Cap Backwards: lemmings have feelings, too.

Will this season’s February 24th, trade deadline answer any questions or shed any light on the direction the Houston Rockets’ front office is heading? To date, the Rockets’ trades and signings have done more to shroud this season’s meaning and purpose in a haze of stutter steps and pump fakes than delineate a cohesive movement. Does Houston feel like it is competing for the playoffs or is it grooming the next generation for roles in coming years?

The signing of Brad Miller to a three year contract? Obviously Miller is a solid piece, but at 34 he contributes in much the same way Dikembe Mutombo did a few seasons back. Miller is meant to provide quality minutes off the bench and solidify a front court rotation. By no means was he to start. Because he has, it is logical to infer that the Rockets had faith in a resurgence of Yao Ming. He must have been signed for that purpose (as it happened before Yao went down), but Miller now only serves to block the development of Jordan Hill and Patrick Patterson.

The trade of Trevor Ariza for Courtney Lee? This move is the most obvious. Besides moving much closer to the luxury tax threshold, it was a dump of what is becoming an onerous contract for a cheaper substitute who better fit the mold of what the Rockets want in their players: an understanding of personal limitations and knowledge of roles within the team.

The trade for Terrence Williams? … This one kills me. The Rockets only surrendered a draft pick (no salary cap value until after the draft pick has been made), which means they were willing to increase their luxury tax payments to get him. This kid must not show any comprehension of Coach Rick Adelman’s schemes, especially on the defensive end, to merit so little playing time. Just before arriving in Houston, Williams had averaged a triple double over three games in the D-League. Obviously, he is overqualified for that assignment, but the major leagues are over his head. The Rockets either view him as a talent another team will risk developing and can be used to sweeten a trade package. Or they are going to have to roll up their sleeves and do it themselves. Hopefully, this trade deadline will make clear that decision for the fans.

By playing veterans Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier, Miller, et al., Adelman is giving his team the best chance to win (now). He is foregoing the option of giving meaningful playing time to Patterson, Hill, and Chase Budinger so that they will be ready to contribute in subsequent seasons. This is a defensible position. Winning is what the team is supposed to do and accomplishing it provides greater job security. Beyond that, making the playoffs is financially beneficial to everyone from the players to the owner.

From a fan’s perspective the scenario is tough to judge conclusively. We pay to see the best product the team can field (court?). And we pay a lot. Our escape from life’s obligations is best spent where we get the most return on our investment. We will grant reprieve to a failed season here and there, but we need the tools to properly assess what constitutes failure. Our loyalty can only extend as far as our trust.

I am hypercritical of leadership in any capacity: my company’s, my friends’, my family’s, and yes, my sporting interests’. It is because I want all to succeed, and I obviously have opinions governing the definition of success and how it can be accomplished. This is no more so true than in the political arena – where I actually get to help choose the leaders.

Because I agonize over choices on the ballot, I once asked my grandmother, a very highly educated doctor lady, how she made decisions that so often seemed a choice of the lesser evil. She said when she could not decide for whom to cast her vote, rather than abstain, she always votes for who she thinks is the most intelligent candidate. Worst case: they may be corrupt but at least they know the stakes. Best case: they agonize over the decisions like she would.

While the City of Houston may not have voted for the Rockets’ front office, I trust, for the time being, decisions are being made with careful consideration adhering to a plan, malleable it may be. My only thought, however obsequious, is that the Rockets are patiently maintaining the flexibility needed to take the first step toward such purpose as the front office has internally defined. The moves we have seen heretofore are not meant to head in any specific direction, but rather, to prevent the team from being boxed out of an opportunity in the future.

Written by Connor Winn, ‘Cap Backwards’ is a discussion column on the NBA’s salary cap and its many intricacies.

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