The Rockets that Never Were

Sometimes the world we live in seems like it has no right to exist. At least 98 percent of all theoretical universes had the Spurs win Game 6. That’s just science. The Rockets have seen their fair share of unlikely snares, too. How did Houston snag Harden? How in the world did they follow up by grabbing Howard? Well, let’s look at an article from an alternate Earth with an alternate Red94, one where Clay Bennett and Sam Presti were willing to eat some extra luxury tax to hold onto James Harden. This isn’t the darkest timeline, but it’s sure not the brightest.

With August upon us and the major free agency moves now in the past, we’re starting to see a clear picture of what the 2013-2014 NBA season will look like. The Rockets might not be a major player this season, they’ve had a busy summer and look to be ready to make some noise in seasons to come. Will general manager Daryl Morey be vindicated with a finals berth just as the Heat and Thunder start to cool off? Let’s take a look.

After an interesting if ultimately disappointing season, Houston took a huge pile of cap space and turned it into a future. Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin may not have been a very successful backcourt, but Lin showed promise and Kevin Martin has subsequently turned into a sign and trade piece with a nice reward. Ömer Aşık was a revelation on defense, and Chandler Parsons made a huge leap offensively. The question at the shooting guard seems solved in grand fashion but the power forward position remains as much a question as ever.

The good news is that the Rockets actually got younger, somehow, shedding Kevin Martin and Carlos Delfino, and Francisco Garcia and replacing them with Klay Thompson and Nerlens Noel. Both trades came as huge surprises, but Morey has shown yet again that he’s ready to strike whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Snapping up Noel from the newly christened New Orleans Pelicans was an unexpected move by both teams, but both teams seem happy with their choices. Patrick Beverley, The pick the Rockets acquired from the Raptors as well as the brutally protected draft pick from the Dallas Mavericks went out as the Rockets welcomed yet another young big man for their rotation. Noel had been predicted to be a possible first overall pick in the lottery this year, and Houston was lucky to have been able to grab him. It’s somewhat worrisome that he’s recovering from a disastrous ACL injury. There’s no reason not to take a risk for Houston this year, with the Andrew Wiggins right around the corner.

If it had stopped there, the Rockets would have been basically set. However, with the olympic-sized pool made of cap space the Rockets held, another move was in the cards. After a truly disastrous season in Los Angeles, the second “Dwightmare” started as quickly as it stopped. Star center Dwight Howard never seemed to fit with the Lakers, and it was no surprise that he left. The fact that he left to the Golden State Warriors was more of a surprise. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak’s had indicated that he would not allow a sign and trade in any circumstance, but Morey and the Rockets interceded quickly. Under threat of clearing cap space by sending salary to Houston and then simply signing Dwight outright, resistance to a sign and trade faded until a three team deal was arranged.

The Lakers acquired Andrew Bogut, the Golden State Warriors signed Dwight Howard, and the Rockets made out like bandits, using their cap space to accommodate movement of the expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins. Kevin Martin was happy to go to Oakland to play alongside Dwight Howard, and his salary made the trade feasible. The prize for Houston? “Super Splash Brother” Klay Thompson, part of the most prolific three point shooting duo in NBA history. Golden State hopes Martin can take over the three point shooting load (he can) and Houston hopes Thompson will be part of a long-term solution.

So what can we look forward to this season? Well, the Rockets have a pile of forwards to work with, including Royce White, who has expressed a desire to complete his agreements with the team and play for Houston. White, Terrence Jones, Thomas Robinson (acquired in a trade with the Kings), Donatas Motiejūnas, Greg Smith and now Nerlens Noel all join Ömer Aşık in a big man rotation flush with youth. Expect many of them to be allowed to continue to sink or swim as the Rockets keep flipping assets. None of those players look to become franchise stars, but all Morey needs is a chance. Some were wondering if the Oklahoma City Thunder might be looking at trading Harden, but their long-term solution was to instead amnesty Kendrick Perkins during this summer. Many people blamed him for their second consecutive loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, and now we’ll get to see what they can do without him.

But those titans can’t last forever, and the Rockets will be right there, waiting for a chance to snap up a player who becomes too expensive. The new CBA is going to squeeze a small-market team too hard, and Morey will be there, arms full of gifts, and a predatory shine in his eyes.


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The Rockets Daily – August 2, 2013

A - That's the grade ESPN's Chad Ford gave to Houston's offseason. You have to hand it to Les Alexander....