Notebook Dump: Reflections on Dwight Howard, Morey, Asik and Lin

Dwight Howard will be a Houston Rocket — it still does not feel real.

There are so many things this changes and so many thoughts running through my head that I’m just going to put them all down here.

Howard’s Impact on the Rockets

In the era of the Miami Heat, the Rockets have become a top superstar location and an NBA contender. That feels good, real good.

Dwight Howard Houston Rockets

Howard should have a big impact on both ends of the floor for the Rockets

Howard is going to have a tremendous impact on the Rockets on both ends of the floor. We know well what he’ll do defensively — he’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year — but he will change the offense as well. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the league, joining forces with two of the best pick-and-roll lead guards. He’s not a brilliant post player, but he’s better offensively than Omer Asik. The combo of Howard and James Harden is going to create a ton of open three-point opportunities.

While injuries may be my only concern with Dwight, I put very little stock in his so-called “decline” last year. He played on a new team while trying to overcome an injury under two different coaches and with one of the more selfish teammates the league has ever seen. The hiring of Mike D’Antoni was probably one of the worst possible fits for a player like Howard. The new “Dwight is terrible, we never wanted him anyway” storyline is simply a hurt feelings reaction from an arrogant fanbase that has never been Carlos Beltran’ed before … ever.

And give Dwight a ton of credit here. He knew this backlash was coming from Hollywood, took less of a salary commitment and went to the best basketball situation, period.

With a nucleus of Harden and Howard, the Rockets are going to be a magnet for veteran players willing to sacrifice and take less for a shot at the ring (think Shane Battier and Ray Allen with the Heat). And the Rockets are so uniquely positioned here. They have a terrific opportunity to make magic happen with a two-year window where Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley combined have less of a cap hit than Royce White.

For this reason, I think the Rockets should continue to be patient before committing long-term to any role players here around this core. As we get to February and March, players are going to become available and teams are going to change directions. The Rockets will be prime to pick up talent.

Also interesting to me — Houston’s new “Big Three” represents each of the three avenues a team can use to improve: James Harden (trade), Dwight Howard (free agency) and Chandler Parsons (draft).

Morey Magic

Daryl Morey Houston Rockets

Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets have changed the NBA rebuilding game

Honestly, I’m just pretty much in awe of what this organization has accomplished. Daryl, Gersson Rosas and Sam Hinkie (before going to Philly) deserve the highest of praise for a team rebuild that was absolutely innovative. NIKEstrad had a brilliant article that broke down how the Rockets got from Yao to now, but I think this is what hits me the most:

    We also hold the rights to international prospects Sergio Llull (bought the pick), Kostas Papanikolaou and Marko Todorovic (both acquired in the Thomas Robinson trade) and are owed the Knicks’ 2nd round picks in 2014 and 2015, two future 2nd rounders from Portland (plus the Clippers’ second rounder in 2015 if it’s between 51-55), while owing our 2nd rounder in 2014 to Philadelphia. We currently own all of our future first round picks.

Not only did the Rockets build this superstar core in a span of nine months, but they didn’t mortgage a lick of their future to do it. Golden State had to part with numerous draft picks to create the room to add Andre Iguodala. The Rockets? They have all their first round picks… and additional second round picks… and the rights to International talent… and, oh by the way, they kept their three best draft picks of the past two years in Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas as well.

Everything this team has done has been ahead of the curve — heading to analytics, asset building, cap management, the hybrid D-League model, the poison pill contract, trading for a non-lottery-protected pick, NBA Draft workout camps, avoiding player options and leveraging team options. Even the hiring of Kevin McHale looks prescient. They’re setting NBA-wide trends. Moves that were met with criticism are now being copied around the league.

But perhaps Daryl Morey’s greatest move was when Daryl Morey locked up Daryl Morey to a long-term extension before Daryl Morey got Dwight Howard. Typical buy low Daryl Morey move and now Daryl Morey is stuck on a below market deal.

Dodging a Bullet

In my lifetime, I never thought I would see a rescinded trade be a bigger blessing in disguise for the Rockets than the 1994 swap that sent Robert Horry to Detroit for Sean Elliott, but when all is said and done, the 2011 “Basketball Reasons” trade that sent Pau Gasol to Houston, Chris Paul to Los Angeles (Lakers) and Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Lamar Odom to New Orleans may be just that.

I wrote last November that the Rockets should be giving thanks for that deal being blocked, but that gratitude should be tenfold now. We can debate causality all day, but in a nutshell, that deal is the difference between Gasol and Nene eating up $35 million of the Rockets’ cap… or being in a position to land James Harden and Dwight Howard.

For the Lakers, it is the total opposite. They now have an aging Gasol and Chris Kaman … they could have had Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and an actual future.

The Rockets pulled off an incredible rebuild in a short amount of time, but never forget how the league office saved the Rockets from short-term thinking here.

Oh What To Do With Omer

Omer Asik unhappy

McHale: “I’m sure Omer right now is a little down in the dumps, but we’ll pick him up”

Omer Asik is one of the last guys you’d replace from Houston’s starting lineup last year, but when it comes to adding superstars, you can’t be picky.

Everyone is talking about what happens next to Omer. He’s not a power forward and it probably doesn’t make sense to play him next to Howard for more than a few minutes per game, so he instantly becomes the best backup center in the league. 48 minutes of Howard-Asik should be downright scary for NBA opponents as the Rockets dropped off significantly last year on the defensive end when Asik came out of the game.

But can the Rockets roll with this luxury for long? Truthfully, probably not. That has about a two-year shelf life tops as Asik would not stay to be a backup and his greatest value on the market is as a Top 5 (or so) center — a rare commodity. So the Rockets should not be in a rush to trade him. Asik and his value contract — along with draft picks and young talent — represent the Rockets’ best trade package to add a third star, and as mentioned before, they have two years to do that before Parsons is going to get paid.

Who could they get? Right now, we just don’t know. LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love would be ideal top targets, but Portland and Minnesota are still in win-now mode. The Rockets should be patient here as there are too many West teams trying to win and not enough playoff spots. We are going to see some teams go the Boston and Philly route (shift to full rebuild) soon enough. I’ve got my money on Dallas, though I think Mark Cuban would rather stab himself in the heart than to trade Dirk Nowitzki to Houston.

So my feeling overall here — be patient. Don’t make a Carlos Boozer-sized mistake. Wait until the right situation comes and be prepared when it does.

Trading Jeremy Lin?

You’ve read the rumors.

I’ve had a hard time believing the Rockets will trade Jeremy Lin. Rockets owner Les Alexander went to great lengths and cost to bring Lin back to Houston. He is important to the business side of the team as they continue to enjoy the benefits of being China’s favorite basketball squad. The Rockets also have a preseason game scheduled in Taiwan this year, and if they’d like to survive it, Jeremy Lin should probably be in attendance.

Having said all that, note that Chandler Parsons and James Harden have both spoken up to welcome Dwight to Clutch City (for that matter, so has Patrick Beverley), yet Jeremy Lin has not said a word.

This could be because Jeremy himself is uncertain or believes his name could be out there in trade talks, but something’s off here, in my opinion.

Jeremy Lin and James Harden

Is Lin still part of the team’s future and the right fit in the backcourt next to Harden?

Here’s why I think Jeremy Lin would be hard to trade with that contract: Last year, as a free agent, Lin could have signed with anyone. As a Harvard-educated young man, I highly doubt Jeremy took less than market value to play in Houston. He agreed to a deal worth between $6 and $6.5 million per year, meaning it’s safe to assume that no team in the league offered more. The Rockets strategically chose to give Lin $2 million more annually (on top of what they agreed upon) simply to make it more difficult for the Knicks to match.

So unless you think Jeremy far exceeded expectations in 2012-13, he’s currently signed to an above market value contract.

Making it more complicated? Lin was signed before Harden, when the Rockets were in full-blown rebuilding mode. Patience was on the menu. Now, the Rockets have probably three untouchables on their roster, are ready to contend, and are focusing on adding the right pieces to complement their core. In my opinion, the most vital characteristics of a point guard next to Harden are three-point shooting, defense and low turnovers. Lin’s final few months of the regular season were quite encouraging — he hit 50-125 (40%) of his three-pointers in his final 37 games. Adding Howard should only help him — he formed quite a pick-and-roll combo with Tyson Chandler when he was in New York.

But keep in mind, excluding the Rockets, the likely top 5 teams in the West will field Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Stephen Curry at the point. Four of those five teams will throw top defenders at Houston’s best guard (Thabo Sefolosha, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Allen and Iguodala), making it fairly important that the Rockets have someone to slow those points.

My feeling is Lin needs another year, but team direction has shifted and shifted hard. It goes without saying — this is going to be a very important year for Jeremy Lin.

Josh Smith

I should have gone with my gut on Josh Smith. I never fully bought the Rockets’ interest, though I’m sure at the right price (less than the $14M he got from Detroit) they were buying. It’s possible that Atlanta had no interest in a sign-and-trade or that the Rockets couldn’t clear the cap needed, but given some of the connections I’m aware of that Josh Smith has in Houston and that his longtime friend was going to be anchoring the middle, I think he would have taken less to be a Rocket.

Josh Smith 2012-13 Shot Chart

Josh Smith has been fairly inefficient away from the basket

Two things I thought were possible that could have been reasons for a strong Rocket interest in Smith:

  1. Smith was Howard bait, that perhaps Dwight needed or wanted Smith in Houston in order to close the deal with the Rockets.
  2. That some analytics intern, locked in the Toyota Center dungeon with only a laptop and some Sun Chips, discovered some rare defensive metric that showed Smith being a must-add and frantically relayed it to Daryl.

But my feeling all along was that Smith was simply too inefficient from outside five feet to be worth the kind of money he was commanding for this team.

He’d be great in a transition game — over half of his shots were at the rim last year — and defensively he would have been a terrific addition, but a Howard-Smith lineup also begs for opponents to pack the paint. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think Houston’s power forward has to have three-point range, but a mid-range game is just about essential, and Smith’s is weak.

Thank You

Last week was a sleep-deprived nightmare and all kinds of site traffic records were set, but it was just so amazing to see the Rockets come out the big winners.

I haven’t had time to reply to all the emails, contributions, texts, tweets, etc. and I owe so many people responses. Thank you. I just can’t express my gratitude enough to all of you for the overwhelming support of ClutchFans.

I’m just ecstatic for the city of Houston and the fans. After years of disappointment and torture — analyzing the possibility of Chase Budinger becoming a superstar or debating if Terrence Williams is the next LeBron James (#wordaapp) — we deserve this. This team is gunning for Miami and it’s going to be a very fun year for all of us.

Thank you again.

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