In the movie True Lies, comedian Tom Arnold surprisingly nails his character, pulling off a complementary role next to action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is genuinely funny, has good chemistry with the superstar and, for two hours, you forget he’s sleeping with Roseanne Barr. But remove Schwarzenegger from the cast and there’s a gaping hole. The film doesn’t work.
This season has been like that for Rocket fans. We thought we were seeing Predator and instead have been forced to watch a three month-long screening of McHale’s Navy.
For the first time since before the Ralph Sampson coin toss of 1983, the Rockets (24-28) are sailing NBA waters without a perceived franchise player on board. With the NBA trade deadline just over two weeks away, the Rockets face a difficult choice. Sans NBA blue chippers and with their best role players in or nearing the end of their primes, they must either take a step back to rebuild or reload and march forward.
The Rockets are looking to be buyers and, assuming the Carmelo Anthony domino falls, two players to keep an eye on are Denver center Nene and Indiana small forward Danny Granger. The Rockets have talked about both players with their respective teams.
Nene, who the Rockets face tonight, is not the shot-blocking demon that the Rockets so badly need, but he is a load at 6-11 and 260 pounds. He is averaging 15.3 points on a career-high 64.4 percent shooting to go with 7.3 boards. He is also a solid on-the-ball defender. The 28-year old center can opt out of his contract this summer and become a free agent.
Granger, who turns 28 in April, is not an a-list small forward superstar like Carmelo is and he has declined a touch in production this season, but he’s averaging 20.9 points and 5.6 rebounds. He is a good three-point shooter (career 38.4 percent) and terrific free throw shooter (career 84.4 percent). The Rockets first legitimate interest in Granger was rumored back in December, but that was before the full extent of Yao Ming’s injury was known. They still have interest.
The question will be if Indiana decides to deal him or not. The Pacers have been bleeding money for years, but they don’t have the painful contracts they once did and they also received a boost from the city’s taxpayers this past summer. The Pacers are saying the right things about keeping the 6-8 wing, who is owed almost $40 million over the next three seasons, but there is a belief behind the scenes that, much like the Kings and Kevin Martin last season, they may decide to deal him at the deadline.
The Rockets have shown a willingness in the past to leverage assets and absorb salary in the pursuit of young players with high ceilings like Ricky Rubio and DeMarcus Cousins. The Rockets also approached the Detroit Pistons about rookie center Greg Monroe, but talks didn’t get very far.
One thing is certain, whether it is for better or worse in the short term, Houston general manager Daryl Morey must change this cast or the Rockets are headed for a box office flop.