Tracy McGrady, the Savior? Ahem, Houston We Have a Problem
The Rockets roster as it stands now, isn't good enough to make the playoffs.
They're still a good team, that should be amended for what they've done this season, but in the brutal Western Conference the Rockets just don't have enough firepower to consistently fight off the teams for the precious final two spots in the Western Conference playoff race.
Hey, don't blame me, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey recently tweeted the same thing claiming the "roster as is, currently isn't a playoff team."
That can be interpreted in many ways, most directly the literal meaning in that the Rockets, despite their heart, don't have enough pieces to be at the level they'd like to be. After all, there's nearly $40 million being wasted on players, one of whom is out for the season, and the other that has worn out his welcome here in Houston.
Now, I know more than anyone that McGrady won't step on the court as a Houston Rocket anytime in the remainder of his career. But the silver lining is what McGrady can potentially bring in a trade, as the trade deadline is quickly approaching.
The question still remains: who could the Rockets potentially get that would give them that needed boost to remain a team in the thick of the playoffs. In fact, as of today, the Rockets wouldn't even qualify for the postseason, and are in a three-way tie with the Hornets and Thunder for the spots on the outside looking in.
If you're a guy that views the glass being half full, then the Rockets are only half a game out of the playoffs, and are still in a strong position to make the playoffs. If you view the glass being half empty, you'd notice the Rockets have lost seven of their last 11 games and the teams fighting for those same spots have been playing much better as of late.
Before we delve into the potential trade scenarios, the Rockets have yet to find the root cause of the their struggles.
Their defense has been atrocious, giving up 100 points in 10 of those 11 games. Ironically the only game in which the opponent failed to reach the century mark, was against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Rockets are currently 18th in the NBA in opponents points per game, and 22nd in opponents' field goal percentage. Factor that with the Rockets being the 24th worst shooting team in the NBA, largely due to the abysmal play of Trevor Ariza. There's no surprise the Rockets find themselves stuttering, in fact it's surprising the Rockets are still over .500.
Let's get back to this Ariza factor. Has he been the worst shooter in the NBA this season?
On the season he's taking 15 field goal attempts per game, which would be second on the team, and ahead of the likes of Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala or Tim Duncan. He's shooting 37.8 percent from the field, which is the worst among the top-50 field goal attempt leaders in the NBA; the only one coming close is the rookie Brandon Jennings.
He ranks in the top five in three-point field goal attempts per game, ahead of the likes of Mo Williams, Chauncey Billups, or Ray Allen. And from the great beyond, he has now dipped to under 30 percent, that being the second-worst shooting percentage of the top three-point field goal attempt leaders in the league. Only Baron Davis is worse, and he attempts a substantial two less threes per game.
Then to confirm his chucking ways, Ariza garners the most minutes on the Rockets, and is putrid at getting to the line. When he does get there, he can't finish, as he's shooting roughly 66 percent from there. There's nowhere on the floor where Ariza can consistently hit a shot, unless it's a wide open dunk attempt.
He isn't just shooting poorly, he's been the worst shooter in the NBA while putting up historically bad percentages from the field. He's been given the right to chuck, and hasn't shown any signs of development. In fact he's getting worse as each game progresses.
A step in the right direction would be for the Rockets to limit Ariza's minutes substantially, and find a better balance for Chase Budinger who is itching for minutes, as evidenced by his recent play. He's much better off the ball, a clearly better shooter, and a good finisher in transition.
The Rockets can still find a way to make this playoff push with the right adjustments, but a lot of this ultimately depends on what the Rockets actually receive in return for McGrady before the February 18th trade deadline.
Morey has gone on record to saying he wants an All-Star-caliber player. He's either out of his mind, or playing his cards right in hoping a team is desperate enough to give up a large contributor in the hopes of saving money in these rough economic times, and ultimately serving a purpose for both teams.
Names like Kevin Martin and Andre Iguodala have been thrown around. The validity of these rumors has yet to be known.
The contracts of Andres Nocioni, and Beno Udrih, or Samuel Dalembert from the Sixers would likely be packaged with Martin and Iguodala, respectively.
I'm sure, the Sixers would like to dump Elton Brand as well, but in a scenario where the Rockets power forward rotation is their strongest, taking on a worthless player with a cap-crippling contract isn't worth it, even if Iguodala would be the man coming back.
Mark Stein vaguely reported the Rockets and Sixers have been having discussions, but the Rockets have been hesitant of the inclusion of Samuel Dalembert with his trade kicker, and if the Sixers were to give up Iguoudala they're asking for another young asset from the Rockets.
Ariza is certainly a possibility, but with how much Adelman has stuck by his side despite his all timely horrid play, the Rockets don't seem likely to give up on his so-called "potential" just yet.
The Wizards are also in a need of a desperate shake up. Not in the real hopes of making the playoffs, but to change their identity and move on from the whole Arenas debacle, which has still yet to be resolved. Arenas is nearly immovable right now, as the Rockets had turned down a deal for Arenas, even before these incidents came up.
The interesting name from the Wizards is Caron Butler, but his contract doesn't seem poor enough, that he'd be one of their first priorities to dump. If one were to make an educated guess, in terms of their "Big Three," Arenas, Jamison, and Butler would be the ones to go, and in that order.
The Knicks have shown an obvious interest, but are not willing to part with their young first round picks, as the Rockets, for obvious reasons are not willing to take on the contracts of Jared Jeffries or Eddy Curry.
The Bulls have always seemed like a realistic destination, but with Salmons playing much better as of late, specifically from the perimeter, the rejuvenating play of Derrick Rose, trading for an older McGrady may not be the best idea. But in the case of taking a risk to make a playoff push, a package of Salmons, Miller, and Jerome James saves money for the Bulls and potentially brings them a player that could make an impact.
Having witnessed Daryl Morey's moves these past couple of years, it'll probably be something we never expected. Just like the Ron Artest move came out of the blue, or the calling of heads, when "scrubs," like Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry were drafted instead of Josh McRoberts, and Glen Davis.
Now Landry and Brooks are the two best offensive player on the Rockets, potentially asking for a berth in the All-Star game.
Regardless, a trade is bound to happen and with the Rockets quickly slipping in the Western Conference, the deadline to make a deal couldn't approach any faster. Oddly enough, just like last season it all depended on the McGrady situation, specifically if he was healthy enough to make the Rockets into a contender.
And now, it's the same dependence on McGrady, but a in a different sense. With both sides having moved apart, clearly in different directions, whatever happens with the McGrady situation will most certainly have an impact on the team's chances in the upcoming months in their path to the playoffs.
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