Thursday, December 1, 2011

Burning Question #19: Do the Rockets Finally Make a Blockbuster Trade?

I haven't seen Moneyball, nor have I read the book, but people tell me that both were pretty good. And sure, the concept of finding hidden gems using statistical analysis is intellectually stimulating. But intellectual stimulation is fleeting. Nobody cares anymore because the OBP-based Oakland Athletics never won a World Series. The numbers made some sort of sense, but the team wasn't memorable enough. Seriously, did you enjoy watching Bobby Crosby? What about Jermaine Dye? The Oakland Beanes had a legitimate player here and there, but they all had some kind of flaw that made them unmarketable. Miguel Tejada could barely speak English. Johnny Damon hadn't grown his hair out yet nor had he begun to realize he could talk. Jason Giambi was on his way to the Yankees as soon as he chose his jersey number (16 --> 1 + 6 = 7, Mickey Mantle's number). And don't get me started on those all-white unis. The Oakland As were the essence of boring. The idea behind Moneyball was cute, but where was the flash?

Conversely, we don't remember teams and players with all-style-no-substance, either. Isaiah Rider won the dunk contest with an array of incredible moves, but he never produced a real career. Damon Jones displayed a closet full of ludicrous, eye-popping suits, but there will rarely be room in the NBA for a streaky 3-point shooter who is undersized, can't defend, and can't get to the rim. Sadly, Mike D'Antoni teams will never win a championship because he never requires his players to toughen up on the defensive end. When it's all said and done, we forget about these types. There is too much sugar and not enough caffeine in their coffee, and sooner or later, we crash.

Why is this even a question?

The Houston Rockets have a lot of players that every championship team needs. Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Jonny Flynn, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Lee, and Chase Budinger are all players that could make worthy contributions on a contending squad. But take a look at that list again: I just named 7 dudes! That's far too many role players. The best of the bunch, Kevin Martin, is a decent player, but he makes second banana-level money with only one elite skill: his jumpshot. At what point does Daryl Morey decide that the Oakland Athletics formula is even less relevant in a sport driven by superstars? At what point does he decide that being mediocre isn't good enough?

How will this play out?

Rumors have already started circulating regarding the eventual landing spots for Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul, but if I were Morey, I would sit tight...for now. The Rockets need to give any of those aforementioned 7 players the opportunity to boost their trade value in the first half of the season. Would a Scola-Lowry-Budinger-1st Round Pick package look nice? Maybe, but wouldn't it look better if at least one of them played like an All-Star (fine, an All-Star snub) for a 25-game stretch? Morey is too smart to keep trotting these guys out year after year, but if he doesn't get a big name this season, then maybe it's time to rescind his yearly Sloan Sports Conference invite.

Player to Watch: Chase Budinger
The knock on Budinger's game is that he can't defend the athletic shooting guards and small forwards at the NBA level. But he has one thing that can't be taught: athleticism, which is impressive, considering he is of the Caucasian ilk. New head coach Kevin McHale might be able to teach Budinger a thing or two that offensive-minded Rick Adelman couldn't do last year. The right coach can make an athletic NBA player do almost anything.

Offensively, Budinger isn't exactly a sieve. He has flashed potential of being an slashing swingman who can pop from distance. In last year's regular season finale, he poured in 35 on 12-21 shooting, including 4-8 beyond the arc. If he can produce in a larger role this year, the Rockets may have something be able to trade him.

Prediction: 8th in the West

Gathering low-cost players and hoping they play well together is a fine strategy if you want to be a profitable sports franchise. Salaries are kept at a minimum, and the profitability associated with hosting a couple of home playoff games virtually guarantees that you won't be in the red. But the Larry O'Brien trophy isn't awarded to teams who only play a couple of home playoff games. Dork Elvis must strike this season, or his ghost will be in Graceland soon.

And a big P.S.: Yao ain't walking through that door! Can you guys change your logo and jerseys please? You don't have to look like a Chinese basketball team anymore!

Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:

NBA Season Preview: Burning Questions for teams you don't care about
Burning Question #20: Can Sacramento keep their Kings?

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