The fascinating trade for Terrence Williams

Terrence Williams

Terrence Williams comes with some baggage, but he also packs some serious talent

The Rockets have assembled plenty of high-character, solid role-playing pieces. This time, they’re rolling the dice with some raw talent.

The Rockets completed a three-team trade today with the Lakers and Nets that sends Houston’s lottery-protected first round pick in 2012 to the Nets in exchange for 23-year old guard/forward Terrence Williams. The Rockets also have sent Jermaine Taylor and cash to the Sacramento Kings for a conditional second-round pick (that will likely never come — this was just a salary dump).

Williams, a 6-foot-6 guard/forward out of Louisville, can ball — there is a lot of upside putting on a Rockets uniform here. He has good size and tremendous athleticism. His versatility is his strength — he gets to the rim, rebounds, passes and can defend three positions.

What he can’t do is shoot. His jumper is a huge weakness — he shot just 40.1% from the field and 31% from three his rookie season. He also is a bit turnover-prone, at times playing outside of the offense in trying to make too much happen, and can take to a bad shot like a moth to the flame. His rookie season numbers remind me a bit of Ron Artest‘s rookie year with the Bulls, though they are certainly different players — Williams is a better distributor and isn’t as good defensively.

Also, the Nets didn’t give up on him without a reason. Williams has been late to several practices, shootarounds and meetings. He was suspended for two games, and when it didn’t stop, he was sent down to the D-League as punishment (and averaged a triple-double in three games there: 28.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 10.7 assists).

The Rockets did their research and felt comfortable bringing him in. I’m told they even had conversations with his college coach, Rick Pitino, about his history. The Rockets have been rumored in the recent past to be in pursuit of some players that have had some character issues, such as DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Randolph, so they have a lot of confidence in the environment that their coaching staff and core group of veterans provides.

The Rockets have a lot of players that specialize in offense or defense… Williams has the potential to be a two-way player. They get younger, sleeker, more athletic in this move.

And prepare yourself: There will be dunks. Oh yes, there will be dunks. If you thought the poster production was lacking since the departure of Trevor Ariza, then Williams could be your guy. He has sick hops and can throw down with the best of them.

The Carmelo Angle
This move is likely a raising of the white flag in any Rockets pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, yet the Denver forward was the primary reason this move was made.

It is also the most fascinating angle of the move for me.

The Nets come away with two first round picks (one from Houston, the other from LA) and have now stockpiled five first rounders in the next two years. If Anthony is willing to go to the Nets, New Jersey is in a prime position — better than the one the Knicks are in — to make a move for Anthony. That was their main goal in making this move.

The Rockets are hardly unbiased in bolstering the Nets’ chances. If Anthony goes to the Knicks, the potential value of New York’s draft pick obligations to the Rockets goes down. Keeping Anthony away from the Knicks is in Houston’s best interest. The Rockets also still hold the linchpin — the Knicks 2012 pick — which, due to the Ted Stepien rule that says teams can not trade consecutive future first rounders, is preventing New York from being able to deal their 2011 and 2013 picks. Translation: Denver is likely to be more attracted to a Nets trade offer than one from the Knicks.

My guess is they were cursing Daryl Morey’s name at Knicks central Tuesday night.

Yet, where it gets more interesting: don’t rule out the Rockets and Knicks still talking. If the Rockets free New York from some or all of those obligations, then Houston doesn’t really care if Anthony goes there or not — but for the keys to the cuffs the price likely starts at Times Square.

Taylor to the Kings
Taylor was not available to the media, but he was cleaning out his locker and saying his goodbyes to his teammates after the Rockets 118-105 win over his “new” team, the Sacramento Kings. “See you Saturday,” said Taylor to Luis Scola after Tuesday night’s game, referring to this weekend’s game in Sacramento.

Taylor is a good kid who worked hard, however I do feel bad for those who pumped up Taylor’s great promise for the Rockets. That was just never really the case… at least not since early in his rookie season. The team saw good things in him when he was drafted but felt early on that he didn’t grasp the offensive scheme and team game concept (though he did seem to be getting better there). I wish him the best of luck with the Kings.

This also appears to be another instance where the Rockets used NBA playing time to showcase a player for a deal. They did it with Tracy McGrady, who was not in the plans, and seemed now to do it with Taylor, who had just been moved to the rotation.

What’s Next?
I fully expect another trade in the next eight weeks. Williams isn’t Taylor where the team can get away with planting him on the pine for 48 — he is a rotation player, plain and simple. The problem is the Rockets rotation is already two deep at each of the three perimeter spots… or at least it will be when Aaron Brooks returns from injury. Something will have to change.

Yet, there is no obvious next move. Does Williams play at the three, making either Shane Battier or Chase Budinger expendable? Or do the Rockets start Kyle Lowry, using a platoon of Courtney Lee and Ish Smith as the backup point, and move out Brooks?

Conclusion
This is a classic Morey move: BUY LOW. The Rockets did not have a first round pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, yet just 18 months later they’re holding two lottery selections from that year (Jordan Hill was taken by the Knicks at #8 and Williams was #11 by the Nets). In both cases, Morey took advantage of those teams’ desires for flexibility to attract a star player by taking their “disappointing” lottery pick off their hands.

There is definitely risk here, but like most Morey moves — how can you argue with the price? The pick the Rockets gave up has lottery protection throughout, meaning it will most likely be a mid to late first rounder, and in Williams you’re taking a chance on lottery-caliber talent.

Still, the Rockets are long overdue to sacrifice some depth for a starter upgrade. I anticipate that type of deal before this February’s trade deadline.

All in all, I like this move. Once upon a time the Rockets scooped up a guy with some character issues in Vernon Maxwell at a bargain price (just cash), and I’d say it paid off. This move isn’t the one that catapults the Rockets to championship contention, but it is a shrewd gamble with a similarly high ceiling on the reward.

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  1. [...] Morey wasted little time, today acquiring Terrence Williams in a three-way trade with New Jersey and the L.A. Lakers in exchange for the Rockets’ own lottery-protected 2012 [...]

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  3. [...] playoffs in 2011-12, they hand over their own first round draft pick to the Nets, courtesy of the Terrence Williams trade (the Rockets will have the New York Knicks’ first round pick, assuming it’s not in the [...]

  4. [...] Jersey specifically. The Rockets already owe the Nets a lottery-protected first round pick from the Terrence Williams trade that transfers to 2013 if Houston misses the postseason, and that handcuffs Morey and company in [...]