A three-team deal completed today—that sends Kevin Martin to Houston, Tracy McGrady to New York, and Carl Landry to Sacramento—makes that "no" official. Houston fans can stop dreaming about a longshot. Instead, GM Darl Morey traded for a guy who can hit one off the dribble.
It says here all four marquee free agents seem more likely than ever to stay put, given the expected salary cap and luxury tax threshold decreases next season. Wade, James, Bosh, and Johnson would be turning down $30 million over the life of a new contract to play somewhere else.
That somewhere else was not going to be Houston, even if many wanted to pretend such a miracle was possible.
The McGrady era ended when the Rockets won a playoff series for the first time since the Bill Clinton administration. The former All-Star watched the six-game triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers from the bench. He spent the offseason rehabbing from microfracture surgery—his career in limbo—hoping he would play again.
Rick Adelman agreed to give McGrady seven-minute cameos to satisfy his growing hunger to see the court. Morey, Adelman, and McGrady seemed to agree he would return sometime in January.
That was early in the summer, and such vague timelines never mattered with McGrady.
The season started, the undermanned Rockets far exceeded expectations, and he decided he wanted to give it a go in November.
The guard even dressed in his uniform in a game that month against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. The stunt, heartfelt as it may have been, left Adelman bewildered.
The coach had learned about his highest paid player's career-threatening surgery by watching ESPN , so this was nothing new.
Rumors about McGrady's pending exile had swelled since March. Adelman decided shortly after the botched cameo experiment he did not want to give the former scoring champ more minutes at the expense of winning and chemistry.
When Morey announced he had agred to seek a trade for the disgruntled guard, the trade winds grew violent.
Everyone knew he was headed out of town. Some stood by ready to help him pack his bags. They would have covered the airfaire, too.
See ya, Tracy.
The question was always when and where.
For months, Morey weighed the merits of trading McGrady against letting his contract expire. The latter option would have allowed him to pursue an upper-echelon player like Johnson in a sign-and-trade.
I wrote many times on this site that the guard might still reside in Houston after the annual February deadline passed.
Things changed this week. They tend to do that.
Houston Chronicle Rockets beat writer Jonathan Feigen said Monday he expected Morey to make a deal because the New York Knicks had agreed to sweeten their offer.
Feigen and other hoops scribes outlined an imminent deal involving Hill, Jared Jefferies burdensome contract, Larry Hughes, draft picks, and future considerations. GM Donnie Walsh had not signed off on the trade because he considered Morey's asking price too steep, Feigen said.
The months of tireless speculation and rumor mongering are over.
Morey agreed to trade McGrady's $23 million expiring contract early this morning.
However, in a twist no one anticipated, the Rockets managed to snag Martin, the creative wing scorer they had long coveted, AND Hill, the eighth pick in the 2009 draft.
Martin's name was not mentioned in any of the rumored McGrady deals this month. Instead, ESPN , Yahoo! Sports , and others reported Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge had inquired about the Sacramento guard's availability while shopping 34-year-old, long-distance bomber Ray Allen.
Ainge's public response: uh-uh. The Rockets pounced, and it appears the three parties involved will walk away satisfied.
In a nine-player deal as complicated as the text within most pieces of Texas legislation, Morey surrendered the toughest player on the team's payroll and got back a 27-year-old scoring guard with star potential. McGrady also learned his new address.
Why the Rockets Made the Deal
Morey is high on Johnson and Bosh. In one of the worst-kept secrets in pro sports, the Rockets would have welcomed either player with open arms this summer.
He opted, instead, to secure help now. There was a risk Morey might let McGrady walk in July and get nothing in return.
After two months of sub-.500 basketball and collapse after collapse, it became clear the team would need reinforcements to make a playoff push.
The Rockets led 93-90 with four minutes and change left in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's game against the Utah Jazz. The Rockets scored one basket the rest of the way and again let a quality victory slip from their grasp.
Utah's physical frontline molested Landry and Scola, and the once-hot Houston shooters threw up bricks when attempts to attack the rim failed.
On too many possessions, Shane Battier was asked to hit contested treys at the end of the shot clock, without set feet. No team should ask a 31-year-old role player to do that.
Morey had seen enough to know it was time for a roster modification.
The 6'7" guard can score from every inch of the court, and he gets to the free throw line with frequency. He shot 100 more free throws in a single season than Yao Ming—twice.
He shoots 86 percent from the charity stripe and connects on 40 percent of his three-pointers.
Hill is an intriguing prospect from Arizona with the skills to become a productive big man. His development over the next few years will determine whether the Knicks side of the deal proves a success.
It should concern Rockets fans that Hill struggled to get playing time on an Eastern Conference team double digit games below .500.
To nab his choice players, Morey swallowed two bitter pills.
He parted with Landry and agreed to take on the remainder of Jefferies' deal.
Martin Has a Lot to Prove
The Rockets hope Martin will pair with Yao Ming to solidigy a championship-level core.
Martin faces the toughest task of his career in trying to fill that assigned role. He has yet to show the killer instinct or consistent mental toughness required of an elite player.
His defense is worse than that of a hobbled McGrady, and he carries with him a recent, worrisome injury history.
Even if none of his ailments appear chronic, any injury history is bad news in this city.
McGrady, Yao, and a host of others kept Trainer Keith Jones busy over the last decade. Adelman has to hope Martin can buck the trend and stay healthy.
No one knows if Yao will ever return to his 20-10 form again. Some have already penned his basketball obituary.
The adjective used to describe Martin's scoring prowess—special—will only matter if his production merits high praise.
Jettisoning Landry Will Pain Rockets Now, Later
Saying goodbye is the toughest part of professional sports. There is, however, a difference between a rarely used benchwarmer and a beloved player.
Landry entrenched himself in the Houston community and became a fan favorite.
In a season many projected might be the worst in franchise history, he emerged as a surprise go-to scorer in the post.
Even with a recent dip in production caused by aggressive defenses determined to neutralize his impact, Landry remains in the top five in fourth quarter scoring—alongside Kobe Bryant, Wade, James, and Carmelo Anthony.
Landry was shot in the leg this spring by street thugs and played three weeks after the incident.
Dirk Nowitzki unintentionally elbowed him in the mouth in a December joust, knocking as many as five teeth loose. Landry required six hours of serious dental work but missed just one game.
No avid Rockets fan will forget his heroics in Game Three of the 2008 Western Conference quarterfinals at Energy Solutions Arena.
Then, he played through the discomfort of a chipped tooth and delivered the game-winning block.
Kings fans will fall in love with Landry, and he can help Sacramento turn around its fading season.
He compensated for his porous defense with sheer hustle and grit. He wanted the ball more than his opponent.
Second-round picks of Landry's caliber are rare, and Morey has to hope Hill can contribute immediately.
As much as the Rockets needed a creative wing scorer, they have also been destroyed inside by teams with skilled seven-footers. The Denver Nuggets stomped into Houston without Anthony and shot 39 free throws.
Joey Dorsey Also Goes to Kings
Morey was a busy man on draft night in 2008. He traded for the rights to college scoring standout Donta Greene and Memphis big shot Dorsey.
Greene became the key piece in the deal for Ron Artest. Dorsey stayed in Houston but spent most of his rookie year glued to the bench.
He entered the pros with a self-righteous, primadonna attitude and needed a reality check to realize the error of his ways.
He worked hard in the offseason, and Feigen said coaches were impressed with his improvement.
It wasn't enough. Dorsey played in only 21 games this year and starred in one. He pulled down 15 rebounds in a win at Memphis.
Was he given a fair shot to strut his stuff? That will be debatable.
Maybe in Sacramento, he will get the chance he has worked to earn.
Did the Rockets Win?
The victor of this deal will be determined over the course of the next few seasons. Will the Knicks abundance of cap space lure a big-time free agent?
Will Martin and Hill become the players Morey thinks they can be?
Can the Kings build a playoff contender around Tyreke Evans with Landry and the current pieces?
As with any major trade, there are "ifs" galore for the Rockets.
At least now, the wait is over. Morey has his man and his deal.