Just before the lockout started, the Summer of 2012 was shaping up as the Howard & Paul Free-For-All, but it was made emphatically clear to me then that neither player was considered the key get for the Rockets. Houston’s top target was New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, multiple sources told ClutchFans.
Let’s talk informally about what I think is about to become a big question for the Rockets and their fans. Here’s a breakdown of some of the things to consider:
- If the Rockets pursue Williams, it won’t be the first time. We reported back in March that the Rockets and Jazz had discussed seriously a deal that would have brought Deron Williams to Houston. Since that report, I’ve been told stories about how close the two teams were. Ultimately the Rockets couldn’t compete with the final offer from New Jersey, but talks between Utah and Houston were advanced.
- The Rockets have information that leads them to believe that Williams likes Houston and is (at worst) open to playing here or (at best) wants to play here. That wasn’t the case with Dwight Howard or Chris Paul.
- If the allure of playing with the Houston Rockets was strong right now, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s not, and as a result, Houston is not anywhere to be found on Dwight Howard’s list of desired locations. That could change if they get Williams. It’s been fascinating to read several media reports about how Deron & Dwight want to play together because I know this was what the Rockets were thinking in the summer. As one source put it back in July — “If you get Deron, Dwight coming to Houston becomes one thing it isn’t right now — possible.”
- Williams’ stock is falling — he’s shooting 36.6% so far on the season and was even worse last year for the Nets. The Rockets have a point guard who is rising in value — Kyle Lowry. Lowry is two years younger than Williams, playing like an All-Star across the board and is signed for two more seasons beyond this one at a bargain rate by NBA standards. The Nets are sinking at 3-11 and Williams looks disinterested. It seemed impossible that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov would consider trading Williams given the price they paid to get him and their coming move to Brooklyn, but if they don’t get Howard themselves soon, they will have to make a very tough decision.
- Williams is a Texas boy. He actually has a huge tattoo on his left arm of the state of Texas that says “Texas Made.” Kyle Lowry is East Coast to the bone (born and raised in Philly and played college there).
- Williams may be from Texas, but he’s not from Houston — he’s from Dallas. Preventing another Miami Heat from happening in your own division, conference and state should be a top priority of the Rockets as the Mavericks, despite coming off a championship season, aren’t happy with the status quo and are hoping to put Williams, Howard and Dirk Nowitzki on the same team. If this happens, it’s going to be a wee bit difficult for Clutch City to raise pom poms to the tune of Jonny Flynn’s development.
- The Rockets have three key pieces that could be interesting to New Jersey. First, Lowry as the obvious replacement for Williams. Secondly, Luis Scola, who the Nets had a heavy interest in back in 2010 when Scola was a free agent. The last piece is Houston’s draft pick, which is much more flexible to deal to New 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 many ways from being able to deal their pick or future picks. If it appears the Rockets “may” miss the playoffs as we get closer to the trade deadline, dealing the lottery potential of this year’s pick to New Jersey makes everything neat and tidy.
- The talk of the Dwight Howard pursuit has been the Los Angeles Lakers’ reluctance to part with both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in a deal for Howard. If the Rockets had not been rammed off the road by David Stern, do you think they would have been willing to deal Gasol and Nene for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu’s contract in a scenario where they would be pairing him with Williams? I was told in so many words that this added to the pain of that deal being blocked, as every Daryl Morey deal seems to be setting up for the next one. This is a problem facing the Rockets right now — the Lakers have Bynum and the Nets have Brook Lopez, but the Rockets don’t have a key big to make an offer attractive.
So it boils down to this question if you’re the Rockets: Do you pursue a max-contract star in Deron Williams in an attempt to become a top NBA locale once again, but doing it at the cost of your highly underrated and underpaid point guard in Kyle Lowry?