Rockets Notes on Hayes, Nene and Team Direction

It’s been awhile — I realized I didn’t even have a Twitter app still on my phone when I got to the Toyota Center yesterday. Here are some notes picked up from Rockets circles…

Nene
The first order of business is trying to sign Denver Nuggets free agent center Nene. The Rockets have been interested in Nene for some time as they talked with the Nuggets multiple times at the deadline about potentially trading for him. However, to say the Rockets don’t like their chances here would be an understatement — there’s little to no confidence about being able to get him. It sounds like the feeling is someone will be willing to overpay him, and that team won’t be the Rockets.

The bigger question is — why hurt the cap room potential for 2012 for someone like Nene, who makes you a playoff team but still keeps you short of being a contender? The team doesn’t appear concerned about that because the 6-foot-11 center, assuming he’s not obscenely overpaid, can be dealt “easily” as productive bigs are always in demand and he could be a key piece in a deal down the line for a bigger name player, similar to how you’re seeing the names of Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez being floated out there in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. One key difference however — both of those guys are 5-6 years younger than the 29-year old Nene.

Chuck Hayes Chinese Commercial

Will Chuck Hayes still be in red?

The Chuckwagon
The Rockets say publicly they would like to bring Chuck Hayes back, but they are privately resigned to the fact that Hayes will be offered more from another team than the Rockets are willing to pay. How much of a difference I don’t know, but my gut feeling is he is gone, as tough as it is to see him wear another uniform.

Still, it’s very hard to say with certainty for two reasons – would Hayes take a little less to stay in Houston and what will GM Daryl Morey do with the roster in the next week? One trade could change things quickly and make it more important to keep Hayes. Remember — this is a guy that Morey’s computers say is responsible for 4-5 Rockets wins a year. If they lose Hayes and don’t replace him with something significant, they are going to see a drop off.

Team Direction
More questions were asked of coach Kevin McHale and Morey on Wednesday about “team direction” than any other topic.

“We have one goal this year and that’s to make the playoffs,” said McHale very confidently.

When asked if that was the goal, Morey thought about how to word it. “Our goal for the team is to make the playoffs,” said Morey. “My goal is to position ourselves to be a championship contender.”

The Rockets do not sound like a team willing to take a significant step back, as we feel might be a good idea, but Morey does leave himself wiggle room and doesn’t commit fully to either direction. The Q&A reminded me a bit of one of those old SNL It’s Pat sketches – just when you think he said something that confirms the direction, he throws in a condition or qualifier that bumps you right back to uncertainty.

The truth is Morey isn’t willing to take a step back just because it makes sense from a draft perspective, but if a young player with high upside — say a DeMarcus Cousins or a Jonas Valanciunas — became available, the Rockets would damage the short term to help out their future prospects. After the session, Morey did provide a touch more clarity on this.

“I have to be focused on getting ourselves to be a championship contender, which is by its very nature, with Yao Ming retiring, more of a long-term focus than a short-term focus,” said Morey. “We won’t do any moves that hurt the big picture. That will be our focus. We’d like to do moves that help both, but if it ever came down to it, which do we have to prioritize? It’s going to be positioning ourselves in the big picture versus the small picture.”

Not This Year for Motiejunas
Morey confirmed that first round pick Donatas Motiejunas is going to remain in Europe this season. The original plan was for the seven-footer to join the Rockets this season, so it looks like this is a casualty of the lockout. Sergio Llull, the 34th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, also will remain in Europe and could be a guard the Rockets bring on board in 2012.

“Both of those decisions are ones that weren’t necessarily just ours,” said Morey. “Both of them are in two of the best leagues in the world outside of the NBA and the Euroleague. They’re getting great experience and at some point in the future we might bring them over.”

Morey felt Motiejunas could have helped the Rockets and not just the team’s NBDL affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

“I think every player should go through that process of the minor leagues, like what we did with Patrick Patterson – and Marcus Morris might — but Motiejunas has a lot of ready-to-play qualities. He’s definitely been one of the top ten players in Europe to this point. I like that he’s getting more minutes there than he would get here, especially this year coming up. I think he’s averaging like 18 and 8 and translated, that’s (impressive). Scola averaged like 6 rebounds over there and he’s like near 8 or 9, so he’s been good.”

Rockets second round pick Chandler Parsons, who played just four games with France’s Cholet Basket squad, will “likely be in camp” once they sign a deal with him, according to Morey.

Notes
Crazy reality about the lockout — Rockets players would occasionally call in to the office during the work stoppage, presumably to ask a question or something. Because of the strict lockout rules, the Rockets couldn’t even answer the phone. Caller ID says “Budinger, Chase”? Let it ring. Imagine that – one minute you’re being put up on a private plane and fed prime rib and the next you’re getting your calls screened and ignored (actually, that sounds like some relationships I know).

The Rockets would consider it a success if just one of the 2009 Draft Bust Quartet breaks through. My most to least likely to turn it around rankings: Jonny Flynn, Terrence Williams, Jordan Hill, Hasheem Thabeet …. Speaking of Thabeet, I may have given up on the guy but the Rockets haven’t — not yet, anyway. They think the fact that he’s in a contract year could help, though they concede he did not have a good year of development last year (word used was “terrible”) …. Don’t look for the Rockets to make a sales pitch to free agent center Samuel Dalembert — they don’t appear to be interested.

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  1. [...] opening of training camps, there will probably be some minor adjustments to this figure.  While Motiejunas will continue to play in Poland this season, the Rockets will likely need to sign Morris and Parsons quickly in order to get them into training [...]