Rockets trade Lowry, stay focused on Howard

Kyle Lowry and Dwight Howard

Kyle Lowry is on the way out and the Rockets hope to have Dwight Howard on the way in

The consensus was already that it had not been a good offseason for Daryl Morey and the Rockets, and then they traded the last point guard they had left on their roster.

The Rockets sent Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, getting in exchange forward Gary Forbes (throw-in) and a future first round pick that is protected in such a way that makes it highly likely it will be a lottery pick. According to the Houston Chronicle, Houston receives the Raptors draft pick next year if it falls between 4-14. If not, it must fall between 3-14 in 2014 or 2015 or 2-14 in 2016 or 2017 to come to Houston. If it never hits any of those ranges, the pick goes to Houston unprotected in 2018.

The word coming from the organization is the same as it was when the team tried to move up in last week’s draft — whether it is in a trade for a superstar or to keep for themselves, they got a valuable piece in this move. The Rockets are still pursuing Dwight Howard and are “not out of it,” according to multiple sources with the team. The team also created about $4.25 million in cap room in the deal.

I don’t like this trade… I love it.

Could Kyle Lowry have eventually led the Rockets to a championship? Yes, absolutely, so long as he was flanked by Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Like everyone else on the roster, Lowry was a good but not great player.

As for what they got in return — take a look at every substantial trade where a rebuilding team dumped off a true superstar and their incentive was to get one or more lottery picks in return. Deron Williams went to the Nets for multiple lottery picks. The “projected lottery pick” of the Timberwolves was a key piece to the Hornets-Clippers trade of Chris Paul this past season. If you’re Orlando considering a house cleaning in moving Howard, do you want a top 15 point guard (and $6M annual commitment) or a future lottery pick?

The market for Lowry was and is limited. Cross off the 10-15 teams with better point guards, then cross off teams that are looking to rebuild. You’ve got only a small handful of franchises that both need to fill a hole at the one and want to make the immediate “jump” to playoff team.

Bottom line: What the Rockets did here was trade a $25 Macy’s gift card for $50 cash, which can be used anywhere. What they got for Lowry is a stronger, more flexible trade asset than Lowry himself, and the Rockets right now are in the business of trades.

Furthermore, this trade shot the bird at the criticisms of Daryl Morey and the Rockets front office that I think have been accurate the past two to three seasons.

    1. They don’t think big picture (and I don’t mean “we added a top-20 protected pick in 2017″ kind of big picture).
    2. They are not willing to take a step back.
    3. They are not willing to take 70, 60 or even 50 cents on the dollar.

Time will tell if this pays off, but the Rockets are not taking the safe, fill-some-holes route they took last summer when they patched the roster with Samuel Dalembert then went to PF Chang’s to call it an offseason. Morey just depleted his roster of its greatest strength — the point guards. That’s ballsy. They are absolutely aiming much higher than they have the past few years.

If the Rockets keep this pick, it accelerates the rebuild process by exactly 365 days. Look for them to trade it though, and we know they are going after Howard. What we don’t know — what happens if the Rockets don’t get Howard?

This is where I lose confidence in the Rockets.

Do I believe for a minute they will do what it takes (tank, play youth) if they come up short on a trade for a legit superstar? I’d like to, but no, not really. Rockets owner Les Alexander has not shown a willingness to take a step back to rebuild, and while I think it would absolutely be the right thing to do to eventually bring championship basketball back to Houston, I’d say there’s a better chance of being struck by lightning while building a snowman in hell than there is of the Rockets changing that philosophy with a new television network/deal set to launch and the 2013 All-Star Game on the way. My concern is that, falling short of Howard, the Rockets will jump on a Pau Gasol or Josh Smith lifeboat — a second-tier star jump to the playoffs but not a path to greatness.

But what’s clear is the Rockets have gotten the message, making several moves that suggest they know they can no longer be stuck in this 9th seed, 14th pick purgatory they have locked their fans in the past three seasons. Up or down works just the same, but this trade improves their chances to get off the mediocrity treadmill and head in either direction they choose.

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