a premium.

Despite his contributions last season, hopefully Terry won’t have to see the court this season.  Lawson and Beverley should split the lion’s share of the minutes at the position, allowing the old man to bring value in the lockerroom.  I didn’t really understand the importance of veteran leadership until last season when, time and time again, the team refused to give up until the very end.  You have to believe that guys like Terry and Trevor Ariza played instrumental roles there, convincing the team that every champion faces adversity.

in musings

  • James Harden turned 26 this past week, the age which ushered the end of Tracy McGrady’s place amongst the league’s elite.  The year was 2005, McGrady’s second with the team.  It was also the year the Houston Astros went to the World Series and were last relevant.  The Houston Texans, on the other hand, went 2-14 that year and were again irrelevant, as they have been for the entirety of their existence.  And thus, I’ve found a way to open this column by arbitrarily tying all 3 of Houston’s major sports teams together to the year 2005.
  • McGrady’s demise seems a lot more sudden in hindsight than it did at the time, while living through it, partly because we were all in denial.  He still had a few more All-Star level years, leading up until 2008, but he was never again the MVP caliber player the Rockets acquired from Orlando, and the level of player James Harden is today.  It’s absolutely crazy thinking back.  Imagine signing Kevin Durant next summer, witnessing one typical Durant season, and watching him steadily decline from there on out.  As I’ve written at length, Harden should age very well, due to his style of play.  But I would like to see a few less drives to the rim, even at the cost of efficiency.
  • Even for a basketball junkie such as myself, there’s really nothing quite like October baseball.  Basketball is joy and excitement.  Baseball is anticipation and agony.  Even turning one’s head for a mere moment to check one’s Twitter feed can prove reckless, in a game where a misplaced fastball left a little too high can end the hopes of an entire season.  And so here we are, inching closer to what is appearing to be an almost inevitable postseason appearance by the Astros.  Even if they somehow blow this division lead, where are the people who lambasted general manager Jeff Luhnow every step of the way?  Apologies are due, and I haven’t read or heard too many.  Daryl Morey, of course, also endured the same sort of short-sighted criticism before building a team that has climbed to the top of the Western Conference.  The problem is that too many people with voices don’t understand the obvious dichotomy between process and results.
  • I’ve remarked before, it’s fascinating to observe the stark contrast between the two aforementioned Houston teams and their counterparts on Kirby.  The Rockets and Astros are forward-thinking, cutthroat and process oriented, in line with the modern ideologies of business management.  The Texans, mired in their own ineptitude since their inception into the league, are the polar opposite, exhibiting everything from front office nepotism to reckless cap mismanagement with seemingly no real plan in place.  The Texans are the fossil of team sports, a vehicle which slowly has moved towards extinction with the rise of MBA GM’s.  One empathizes now, in watching J.J. Watt, with the late 80’s Houston observer, witnessing Olajuwon waste away his physical peak on also-runs with no chance at the title; except, as sacrilegious as this may sound, Watt’s legendary greatness right now is more apparent than Hakeem’s was then, before the two titles.  To echo the sentiment voiced by some of my favorites on the Houston airwaves, I’m just not quite sure I understand what the hell the Texans are doing with regards to their masterplan, as evidenced by their quarterback decisions.  If the assumption is that in 2015, one cannot win a Super Bowl with merely a game managing quarterback, what exactly are they doing?  If that premise stands, isn’t every snap taken with someone who isn’t the long term guy an utter waste of everyone’s time?  Shouldn’t the team be taking chances on wild cards, no matter how long the odds may be?  I’m not really sure what the appeal is in going 8-8, aside from gate receipts and merchandise sales, but history has shown those revenues won’t be diminishing regardless of the product on the field (see: 2005).  Mediocrity is something very frustrating to me.
  • I suppose the thinking might be to build inside-out, having the rest of the team in place, until an appealing option at quarterback presents itself in the draft.  But with the time it takes these days to learn the position, your opportunity cost is the risk run of losing critical pieces to free agency, by the time you’ve found your guy and gotten him up to speed.  Wouldn’t sound logic dictate just flipping the order?
  • If they get in, the Astros have as good as chance as anyone to win the World Series because that is just the nature of baseball.  All it takes is a couple of arms getting hot, and the bats staying steady, and a team can go the distance.  How about that for a story?  From worst to first.  Would that change opinions on Sam Hinkie’s project in Philadelphia?  Of course ascendency into the league’s upper crust is much tougher in basketball because of the dependence upon singular generational talents (as opposed to a full crop of great prospects).  But doesn’t that make tanking even more logical in that sport?  Without being awful, it’s much harder to get that one great talent than it is to find a lot of really good players.

in columns

More opinions on Jones/Motiejunas

From the forums, thejohnnygold:

Here’s something to consider when valuing Jones.  Where does he rank at his position?  I don’t just mean based on PER, or RAPM, or other such things.  Simply, if we ranked the league’s power forwards where would Jones fall?  After that, determining his value and how easily he could be replaced dictates how much we should reasonably pay for his services.  I mean, Earl Clark is just sitting out there right now.  Is Clark that much worse than Jones?  Would we be better with Clark for $1-$2M or Jones at $15M?

I can’t think of a starting PF in the league I wouldn’t take over Jones at $15M and there are quite a few back-ups I would take in lieu of paying Jones that much money.  (Does Jared Sullinger start?  I wouldn’t want him.)

Who the heck is going to pay him that much!?!?!

NorEastern on Motiejunas:

It is impossible for me to imagine a more important player over the next four years on the Rocket’s roster than DMo, except of course for Harden. There are few bigs in the NBA both willing and able to hold down both the four and the five positions. I am a much lesser man than Morey and so I would probably be sitting on DMo’s doorstep right now with a 4 year $64 million contract in hand. I doubt Morey will seek to extend him right now.

in from the editor

In a recent 5-on-5 feature, only one respondent ranked the Rockets among his top 5 teams entering next season.  The exercise itself holds little bearing – Houston was expected to finish among the bottom half of playoff teams last season, before ultimately claiming the second seed.  But for our purposes, where do the Rockets really stand among contenders?  To begin, the most striking thing about the Western Conference is the existence of the Oklahoma City Thunder.  When recounting the absolute brutality of the conference, one easily forgets that it did not feature the team that entered the season considered to be the very best in all of basketball.  Even with Kevin Durant’s health in question, it’s more likely than not that the Thunder are back near the top, and thus, should not be discounted.

For all of the crying we Rockets fans do about perceived disrespect, Grizzlies fans have a whole different gripe.  For a team that would probably run away with the East were it in that conference, you’d think they were like the Bobcats or something given the respect they receive overall.  It’s true that Memphis must probably change its archaic ways to rise to the very cream in the modern NBA, but on the flip side, what if Mike Conley’s face hadn’t shattered, and Tony Allen hadn’t gotten hurt?  Isn’t it likely Memphis crushes the Warriors’ soul and holds onto that series lead?  Are we then still talking about pace and space as necessity?

And then there’s the Clippers who come back improved with the addition of Paul Pierce’s manhood, but featuring the hilariously ironic bench duo of Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson.  Has any team in league history featured a more combustible pair?

Are the Spurs necessarily better than Houston?  They are the Spurs, so it’s a safe bet they’ll be in the mix, but do we know if Tony Parker is still alive?  Maybe it takes longer than expected to integrate LaMarcus Aldridge into the offense, whereas Houston will just be looking to plug Ty Lawson into the same sets run for James Harden.  And on a related note, has any other supposed top-10 player gotten anywhere near the free pass Kawhi Leonard received for the dud he turned in in the Spurs’ finale?  Just thinking out loud.

Then of course, there are the new kids on the block in Utah and New Orleans, waiting for any slippage from the top ranks, to ascend into the next tier.  The only real constant we can expect is that Dallas will suck, because, well, they struck out again, unless paying a recovering Wes Matthews more than James Harden is to be deemed any sort of victory.  As marvelously as this offseason has gone for Houston, the biggest loss was that DeAndre returned back home to California; had he not backed out on his promise to Dallas, even with Chandler Parsons’ “best center-shooting guard duo” in tow, the Mavs would not have posed a threat in the pecking order, but the Clippers would have been crippled.  Instead, well, the Mavs still don’t pose a threat.

Ultimately, the championship will be determined by health.  Despite record setting regular season differentials, I’m not entirely convinced in the Warriors’ perceived unequivocal superiority.  Things might have played out differently had they faced a single starting point guard in the playoffs, or a starting power forward in the latter rounds.  You could essentially throw the top 6 of GSW, HOU, LAC, SAS, OKC, and MEM into a bag, and dump them out in any order, with health as the ascending factor.  The Rockets could finish sixth, or, they could just as well finish at the top.

in musings

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