Houston Rockets Give Daryl Morey Plenty of Ammunition to Make Changes

Robert KleemanSenior Analyst IMarch 5, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 10:  Kevin Martin #12 of the Houston Rockets against the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 10, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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If management measured Kevin Martin’s job security by crunch-time execution, then his career skipped off the back rim twice and into Blake Griffin’s hands Sunday night.

The Rockets botched a trio of opportunities to take late leads in a crucial home match against the Los Angeles Clippers and lost 105-103 in extra minutes.

Daryl Morey will not trade his roster’s top scorer and free-throw shooter because he threw away what should have been a facile inbound pass or because he tossed bricks with the outcome up for grabs.

Those miscues, though, add to the painful plethora of reasons Morey will cite when he tosses a stick of dynamite in the direction of this 21-17 roll call and sends key contributors elsewhere.

The Rockets, losers of three in a row, have once again entered a tailspin just before the trade deadline. That gives the GM the annual ammo he needs to blast complacency and inactivity to bits.

What is it about February (and this year March) that causes Houston to pile up crippling defeats? Oh, right.

The players do not need to read ESPN Writer Ric Bucher’s latest tweet to know changes are coming.

“Luxury tax concerns could put a damper on magnitude and volume of deals, but it’s guaranteed Rockets roster will be different on March 16,” Bucher wrote.

Morey has engineered a deadline deal in each of his five seasons on the job here. There is no reason—with the team reeling from an inexcusable three-game slide—to think he won’t shuffle the deck again.

The Rockets brought this on themselves with three lackadaisical efforts last week and an interior defense that couldn’t keep a grasshopper away from the rim.

As much as the employees might blame the GM’s itchy trigger finger and the coach’s create-on-the-fly rotations for the post-All-Star break nosedive, they should find a mirror.

You don’t want Daryl to jettison you? Then play better.

It is, of course, not that simple. The Rockets continue to splutter because the roster is built to win at a .500 clip. Perhaps it was foolish to believe the squad could build on a commendable 20-14 mark at the break.

Chris Paul demonstrated Sunday the difference a superstar-level performer can make. The Rockets need one or two of those to become the kind of unit that can expect to beat the best on a consistent basis.

The Clippers will not contend for a title this spring. I will stick with my prediction that L.A.’s emerging basketball stepbrother loses in the first round.

Blake Griffin requires postseason seasoning before he can lead a Larry O’ Brien trophy charge. Lob passes do not win championships. The Clippers do not excel at a half-court pace, when disciplined defensive opponents find ways to stymie Paul’s penetration and the frontcourt’s SportsCenter-ready dunking.

Still, no one can question the team’s abundance of freakishly athletic talent. L.A. will hammer many foes with inferior ball-handling, thanks to Paul’s thievery and Griffin's and DeAndre Jordan’s prodigious alley-oop conversions.

The Rockets may boast several high-flying forwards, but they do not succeed as a team because of raw talent. They emerge victorious from bouts by outworking the competition. Each game must matter to them 10 times more than it does the guys in the other locker room.

A starting lineup comprised of 26th, 26th, 24th, 56th and 38th picks necessitates that.

Contrast that, for a moment, with the Clippers' opening five. Teams drafted four of L.A.’s five starters in the top 10. Paul and Griffin were selected third and first in the 2005 and 2009 drafts.

Griffin and Paul also ran away with their Rookie of the Year races and snatched the most coveted prize among NBA freshmen.

Such a wealth of talent is a gift. Morey keeps waiting for his own package to unwrap.

In the meantime, if he cannot land a franchise star, he can at least alter the inventory. History suggests he will, with Bucher’s tweet antagonizing the conflagration with more diesel fuel.

Let it burn.

The Rockets faltered last week because they began to flash a sense of entitlement and smugness. They squeaked by Toronto, despite a mammoth disparity in paint points and rebounds.

The Utah Jazz shellacked them without Paul Millsap. The Nuggets abused and embarrassed them sans Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Fernandez and Nene.

If this team yearns to crash the playoff party again, it did not play like it Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday. When the Rockets finally displayed the proper urgency and passion Sunday night, they found themselves in a slugfest with Paul and Griffin’s Clippers. The defeat dropped them to a tie with the eighth-seeded Nuggets.

Now comes a five-date road trip that will test Houston’s ability to recover from severe head trauma.

The Raptors and Jazz danced to the bucket under minimal duress. The Nuggets won the battle of the boards 49-35.

Chase Budinger has fallen out of the rotation again. Terrence Williams did not do enough in a Sunday stint to claim it.

Kevin McHale needs his back-up reserve to do more than flush uncontested dunks and make the occasional pass or long-distance shot.

Jordan Hill’s absence has exacerbated Houston’s interior inadequacy, but how much can he fix?

The Rockets have been out-rebounded in 10 straight contests. They have been bruised, beaten and scarred in every way possible since the season’s second half commenced.

Martin? He’s been about as accurate from the field as a toddler handling an assault rifle. He finished 6-of-22 against the Clippers.

Kyle Lowry can keep his suitcase stowed in the closet. He ranks as the closest thing to untouchable on this roll call. He could not out-duel Paul but still contributed enough to give Houston a shot.

Martin, Budinger and everyone else, however, should worry about the fast-approaching trade deadline.

They have given Morey every reason to facilitate changes at just the time he tends to make them.