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NBA Analysis: Rockets Need Wallace, Not Mayo

A few days ago I sat down and debated the top 10 players I would want Houston to acquire by the deadline or in the offseason. I limited myself to players who have been mentioned in trade rumors previously or guys who could be available in free agency, also essentially limited my list to only small forwards and centers, as I still hold some shred of hope that they can keep Lowry, Martin and Scola in the process. I’ll spare you all the scratched out names notations and arrows that were inserted, scribbled on and re-drawn on the edge of the notepad and leave you with my list (which I continue to debate every time I look at it)…

10. Marcus Camby, 9. Kendrick Perkins, 8. Andre Iguodala, 7. Marc Gasol, 6. Nene, 5. Demarcus Cousins, 4. Danny Granger, 3. DeAndre Jordan, 2. Melo, 1. Gerald Wallace

Aside from Melo, there were no real “superstars” on the list (at least in the eyes of the media and the NBA fan who has become far too reliant on the word). And there isn’t a player among them that is perfect or would immediately make Houston a contender without a little extra help. They’re all either too old, too inexperienced, make too much money, have injury issues, play below average defense or have little to no chance in hell of going anywhere (yeah, I kinda contradicted a prior statement with that last one, but if I couldn’t stretch this a little bit it wouldn’t be fun at all).

Then there’s Gerald Wallace…

In all of my debating, sometimes including Thad Young, Greg Oden and Chris Kaman, while moving Jordan around from as high as ninth up to second and for one millisecond (that I’m not proud of)  I legitimately considering Hasheem Thabeet, I never once moved Wallace from the No. 1 spot. Why? My detractors would say he’s not a prolific scorer or shooter and that he cannot single-handedly carry this team. But I don’t think his impact could be measured in the same way you would measure Lebron’s impact on the Heat or Melo’s impact on the Knicks (which I don’t think will be much this season).

Offensively he can get to the rim as easily as any player in the league.  Sure, his shooting percentages are down, but he’s asked to do far too much in Charlotte. If you played 41 minutes a game for 76 regular season games and a playoff series as the team’s top dog, you’d be exhausted too. He’s getting to the line less this year (5.7 times per game, as opposed to 7.2 a year ago) and settling for more threes (17.8 percent of his shots per game compared to 14.5 percent last year). Pair him with the penetrating and floor spreading skills of Kevin Martin and I think he could wreak havoc in the lane.

But let’s be honest, you don’t acquire Gerald Wallace just for his offensive game, as he’s easily one of the best perimeter defenders in the world. His freakish length and strength allow him to defend three positions and he’s top 10 among small forwards in the league at rebounding (8.3 per game), shot blocking (1.0 per game) and steals (1.23 per game). I love Shane Battier, but he’s clearly not the same defender he once was and Wallace would certainly fill that void.

Statistically, yeah, he’ll give you 15-20 points, 6-10 boards, a block and a steal per game, but Wallace is one of those “his impact doesn’t show up in a box score cliche” players. Remember the impact Artest had when he was here? Despite his eccentricities and affinity for stupid offensive decisions, his passion and tenacious defense made him a fan favorite. Just stepping on the floor, the team seemed to care more defensively and his general presence bothered opposing players. Wallace has that, plus the whole “I guarantee you at least one awesome transition play every game” factor. He also has shown quality character, playing for the USA National Team and Houston has been known over the years for adding “team” guys.

Long term, Wallace works, too, because he’s only 28 and has two reasonably-priced years left on his contract (the last one being a player option). If the team doesn’t make a huge stride by the end of next season, Wallace could either walk or become an expiring contract in the 2012-2013 season. The Rockets probably won’t win a championship in that time, but they would certainly be better defensively and with a legit center in the lineup, they could make a deep playoff run next season.

(This is the point where I’m going to keep it real with you, Rockets’ fans. Look around the league and ask yourself, “Is Houston going to get a legit No. 1 by the deadline or the offseason?” and “Can the Rockets acquire a superstar after next year?” You’re kidding yourself if you say yes to either question. Adding Wallace and a center would creat a  competitive team but they likely won’t beat the Lakers or Celtics right now in a 7-game series. If Houston doesn’t blow it up after this season, they probably should after next. Yeah, it’s depressing, but it’s the reality of what the league has become. If you aren’t a major media market, you have to blow it up, acquire picks and young assets and pray you get lucky.)

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On the flip side of the Wallace spectrum, I came up with five guys that would make me gag if I found out Houston acquired them before the deadline:

5. OJ Mayo, 4. Tyson Chandler, 3. Zach Randolph, 2. Carl Landry, 1. Hasheem Thabeet

Chandler is likely going to get a massive contract from Cuban only for him to miss 75 percent of the rest of his career due to injuries. With Randolph, I invoke the right of “I just don’t like him, and I would hate to see him wearing my team’s jersey.” The second half of Scolandry was one of my favorite players when he donned a Rockets’ uniform, but that time is gone and a backup PF does nothing for this team right now (plus he’s a Hornet, joining Ariza as players Houston threw away whose corpses Paul will drag to at least the second round of the postseason). Thabeet is self-explanatory and if Houston wanted a young big, they should push for Mozgov, Asik or Fesenko… at least those guys have upside past “remember how good I looked coming out of college?”

Mayo is the one guy who might require a deeper explanation, but instead of dragging this post out any further, I’ll boil it down to four points:

  1. The Rockets already have a defensively inept 2-guard, and Kevin Martin is better offensively in every possible facet of the game.
  2. Aside from Ben Gordon and Jason Terry, name one effective undersized 2-guard on a contender over the last decade. Terry thrives off the bench (and plays a lot of PG), while Gordon played next to Chauncey Billups, which helped his defensive inadequacies.
  3. Any deal for Mayo would likely include Thabeet (see previous comments) and Lee, who I honestly would rather have over Mayo right now because of his defense and shooting ability.
  4. Since coming out of college, the guy has attracted media attention for all the wrong reasons. How long before he’s starting fights over card games with Houston players?

I’ve lost a lot of sleep conjuring Rockets’ trade scenarios the past few weeks and I’ll continue to lose sleep these next two nights. But in 48 hours, if Houston has one of those five guys on the roster, I’ll have to start questioning Morey’s God-like status among Rockets’ fans and start focusing my attention to college basketball and (gasp) maybe even Major League Baseball.


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