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The state of the Houston Rockets as of January 9, 2015

Update (1/10/15 at 12:25PM): Sources close to the team have informed me that no promise to start was made to Josh Smith during the team’s negotiations with the forward.

It’s been a while since we last spoke, so I certainly appreciate you all’s patience.  The site required some backend maintenance which required my attention, but thankfully that problem has been fixed.  In the meantime, after two meaningless wins against the Lebron-less Cavs and what appeared to be some high school team from the New York area, the Rockets have sort of licked their wounds to recover from their first truly rough patch of the season.  In the aftermath of the Josh Smith signing, Houston now sits at fifth in the Western Conference, just one win ahead of the sixth seeded Clippers.  It still seems like just yesterday that the Rockets were staring directly at Golden State in vying for the top seed in the Conference.  Sigh.

It’s pretty irrefutable, I think, to anyone who had been watching the games that bringing in Smith destroyed the team’s chemistry, directly leading to their downward spiral in the standings.  The team looked lost, Smith was ineffective, and Motiejunas got thrown off his rhythm.  Still, even before these past two wins, I would contend that the move was a no-brainer and that the losses were a necessary cost to success.  Simply put, you can sacrifice some wins in December if it means integrating high-level talent for the end cause.  Ironically, things played out both exactly how I had feared, and how I had hoped would be the best-case scenario.  Recall my discontent upon the news that the team had promised Smith a starting role.  I wanted Smith, but thought supplanting Motiejunas would shatter the latter’s usage and confidence.  That outcome played out, and the team suffered, having wasted one of their most dangerous weapons.  But now, Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale have Smith but can also say they fulfilled their promise of letting him start.  They won’t be expected to reinsert Smith into the starting lineup upon his acclimation to the team, would they?  As long as the team keeps winning, in light of the disastrous early results, I can’t see Smith and his agent expressing any discontent.

On Motiejunas: it will seem like hyperbole because it isn’t being mentioned, but he has to be one of the most prized assets in all of basketball, and certainly untouchable from the Rockets’ perspective.  A sub-25 year old 7-footer on his rookie scale contract with high efficiency post ability, defense, passing, rim protection, solid work ethic, and the prospect of rediscovering his range…that is like, as rare as it comes.  For instance, would you include Motiejunas in a trade for Goran Dragic?  I don’t think anyone sane would and outside of the absolute premiere talents in the league, I wouldn’t include him in a deal for anyone.  I made the joke repeatedly last year that were he on the Spurs, you’d expect him to have like Pau Gasol’s career trajectory or something.  That’s even more applicable now.  But the big question is how the team uses him moving forward, for present purposes.  I’m not going to get into the disturbing fact that Motiejunas would either be rotting away on the bench still or traded for a conditional second round pick had McHale not been forced into playing him due to Terrence Jones’ injury, because that won’t serve us any purpose.  But he’s clearly become the team’s second best offensive option, above Dwight Howard postups which, by the numbers since last year, were always the worst option.  Will they utilize him?  The Rockets were cruising to a victory over Chicago earlier this week, with Motiejunas roasting Joakim Noah, but mysteriously stopped going to him late in the game when things fell apart.  Why?  D-Mo shouldn’t just be an afterthought the way Michael Jordan used to establish Luc Longley in the post in 1st quarters “just to get him going.”  If he’s rolling like he was, you have to keep going to him like he’s one of the best options on the team.  And if he can do that to former DPOY Joakim Noah, Motiejunas can give anyone in this league the business.

I still don’t know what to make of Patrick Beverley.  I’ve proclaimed at times that he’s the perfect starting point guard next to Harden, but this usually comes after a hot shooting stretch.  If he isn’t giving you shooting, it’s a tough pill to swallow, even with the defensive tenacity.  I realize the five rebounds per game are Herculean and have incredible aggregate impact, but to the naked eye, it far too often feels like I’m getting nothing when the shot isn’t falling.  An anecdote applies: I’m 29 and am not old enough to have seen Ralph Sampson play.  But I remember when asking someone about Ralph’s game, his reply being that while he averaged close to 20 and 10, it was by way of giving 40 and 20 one night and then 0 and 0 the next.  That’s how I kind of feel with Beverley’s shooting, where he’ll go like 7-10 on 3’s one game and then 0-6 the next, instead of a steady 2-5 nightly, en route to his glossy 39%.  I fully realize that his consistency can easily be deduced by simple statistical calculations, but that’s not my purpose here.  I wouldn’t be writing this at 7AM before work unless I could criticize without providing any proof.

The Beverley situation is pertinent because the guard will get paid this summer, likely not to the degree that that statement required italicization on my part, but enough to put a dent into Houston’s cap sheet.  It would be one thing if he could kind of create something off the dribble every now and then, but that’s not the case.  You’re either getting a wide open three pointer, or hoping for an offensive rebound, at this point, and I’m not entirely sure that’s the best way to go about trying to win a championship.  That could work if Dwight was Shaq to Harden’s Kobe, but he clearly is not.

That’s all the time I have for now.  Thanks for reading.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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