Barely 6'0" and 160 pounds, Brooks is a minimum-salary point guard who’s bounced around the game of basketball. He’s also the type of player who can really help a team in this cost-conscious era.
On Saturday night against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooks came off the bench and lit it up in the first half with four treys and a dish to Jeremy Lin at the buzzer. Late in the third quarter, he came back in with an assist followed by a couple of sweet running hook shots. Brooks started the final frame and quickly connected from behind the arc, and then again. When all was said and done, he had 26 points, including 6-of-7 from distance, five dimes, four boards and two steals—all in 24 minutes. The Rockets won it, 112-101.
Speaking after the game on NBA.TV, Brooks shared the credit and said all the right things:
We all did a good job, shared the ball and got it done. You gotta practice, be ready and your opportunity will come eventually—it’s a long season.
Brooks has never been what you’d call a true star, although he did pick up the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2010, and that’s not a bad thing. Nonetheless, he hasn’t been able to stick with the Rockets organization. Perhaps that will change now.
This is, after all, the age of the shrinking NBA middle class. The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) didn’t really result in less superstar contracts, just an increase in the bare minimum salaries in order to balance the books.
Brooks was the 26th pick for the Rockets in 2007. He started every game in his third season—this after Houston traded Rafer Alston to Orlando for Kyle Lowry. It was a time of transition for the Rockets—Metta World Peace was waived, Tracy McGrady was traded and Yao Ming sat out the entire season with a foot injury. Brooks started all 82 games, averaging just under 20 points-per-game.
Houston didn’t ultimately hang on to Brooks, however—he was traded to the Phoenix Suns, played 25 games and headed to China the following season. Brooks returned to NBA action last season with the Sacramento Kings, was traded back to Houston and ultimately waived in order to create cap space for the Dwight Howard pursuit.
That’s the reality of today’s economics—clear all the space you can in order to go after the max contract superstars and then fill in the blanks.
Once the deed was done with Howard, the Rockets came back to Brooks with a veteran’s minimum offer for just one season. Brooks, who has family in the area, reportedly considered other minimum offers before accepting the deal.
Speaking with Fox 26 Sports this summer, he talked about his reasons. "My kids have been to several places the last couple of years. So it's good to go back to somewhere they are familiar with," he said.
Speaking about the competition at the point guard position, including Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and rookie Isaiah Canaan, Brooks added:
It's a good team. I know everybody is concerned about how many guards are on the team, but I think it's good for the Rockets. We need Jeremy and Pat and everybody to come out and play great. It's good competition and I'm just happy to be back.
On Saturday night, Brooks showed that there’s always room on a contending roster. With shooting guard James Harden out with a sore foot, both Lin and Beverley started. It’s not that either did poorly—Lin finished with 19 points and Beverley had 17. Instead, it’s about finding a balanced attack. Six players finished in double figures—this without the team’s leading scorer.
You’re not always going to win games on the backs of the superstars. If nothing else, injuries show us that. And in case you think this is only about Brooks, think again. Chandler Parsons, who finished with 14 points, and Beverley, with his 17, are also minimum-salary players.
Houston’s record now improves to 9-5 on the season. The Rockets will do well to hang on to Brooks this time around.