Amidst the mayhem that comes with every trade deadline, the Houston Rockets adjusted their roster with a pair of subtle moves for the future.
Not surprisingly, General Manager Daryl Morey again showed his aggressive style in pulling the trigger on the 11th-hour trades that drastically shifted the Rockets’ depth chart and moved Aaron Brooks and Shane Battier, two fan favorites with considerable Houston tenure.
Less than an hour before the 3p.m. deadline, the Rockets agreed to two separate trades: One sending Battier to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Hasheem Thabeet and a first-round draft pick, and another shipping Brooks to the Phoenix Suns for Goran Dragic and another first-round draft pick.
With Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams moving to the Eastern Conference, the balance of the league has undoubtedly shifted away from the West. The Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets, two middle tier playoff teams, are now without their superstars, so Houston jumped at an opportunity to build for the future.
“Our goal is to win a championship,” Morey told Sports Illustrated. “Our goal at this deadline was to make significant upgrades and that’s our goal constantly. These moves position us better in the future. The big move that helps us now and in the future did not materialize, but we feel like this positions us better to make that move down the road.”
The deadline moves all but certainly prove that Houston is transitioning to a rebuilding stage.
Letting Battier go makes sense. Though he is a talented player with some of the best defensive skills in the league, he is aging and isn’t a player you can build around. Houston will miss his presence, but receiving a first-rounder in exchange is more than fair.
At this point in the season, it’s apparent that the Rockets have a roster that isn’t bad enough to run at a lottery pick, but also isn’t good enough to make the playoffs, let alone go for a title.
When Yao Ming ended his season, again, in mid-December, Houston was left with a gaping hole in the front court. The center position was then split among Brad Miller, Jordan Hill, and Chuck Hayes.
Miller, the seven-footer brought in this season, is more of a mid-range player and has barely smelt the paint this season. Hill, standing at 6-feet 10-inches, is arguably the best interior player in the paint. Hayes, a mere six-and-a-half feet tall, has all the tenacity and defensive upside desired in a low-post player, but he is very undersized and thus isn’t a front court player to build around.
By bringing in Thabeet, the Rockets are taking a chance on a player who has declined since joining the NBA. The two-year pro definitely brings size to the position with his 7-feet 3-inch frame, but he is clearly a project.
Drafted number two overall in the 2009 draft, the U-Conn graduate was highly touted for his collegiate career, but has been widely regarded as a bust and has hopped from the Memphis bench to the D-league almost at will.
Still, Morey looks forward to helping Thabeet rediscover the great potential he had when entering the NBA.
“Thabeet is a recent second pick of the draft,” Morey told the Houston Chronicle. “We have an obvious need for a defensive, shot-blocking big. He’s got a chance with the right approach to become that for the Rockets. I think you look at the history for bigs, it often takes time.”
At the point guard position, it’s clear the Rockets are more than comfortable handing the reigns to Kyle Lowry. Averaging a career high in points, assists, steals, and rebounds this season, Lowry brings the physical play and hustle necessary to fit in Houston’s scheme.
Brooks has been the subject of many trade rumors since the season’s start, and the defending Comeback Player of the Year proved to be a valuable trade chip.
Disgruntled by not getting a restructured contract, Brooks hasn’t had as productive a season as last year. With Lowry playing at a high level and rookie Ish Smith showing many signs of upside, Brooks and his expiring contract became expendable.
Not only did Houston cash in on another high pick, they also got a playoff-tested point guard in return. Dragic has played Steve Nash’s backup role perfectly, bringing more than seven points and three assists in about 17 minutes per game.
“We really like Dragic,” said Morey. “Obviously he’s a guy that is a strong playoff performer. He’s been a strong performer his first two years in the league and provides certainty for our backup point guard position into next season.”
Given the circumstances, many would probably take Brooks over Dragic, but adding a high pick proved to be the selling point.
With a handful of draft picks, and big contracts, including Jared Jeffries’, coming off the books, Houston is now poised to make a strong play in the draft and in free agency this summer.
Though the Rockets are rebuilding and playoffs are probably even further away after today’s moves, Morey made the right plays looking towards the future.
With notable free agents like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and possibly Deron Williams available in 2012, the Rockets have a year to try and woo them with hopes of gaining ground in the weakened West.
Depending on the new structure in the collective bargaining agreement, Houston may continue making many moves for the next couple of months to build their next championship team.