The Rockets Daily – February 19, 2014

Starting off today’s Daily with a shout-out to reader Sir Thursday for providing this tidbit in answering a question posted by a fellow reader:  The Rockets have the highest win percentage, 79%, since the start of the new year thanks to a 15-4 record.  The Thunder (18), Clippers (16) and Pacers (16) have more wins, but the Rockets have the fewest losses.

Morey the Explore(y) - Despite CBS Sports’ Ken Berger’s report that the Rockets are still exploring offers, it appears GM Daryl Morey has been unable to muster-up any kind of a value for Omer Asik that would meet his demands.

Teams have obviously known for awhile that the Rockets would prefer to move Asik by the deadline, but kudos to Morey for sticking to his guns and not dropping his asking price for the big Turk.  The Blazers were able to take advantage of Morey this summer when they knew the Rockets had to drop Thomas Robinson in order to sign Dwight Howard, and he wouldn’t allow it to happen with Asik.  As I’ve said before, although the price of Asik’s contract isn’t worth only 18 minutes per game, his ability to provide the Rockets with 48-minute rim protection is something no other team in league can assert.  And regardless of what you think was going on with Asik and his health all winter, he will have to be on his best behavior from here on out if he wants to raise his value and find a starting spot this summer.

The NBA is calling Morey’s bluff and he isn’t flinching.  But all it takes is one embattled GM facing a playoffs-or-bust owner to finally cave and give Morey what he wants; so don’t count anything out before tomorrow afternoon.   

On a side note, there is a rumor that the Rockets have a standing offer from the Celtics involving Asik and small forward Jeff Green.  The Rockets would obviously be hesitant to take on the remaining three years of Greens deal, but if this deal or a similar Asik-related move that didn’t net a backup for Dwight Howard were to be made, might the NBA finally have a home for Jason Collins?  He’s not much more than a few rebounds and six hard fouls at this point, but that is really all Houston would need from him anyway.  Just something to think about.

30 Worst Contracts - I’ve never been shy about my admiration for the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons.  Truth be told, there’s zero chance I would be writing this column right now if it weren’t for the way his writing helped shape the way I watch basketball and sports in general.  In fact, when I first spoke to John Eby about taking over the Daily from him, one of the first things I told him was that  “I grew up worshiping at the altar of Simmons”.  The Boston homer-ism can be tough to take at times and he can be very stubborn about his opinions (Dwight Howard is back, you fool!), but I’ve always appreciated his take on things, especially basketball.

His annual trade value columns and now his second-annual worst contracts column are must reads and really make you consider more than just the on-court production of players across the league, not to mention appreciate the value of a good GM.  But even Daryl Morey’s genius couldn’t avoid Simmons’ ridicule forever, as Dork Elvis (Simmons coined that nickname for his buddy, for those of you in the forums that didn’t know) had two of his players occupy the same spot in Grantland’s “30 Worst Contracts”.

20. Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin: two years, $33.5 million combined
We’re including them as a pairing because their quirky contracts make them just about impossible to trade, as we discovered last December when this happened.

From: [email protected]
To: The Other 29 GMs (email group)
Date: 12/19/2013, 9:59:00 AM CST
Subject: One last time … Asik???

Hey, guys – only six hours until my deadline to deal Asik expires. He counts for $8.3 million on the cap this year and next, but earns $5 million this season and $15 million next. It’s not as bad as it sounds! LOL. Ask your token stats guy in your front office that you hired only because your owner badgered you about hiring an advanced metrics guy — Asik’s value transcends statistics because of his interior defense and his rebounding. He’s also a terrific teammate, please don’t read anything into what happened recently when Omer quit on our team. Totally overblown! Who doesn’t get frustrated at work from time to time? Plus, you know how those guys from Turkey get — they take stuff personally! Just pay-per-view Taken 2 if you don’t believe me. I still believe Omer is an asset. Anyway, none of you emailed me back yet — we’re only looking for multiple first-rounders and a quality starter for him, that’s it. Lemme know, thanks!

Fine, that e-mail didn’t happen. You got me. But let’s just say the Asik-Lin market never materialized. Semi-related: Kyle Lowry has been the East’s best point guard this season, and Goran Dragic has been one of the West’s three best point guards (along with Steph Curry and Chris Paul). Um, the Rockets had both guys! They flipped Lowry for a lottery pick used for the Harden trade (totally defensible), then signed Lin over keeping Dragic in 2012 (whoops). Imagine Dragic and Harden together starring in the Slashing Southpaws right now. Yeeeessh.


First, I’d like to point out the just because a player is difficult to trade doesn’t mean that he has a terrible contract.  Had the Rockets not signed Dwight Howard, they would be just fine keeping Asik for the full three years of his deal.  And since he only made roughly five million per for each of the first two years of his contract, the team would have no problem with the balloon payments in year three.  The only issue is that the Rockets DID land Dwight Howard, and now no one wants to take on those balloon payments without the benefit of the discounted first two years.  Plus, Simmons even contradicts his own mocking of Asik’s deal by pointing out that his impact can’t really be quantified by traditional statistics.

Second, I’ll admit that this Rockets team would be better with Goran Dragic as its point guard (and Kyle Lowry, but his attitude forced his way out of Houston as much as anything).  But I won’t concede (yet) that Morey made the wrong decision in picking Lin over Dragic.  Here’s why:

Player A: 31.1 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 47% FG, 34% 3pt, 80% FT, 2.6 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 2.7 TO

Player B: 26.5 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 46% FG, 34% 3pt, 80% FT, 2.5 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 2.4 TO

Practically the same guy right?  Player A is Lin this year and Player B is Dragic in 2011-12, his breakout season with Houston when he was a year older than Lin is now.  Dragic also had an extra year of NBA experience and had the advantage of being Steve Nash’s pupil for his first two years in the league. 

With all the criticisms of Lin, no one really takes into account the fact that he is only 25 and has had to learn a new style of play on the fly as a part of James Harden’s team.  Playing off the ball would be tough for a lot of point guards, especially a pick-and-role maestro such as Lin.  Also, the Rockets weren’t comfortable giving Dragic four years when they weren’t sure if he could be a building block of the future.  And seeing as the Rockets are currently set up to have near max cap-space for the star-studded summer of 2015, Morey may yet be proven more prescient than anyone, even his pal Simmons, care to acknowledge.  

So Much For That -

If the Bulls would trade former-cornerstone of their franchise and Coach Tom Thibodeau favorite Luol Deng, they would almost certainly trade Mike Dunleavy Jr.  This is more than likely just posturing, trying to turn a Rockets second round pick into the more favorable Knick’s second rounder that Houston owns.  I would not be surprised one bit if Morey ends up landing Dunleavy before tomorrow’s 3pm (EST) trade deadline.

However, if the Bulls are serious about keeping him, reports are that Anthony Morrow is very available.  Morrow is an elite 3-point bomber and while he wouldn’t necessarily upgrade the Rockets defense, no bench player is perfect. 

Committee of One - Marc Stein released his weekly power rankings yesterday and the Rockets just keep moving up.  This week they find themselves at number four, with Red94′s own Eric Nielsen providing the commentary.

The Rockets, with seven wins in a row, have ignited and are ascending closer to the elite teams. James Harden and Dwight Howard are clearly jelling, which makes Howard’s move to Houston look smarter by the day … just in time for Wednesday’s return to Lakerland.

Just in time indeed.  Show them what they’re missing Dwight (Chandler Parsons’ reaction is priceless).

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