The draft busts of 2009 – an obituary and implications

As you likely heard yesterday evening, none of the four resident ‘draft busts of 2009′ (the four horsemen perhaps?) had their options invoked.  They’ll be unrestricted this summer, free to go where they please, if it is the case that anyone wants them.  This does not mean necessarily that their Houston careers are over – the Rockets could choose to negotiate a cheaper deal with any of these players after the season.  With that said, except for Jordan Hill, past evidence tells us it’s highly unlikely that this will occur.

What went wrong exactly and what does any of this mean?

First, as I explained some time ago, in video-form, aside from Terrence Williams, Rockets management didn’t target any of these guys specifically like they did their own draft picks in Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Chandler Parsons, and the late Chase Budinger.  That’s really the first take-away which you need to understand.  The cynic may no doubt label this as revisionary apologetics, but it is what it is, and its a necessary distinction for honest evaluation of this front office.  Those busts are a decidedly unique class from the Rockets’ own selections and for this reason, I make every attempt to categorize them separately.  Each bust acquisition was the product of opportunistic risk management.  The Rockets did not say, “wow!  Hasheem Thabeet is available!  The analytics on this guy are so outstanding that the laptop has frozen!  We have to get this guy!”…as some would have it.  As I explain in the video, they took fliers on two men in Flynn and Thabeet for whom it had not yet worked out, in the process of pursuing other goals (ie: obtaining future draft picks and unloading salary obligations.) It did not work out, but they should absolutely continue making such moves in their guidance of the team, regardless of the mockery it evokes from media skeptics.

Hill was acquired from a Knick team held hostage in its preparation for the ‘Summer of Lebron.’  As you will recall, New York desperately needed to acquire Tracy McGrady, the league’s largest expiring contract at that time, and even gave up two future draft picks to do it.  Galinari was off limits and little else of value resided on that roster.  That the Rockets took back Hill is not indicative of some failure of the scouting department.  It was an attempt to extract maximum value from a buyer in distress.

Williams is the case which is interesting because his acquisition represents perhaps the greatest mark on Daryl Morey’s record as general manager of the Houston Rockets.  Barring another lottery finish, the team will sacrifice its draft pick to the New Jersey Nets this summer.  Given what the scouting department has been able to do with draft picks during this tenure, this is a tough pill to swallow for a man who most likely will not be in the Association at the age of 30.

What does the T-Will saga really mean and what are the implications?  What went wrong and why was he pursued?  Unlike Flynn and Thabeet, his talent isn’t in question.  We’ve seen the flashes of passing brilliance.  But from every corner of evidence, from his body language on the court, to quotes in the paper, to a truly fascinating body of history on Twitter, the attitude concerns seem to not have been embellished.  If one cannot succeed under both Rick Adelman and Kevin McHale, its a good indication that the problem stems from within.

Some will posit that Williams simply was beaten out by a better player.  I don’t buy that argument.  Parsons is superior, yes, but then what would explain the fact that T-Will hasn’t even been given garbage minutes in the team’s recent blowout affairs?

If we accept my hypothesis, the greater question concerns the implications of this ordeal.  Will the T-Will saga make the Rockets more risk averse?  They’ll continue, as they should, taking fliers similar to the Flynn/Thabeet/Hill deals.  Nothing was given up and other objectives were addressed.  They’ll also continue pursuing players perceived to be wrongly valued; it’s worked out too well (Lowry, Scola, basically everyone on this roster) and makes too much sense.  But will they now avoid players with character concerns?  It’s one thing to be too short (Hayes, Landry), to not have been given a proper chance (Lowry) or to impact the game in ways unnoticed (Battier, Lee).  Those characteristics all drive down market value, but as we’ve seen, can be overcome and are not fair justification for aversion.  But maybe bad attitude is just something that sticks.  We can say that it was foolish for Chuck Hayes to have gone undrafted but maybe now, T-Will’s D-League stint makes perfect sense.  Will the Rockets adopt that approach?

Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, a similarly talented, similarly troubled individual recently expressed his desire for a trade.  A report soon after surfaced that the Rockets had no immediate interest.  This came as a surprise given the Rockets’ pursuit of Cousins before that draft.  Perhaps from the Terrence Williams saga they learned a new lesson?  If people don’t want you because you’re too short or too fat, maybe that’s unfair and unwarranted; but maybe if they stay away because of your attitude, it’s likely justified and not really worth the risk.  Who knows but it will be interesting to see how this shapes management’s thinking.

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