The Red94 2017 Houston Rockets Trade Deadline Diary

  • My fingers are literally shaking as I type this, in fear that its contents will be obsolete prior to my hitting publish.  That usually is the case this time of year and prior to free agency.  This year, things seem even crazier, with several stars (‘Melo, Paul George, Drummond) and impact players (Wilson Chandler, Galinari, Lou Williams) reportedly in play, and the league’s most dominant big man already dealt.  And of course there is the added wrinkle that Houston is already good and probably looking to upgrade its chances for the stretch run.  I’ll add onto this as I go, as we approach the Thursday deadline, or until something significant occurs necessitating its own post.
  • Part of why it seems everyone is piling on the ridicule of Kings management (aside from the fact that they completely embarrassed themselves on Sunday) is an outrage over the shakeup they facilitated.  If you’re stupid to your own detriment, nobody cares, aside from a little bit of mockery.  But if you’re stupid and it has widespread ramifications that affect everyone, that’s when you will really hear about it.  Maybe the Davis-Cousins experiment fails.  But there’s just as great a chance, in my opinion, that it completely alters the landscape of the West.  And that absolutely should not have happened.
  • I tweeted this morning about Clint Capela, wondering whether it might be wise to sell high in a year when a seemingly unprecedented number of stars are available.  Allow me to offer a disclaimer: this does not mean that I no longer hold Capela in high regard.  What I’m saying is that while in December, I considered Capela nearly untouchable, as the season has progressed, with Capela not demonstrating an ability to play heavy minutes, I’m beginning to wonder if my analysis should be mended.  If the stamina issues which have plagued him are going to be a long-term concern, Capela’s production will not justify the dollar figure he will command.  Understand that I’m not advocating that we just trade him.  What I’m saying is that if the concern I just raised is valid, the Rockets should at least explore selling high while the rest of the league is still in the dark as to the point of concern.  And in a market like this, now would be the time, especially when Houston does not figure to have any significant amount of cap space available this summer to add a second star.
  • And the Rockets just traded for Lou Williams.
  • Update at 7:05 P.M. on 2/21 – I knew it would happen, and it did.  The Rockets made a trade in between my writing this post and hitting publish.  In acquiring Lou Williams for Corey Brewer, Houston bolsters the second best offense in the league by replacing its worst offensive player with another dangerous scoring threat.  All of those demoralizing open corner 3’s Corey Brewer routinely bricked will now go to a 39% 3-point shooter, making Houston’s second unit absolutely deadly.  Even with James Harden on the bench, Mike D’Antoni can now feature lineups with both Eric Gordon and Lou Williams, maintaining the pressure on the opposition.  But this takes Wilson Chandler out of play, which is sort of a bummer.  Additionally, of some interest is that the pick the Rockets are sending back to Los Angeles does not come with protections attached, sort of an oddity for a Daryl Morey deal.  One could argue that Houston is so far ahead in the standings that it doesn’t matter, but its still rare to see Morey concede on such a negotiating point.  I think the Lakers too did well for themselves in this trade.  The Rockets did great.

  • Update at 8:02 P.M. on 2/21 – I just don’t see any way the Rockets come out of this deadline with K.J. McDaniels still on the roster.  The only way would be if there just isn’t any market for his services.  And on that point, having dealt his first round pick already, you think Daryl is more inclined to hold onto at least one of his second rounders, right?  On the flip side, however, every year, there are reports of teams auctioning off second round picks for cash.  So then why do they have value at the deadline if they can later be bought?  And on that point, something I wrote about recently: why the constant commentary every year from the commentariat of the primacy of early second rounders over late first rounders, when every deadline, “a first rounder” is the starting point asking price bar for any deal of significance?  There’s a serious reality gap.
  • Update at 8:43 P.M. on 2/21 – Several of you have expressed disappointment that this acquisition precludes a Wilson Chandler deal.  I’m sort of on the fence on that one.  While Chandler would have added defensive versatility, Williams makes this offense even more explosive than it already is.  That’s a counterfactual which beckons the age-old theoretical debate over the merits of shoring up a weakness vs. building upon a strength, if having to choose from one.  Chandler shot only 34% on 3’s, but could conceivably play the ‘4’ in smallball lineups while not having nearly the shot-creation ability of Williams.  The thought of having Chandler available for small ball lineups against the Warriors when Anderson wasn’t hitting is intriguing, but isn’t that duplicative of Sam Dekker’s strengths?  You can now run teams off the floor with Gordon/Harden/Williams lineups, defense be damned.  Isn’t that what we’re going for here?  Score with us if you can.
  • Update at 9:01 P.M. on 2/21 – As I just tweeted, James Harden and Louis Williams are #1 and #2, respectively, in both RPM, and ORPM.  Sooo…by one metric, the Rockets have the two best offensive shooting guards in the league.
  • I don’t think its fair to say that Brewer brought nothing.  Despite his struggles, his attitude and energy were infectious; there’s a reason two coaches gave him preference over the upside of K.J. McDaniels.  Brewer will be missed, and his memory will live fondly, if for nothing else but his contributions in 2015 in one of the most exhilarating seasons in Rockets history.  Daryl Morey brought him in midseason, with Josh Smith, completely revamping the ethos of this team, characterized by a chaotic fervor that took the team all the way to the West Finals.  Ultimately, Brewer’s inability to hit open shots is what did him in – he was down to 23% on 3’s, averaging just 4.2 points per game at the time of the trade.  It was demoralizing to watch the team work the ball around the perimeter only to find Brewer open for a corner 3, which of course, he usually missed.  Those shots will now go to a far better shooter.  I remarked routinely in December that the one upgrade I hoped to see was an actual shooter of competence in the Brewer rotation spot.  That’s happening now.
  • You can still bring back a decent sized contract if combining K.J. McDaniel’s $3.3million and Tyler Ennis’ $1.7million, but assuming that Ariza and Anderson are off limits, dealing Brewer is prohibitive of any major trade.  I don’t think Morey is done, and I’d like to see someone who can help inside on the nights when Capela is getting manhandled inside and old-man-Nene just doesn’t have it.  But I don’t know who would be available since all we’ve been discussing are swingmen.  Hasn’t Charles Oakley been in the news.
  • Update at 6:32 A.M. on 2/22 – Who wins the 6th man award now?  Williams and Eric Gordon were basically the only contenders, and now both of their numbers will take a hit.  I think you’ll still see Gordon win it as the voters will understand the dynamics, especially because there isn’t really anyone else in the field.  If he stays above 15 points per game, and the Rockets continue winning, I think Gordon should be safe, and I do think he has a better claim to the award than Williams, being the incumbent Rocket.
  • Keep in mind that if necessary, the Rockets can pretty easily move Williams this summer to clear cap space, whereby moving Brewer would have required attaching a sweetener as the Rockets just did.  However, I still maintain, as I did during the Motiejunas saga, that I anticipate the team to operate above the cap this summer as they will not be able to drop below enough to go big game hunting.
  • One slight concern is the adjustment process here in acclimating an incoming player with a usage percentage of 30.  The Rockets are a team right now, for the first time since 2015, with a clear hierarchy and predefined roles.  This will take some sorting out to do.  But that shouldn’t preclude the addition of superior talent.
  • via Matt Moore of CBSSports: Williams is in the 94th percentile in the league in pick and roll situations, and 92nd when factoring in passes.  So you can run the same sets with a homeless man’s Harden when the MVP goes to the bench.
  • It seems Lou Williams will not be available for Thursday’s game against the Pelicans which is quite a bummer because with all of the focus on the Cousins/Davis pairing, I would have loved to see the contrast in styles with Houston’s new weapon off the bench.
  • Some of you seem to be assuming that with Brewer, a small forward, traded, that this necessarily means K.J. McDaniels will absorb the leftover minutes.  While I wish that were the case, I don’t see it that way – I think the Rockets will view the wing positions as interchangeable, and all of the Brewer minutes will get gobbled up by Gordon, Lou, and Harden.  I don’t think Corey Brewer’s existence was the obstacle keeping K.J. McDaniels off the floor.  And believe me, I wanted nothing more than for K.J. to succeed this year, particularly after a very impressive pre-season.  But there’s clearly something going on behind the scenes there that have led him to fail with two Houston coaches after being cut loose from Philadelphia after an impressive half-rookie season.  Like I’ve been saying, it depends on what the market is for his services.  Does the league still view him scintillating enough to consider as an upside flier with potential?  I think so, especially if you attach a second round pick.  That’s why I think there is one more move left to be made.  But believe me – there’s nothing I’d love more than for K.J. to suddenly emerge and give the Rockets an aerial dynamic off the bench.  I just don’t see it happening.  If you can’t beat out a guy scoring 4 points per game, shooting in the low 30’s, then the team probably doesn’t think very highly of you.
  • Taj Gibson will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and is making $8.9million.  You could get close to that with K.J. and Ennis, but would need to add another part for salary matching purposes.  But a free-agent-to-be who can help now as well is precisely the type of player I think the Rockets will be targeting.
  • P.J. Tucker, also a 2017 unrestricted free agent, is making $5.3 million, an amount that can be absorbed with McDaniels and Ennis.  Tucker is down to 34% on 3’s this year, and hasn’t shot north of 35% since 2013-2014.  But he’s a sturdy defender that could give the team more options in small ball lineups.
  • Update at 6:25 P.M. on 2/22 – It was reported this morning by Woj that Houston is aggressively looking to add a player in the $10-$12million range, news which came as a bit of a surprise as I had assumed Morey’s big-game hunting was over.  Such an acquisition would require, for cap purposes, either a larger multi-team deal, or sending out a player I didn’t think the team had any interest in trading (i.e. Nene, Dekker etc.).  Trading Nene in particular would raise eyebrows, after the veteran center took less on the market to sign here – not a good look.  But if that’s the case, so be it.  The ends justify the means, I suppose.  The greater point this news underscores is that for Morey, last season was possibly a realization of sorts of the fleeting nature of title contention.  A season with a top-3 seed and the league MVP is rare–even if Houston has enjoyed those preconditions two out of the last three years–and with one rotten apple, it can all come crumbling down.  Thus, he traded his first round draft pick and is still on the hunt for more.  Carpe diem!  Readers of this page are aware of my recently formulated philosophy: “just be good enough.”  I do not subscribe to the paradigm that because the Warriors exist, the season itself is lost.  One Steph Curry injury can change everything, even if Donatas Motiejunas and his back sweat are gone.
  • The more interesting news of the day pertained to league-wide interest in Patrick Beverley with Houston reportedly rebuffing several suitors.  As I said this afternoon, there are only a handful of players in the league for whom I would deal Beverley, and those players rank amongst the NBA’s very elite.  Beverley is this team’s heart and soul, and its undisputed leader.  He is the emotional backbone of this team.  And as I wrote at length earlier in the year, he fits even better now due to the presence of Eric Gordon.  You see, in the past, Beverley’s qualities were an undeserved luxury because the team lacked in the areas in which he is deficient.  But now, because Gordon can be the second playmaker, Beverley’s tenacity and intangibles make everything fit together, and his weaknesses are masked.  As I argued in December, that trio of Harden/Beverley/Gordon is championship caliber and amongst the best in the league.  It’s in the frontcourt where the Rockets  are missing an extra piece.  So no, Cleveland, you may not have Patrick Beverley for Iman Shumpert.

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[…] case you missed parts 1 and 2, they can be found here and here.  As is common knowledge now, Houston emerged from the trade deadline adding Lou Williams […]

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