I received about 10 calls over a five-minute period when news broke last night that the basketball gods had finally smiled upon H-town and James Harden had been traded to the Houston Rockets.
My friends, much like myself, live and breathe Rockets basketball, and this is the single best news we had received since that fateful Pau Gasol trade. The difference is, this time the trade won’t end with the entire city of Houston having to drink its collective self into a stupor while simultaneously burning a mile-high effigy of David Stern.
Houston GM Daryl Morey tried desperately all offseason to convert some of his highly trade-able assets into a star-player. He finally found a trade with Oklahoma City in which the Thunder receive three future picks, 2012 lottery pick Jeremy Lamb and veteran scorer Kevin Martin in exchange for James “Fear the Beard” Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward.
Now that the deal has happened and everyone has had a night to rid themselves of the initial knee-jerk reactions that this particular brand of blockbuster tends to inspire, let’s take a look at some of the immediate ramifications of the trade for Houston.
Daryl Morey is safe
The most obvious and immediate winner is Daryl Morey. “Dork Elvis” attempted all summer long to bring in Dwight Howard to no avail, and last season almost sent off Kevin Martin and Luis Scola in a trade that would have landed Pau Gasol for the Rockets. The name of the game had become apparent; accrue a sizable amount of high-potential, low-risk assets and then ship them to someone who wants to hand over an all-star.
The problem with this strategy is that if it hadn’t paid off, then Houston would have been stuck for at least another season with a team chalked full of mediocre talents and inexperienced rookies. If that were the case, then Morey would have probably had one more offseason before getting the axe from ownership.
I’m willing to bet that last night was Morey’s best night of sleep in some time. As a fan of his metric-heavy style of management and no-nonsense approach to team building, it didn’t hurt my rest either.
29.5 is too low
A few weeks ago, the bookmakers in Vegas gave the Rockets a paltry 29.5 wins on the season, which would put them 11.5 games below a .500 record. Suddenly the starting lineup (Jeremy Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson/Terrence Jones, Omer Asik) looks a good bit more intimidating.
The initial reason for such a low win-total could range from unproven chemistry to terrible perimeter defense. However, with the addition of the beard, the Rockets have made a huge upgrade on both ends of the court. Harden’s length and quickness make him a presence in the passing lanes and with the penetrating power of Lin, him and Parsons, coupled with the phenomenal passing skills of Houston’s big-men, this could represent the beginnings of a sneaky good offense.
How offensively productive could Harden be? Last year he averaged 29 points per 36 minutes while not sharing the floor with Russell Westbrook. That should more than replace Kevin Martin’s offensive contribution.
This doesn’t even account for the transition possibilities offered by such a young, athletic squad. Harden proved with OKC’s second unit that he’s an effective scorer and creator while at the point so that should take some of the pressure off of the Rockets’ questionable point guard situation as well.
Given Harden’s offensive potential and the addition to Houston’s perimeter D, I’m willing to bet the over all the way up 38 wins with this new Rockets ensemble.
Perhaps the most amazing part of this trade (even more amazing than its bizarre timing) was the sudden realization of just how wisely Morey had spent on his collective assets. After Houston sheds Lamb’s rookie contract and the $12.4 million owed to Martin for the coming season, then signs Harden to a max deal, they will still have enough cap room left over next offseason to sign another max-deal for a big free-agent.
This was the type of move that Morey has wanted to make for more than a year and he was lucky enough to stumble upon a 23 year-old all-star with a beard more obnoxious than the Pittsburgh Steelers throwback jerseys that wasn’t willing to take less money from the Thunder. The stars had to align for everything to fall into place. Somehow, they did.
Given the possible addition of another star-player next year, this new-look rockets team could become a serious contender in a matter of just a season or two.