A New Beginning

Well, you snooze you lose and the early bird gets the worm. By now the Terrence Williams trade is old hat, buried under the rubble of the news of the Great Wall’s collapse. Maybe I waited too long to share my feelings of sheer happiness over the acquisition of Williams. Then again, the second mouse has a better chance at getting the cheese…and by that I mean, nothing can stop me from talking about T-Will.

Upon initially hearing of the trade, my immediate thoughts gave cause for concern over my favorite Rocket. At present, I have all but resigned my attachment to Shane Battier so as not to create a scene when I see Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey walking out the farmhouse door with a shotgun in his hands and tears in his eyes.

Yes, I believe William’s arrival is a death knell for Battier’s run as a Rocket, if not before February’s trade deadline, then surely in the offseason when his contract expires. The Rockets have no immediate title hopes and appear headed into a yet unknown level of rebuilding mode. With Yao pretty much down for the count, it will be rebuilding and not reloading. Battier’s time in the league is waning and would be more valuable elsewhere. I hope he contributes to a deep playoff run before he retires.

BUT T-WILL, MY GOD!!! The kid is amazing and a source of unlimited comedic potential. I am predicting interviews along the lines of Clinton Portis. I do not think he is a bad person, but rather, affably eccentric like the great grandmother who gives you a catheter for Christmas because she knows you go on road trips. That is not the type of personality that jives with Avery Johnson, his former coach in New Jersey.

My infatuation with T-Will stems by proxy from a great friend from college, who we will call Johnny, because that is his name. Johnny, who calls Louisville, Kentucky home, loves the University of Louisville. I mean, the guy literally bleeds U of L’s school colors, something I would like to see Orange Bloods try. He has eaten at the table next to this table!!!

Johnny is also an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent man of the mold who typically chooses his words with purpose. So when I asked for his opinion on T-Will’s impending arrival to the launch pad, I hoped I would get something I could at least hang a hat on.

But when Johnny’s response incorporated phrases like “freakish athlete in a league of freakish athletes” and “worked his (butt) off,” I glee’d all over myself. Such praise made it very easy to rationalize other words, like “immature” and “eccentric,” which Johnny wrote. But instead of me taking his words out of context, have a gander for yourself:

Of course I’ve never met the guy, so this is all hearsay and my own opinions from having watched him closely for his four years at Louisville.

He really is a freakish athlete in a league of freakish athletes, so watching him play is always fun.  In Louisville he just had/has a reputation of being a free spirited/eccentric guy.  He was never arrested or in any trouble with the law….my impression is that a lot of people think he’s a trouble maker or has been arrested a bunch, or at the least a bad egg, but i don’t think that’s the case (again, never met him, but anecdotes you hear around town of the way he treated kids, greeted fans, etc, were always positive…like he went out of his way to be nice).

Obviously, that’s a tough story to sell now given that he’s apparently not been the best teammate in NJ.  My educated guess about all that is that he had some personality conflicts with team management and simply took that out in really immature ways….not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s definitely different than being a bad guy or someone who is looking for trouble.

It was cool to watch him develop over his 4 years at U of L.  His first 3, he basically just got by on his athleticism…the book on him was that you couldn’t really stop him in transition or getting to the rim, but if you sat back and let him shoot, you’d have a chance.  But by his senior year, he was doing everything for the team, basically ran the offense, and worked his (but) off to improve his outside shot, and it really showed.

I should note, however, that the last game of his career was in the 2009 Elite Eight when Michigan St. just blew us out.  He left a bad taste in some people’s mouths because he and Pitino apparently got into an argument at halftime over the way he was playing….he didn’t play much the second half as I recall.  Pitino apparently still loves the guy though.

My feeling is that if he gets put in the right situation, he will thrive and really contribute.  Bottom line is that he’s probably immature, but he’s not a bad dude, and my feeling (hope?) is that his best basketball is in front of him.

As fans, this trade is the second step toward understanding the meaning of the 2010/11 Rockets’ season. On the first step, we watched the team jam a toe on the doorframe and stumbled into mediocrity: a team not good enough to compete for anything of consequence or bad enough to be competitive in next summer’s lottery.

This trade signals something more than just Morey’s usual opportunistic snacking on another team’s quandary. Juxtaposed against the news of Yao’s (final?) setback, the Rockets took a definitive step toward a different future than what had been optimistically planned at the outset of the season. The acquisition of Williams suggests player development will be a higher priority. Williams, like Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Ish Smith, is a player in crude form in need of refinement.

This is no longer Yao’s team in absentia. Without the foundation of a superstar (even if it was one of hope against further injury), a new identity needs crafting around Houston’s young players.  Crazy thing is, the Rockets’ average age is 26. Houston is mainly a bunch of youngsters!  These are the ages on Houston’s roster:

Patterson: 21

Budinger: 22

Smith: 22

Hill: 23

T. Williams: 23

Lowry: 24

Brooks: 25

Lee: 25

Hayes: 27

Martin: 27

Jeffries: 29

Scola: 30

Ming: 30

Battier: 32

Miller: 34

Removing Brad Miller, Battier, Yao and Jared Jeffries, the team’s average age drops to 24. While Miller has another year on his contract, the latter three will most likely not be on Houston’s roster next season. Yao might be, but not at $17 million dollars.

This does not mean that the Rockets are going to be way under the salary cap next summer. The only way that could happen is if Battier, Yao and Jeffries are retained through the end of their contracts this season, and Houston renounces its rights to those players. Renouncing their rights would free the Rockets of the free agent amounts, or cap holds, of those players. Houston would then have to take additional steps by renouncing its rights to Torraye Braggs, Mark Jackson, Maciej Lampe, Dikembe Mutombo, and the legend that was Jake Tsakalidis. All five former players count against Houston’s cap because they have not officially retired.

Far more likely would be a trade of Battier and Jeffries that would bring back some salary obligations. Those salaries would likely inhibit any chance at major cap space. And with a looming lockout, this may all be an exercise for naught. Cap space has an undefined value in this time of uncertainty.

Returning to my step analogy, Terrence Williams is that second step. He is a playmaker and a rebounder, making him the perfect accoutrement to our diminutive scoring point guard. THE ROCKETS SHOULD NO LONGER LOOK TO TRADE AARON BROOKS.

Brooks outside shooting and attacking is a better match than you could ever hope to find in a cigar store for T-Will’s skill set. T-Will is a physical wing who can defend, rebound, and who looks to make the assist. One of his biggest faults is that he too often looks to make the impossible assist. Rick Adelman, you might recall, has some experience taming that lion.

This Rockets team is being reinvented, and Yao’s loss only accelerates that movement. Out from under Yao’s shadow, Morey’s front office team is at long last granted the room to flex its’ creative muscles. As the first move of a new era, Williams better friggin’ realize the gift of a second chance and put his career at the fore of his thoughts.

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