The Houston Rockets Won Big This Summer With Small Moves
Miami Heat President Pat Riley lured Chris Bosh and LeBron James to South Beach to join franchise star Dwyane Wade.
The Heat introduced its history-making trifecta in a lavish ceremony usually reserved for a team that has won something. More than 13,000 fans showed up at American Airlines Arena to welcome back Wade and bow at the feet of James and Bosh.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey added 34-year-old Brad Miller and re-signed Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry. That doesn't quite have the same ring. Miller's arrival did not spur casual Houston sports fans to rush to the Toyota Center in a mad season ticket dash.
Scola did not sit opposite Jim Gray when he announced his intentions to ink a five-year, $47 million deal with the onlly NBA squad he has known. The Rockets broke the news before he did.
Lowry did not have to wait long after he signed an offer sheet from the Cleveland Cavaliers to know where he would play next season. Morey, as he said he would do all along, matched the Cavs' $23.5, four-year offer and kept the energetic, reserve guard in Houston.
What the Rockets' offseason lacks in sex appeal it makes up for with common sense. When Morey's lone star target spurned him, he did not panic and execute a transaction involving a glorified scrub he would later regret.
Morey performed dutiful and necessary roster maitenance. If retaining players sounds like an obvious, yawn-inducing move, know that a tedious deal can often make the most sense.
Everything I said about this ballyhooed summer for most of two years proved true. No free agency period in sports history has ever been met with more hype and hysteria. No free agency period in sports history has ever been more overrated. Two franchise players hit the open market along with a fringe frontline star.
All three of those summer gems—James, Bosh, and Wade—signed with the same team. Again, blame it on Pat Riley. That seems like the popular and prudent thing to do.
How, you ask, could a free agent market boasting a walking triple double and a former Finals MVP qualify as overvalued? The quality far outweighed the quantity. One team was going to ink LeBron. Ditto for Wade and Bosh.
As it turns out, one team snatched all three. It now seems like these Olympic buddies had planned to play with one another for years. As free agents, they had the right to do whatever they wanted.
The expensive noise made by other front offices does not impress me.
Carlos Boozer will not help the Chicago Bulls as much as people think. He's undersized, he doesn't defend, and he struggles to get his shot off against elite bigs. He was not athletic or multi-faceted enough to ever become the frontcourt partner Deron Williams needed to sustain satisfactory playoff success.
The Utah Jazz front office should wave goodbye without remorse. The LA Lakers frontline players dominated their Utah counterparts in three straight postseasons. How much longer could the inane charade continue. Youth did not fail the Jazz as much as the flatfooted bigs did.
Boozer was never going to grow tall enough or fast enough to outplay Pau Gasol in four playoff games.
Handing $100 million to Amar'e Stoudemire borders on insanity. He will soon find in New York that his dinner tasted much better when Steve Nash was serving it to him. The Knicks needed to make a splash after tanking two seasons to clear cap space.
Donnie Walsh acquired Stoudemire so that he could convince James or another star to dive into New York Harbor and help the woeful Knicks create waves that would reach from Liberty Island to the Empire State Building. James, instead, took his talents to South Beach.
Minessota Timberwolves GM David Kahn left sensibility and rational thinking in the dust when he traded his best player in Al Jefferson for mere draft picks and Kosta Koufus and showered Darko Milicic with undeserved money. A facility with white walls and couches could save him from himself.
The Memphis Grizzlies bid against themselves for Rudy Gay's services to the tune of $80 million. They should have waited for outside offers to dictate his value.
The Rockets offseason, by comparison, looks a lot smarter. Nothing in professional sports is worse or more damning than doing something for the sake of doing something.
Morey's best move was the silly offer he refused to make. Stoudemire would have looked good in Rockets red for, say, four years or $40 to $50 million. A funny thing made that impossible. Players do not often use MIT-caliber statistical analysis to determine their market value.
They take the simpler route and pick the organization willing to throw them the most dough. The Knicks were the lone team willing to guarantee the final two years of a max deal.
How much better would Stoudemire make the Rockets, assuming Morey would have to renounce Scola and another rotation cog to get him?
Morey set his sights on Bosh alone. He wanted the former Toronto Raptors' forward like Charles Barkley does fried foods. He flew to Dallas when free agency opened July 1 and presented Bosh with a personalized iPad and a stats-laden pitch fit for John Nash.
He commisioned Hakeem Olajuwon, Andre Johnson, and George Foreman to help him recruit Bosh. When it became clear the All-Star was determined to pair up with James or Wade—his agent Henry Thomas told the Houston Chronicle the Rockets had "dropped off something"—Morey did not jump to an ill-advised plan B.
Instead, he allowed the market to settle down. He waited for another team to woo Lowry before keeping his and Owner Les Alexander's promise to pony up for the restricted free agent.
He struck a reasonable deal with Scola without lowballing the Argentine. The Rockets anticipated they would need to fork up eight to nine million per year, maybe more, to lock up Scola.
Morey did not sign Miller in lieu of Bosh. He planned to pursue the veteran center even if his recruitment pitch succeeded. The two sides constitute a terrific match.
Miller knows Rick Adelman's system almost as well as the assistant coaches. He quipped during his introductory press conference that he told several Rockets youngsters last year they were not in the right spots after he heard the called set.
Maybe he was not joking. If Yao Ming can stay healthy (Oh God, that question again?), Adelman can use Miller as a 20-minute or so backup with tons of experience.
The Rockets targeted Miller for years. He targeted them the moment Alexander tapped Adelman as Jeff Van Gundy's replacement. Consider that a great sign of a relationship that will pay dividends for both sides.
A three-year, $15 million contract, with the third year not guaranteed, will not destroy the payroll or bankrupt the organization. He can still do enough to warrant much of that money.
Miller's shortcomings—his diminishing mobility and interior defense coupled with his age—will matter more if another major injury sidelines Yao. That risk, though, would still have lurked with Bosh in the fold.
The Rockets, as I have written ad nauseum, could not afford to lose Lowry or Scola—two unflappable competitors who embodied the 42-40 team's blue-collar attitude and reputation sans Yao.
The signing of 14th pick Patrick Patterson, the Miller addition, and ScoLowry combo pushes the Rockets' number of players under contract to 15. Any future roster improvement must be accomplished via trade.
No one can say Morey lacks the attractive assets necessary to entice a potential exchange partner with a disgruntled superstar.
The defending champion Lakers remain the squad to beat. Miami's coronated super team will have to wrestle the trophy from Kobe Bryant's Arctic hands before Riley can condone another justifiable celebration on the scale of that welcome-to-South-Beach fiesta.
What Rockets fans should understand is this: No other move Morey could have made this summer would guarantee Houston a third title. Teams secure banners in June, not July and August. Bosh was the only fetchable free agent worth close to max money.
Given that, Adelman should not fret going to battle with a unit that has proven it can give the two-time champs a scare, even if it cannot beat them. If a player becomes available that Morey deems a sure-fire upgrade, a la Kevin Martin last year, he has the flexibility to put together a proposal that will keep the opposing GM on the phone long enough to hear it.
The Heat won the press conference in a lanslide. James, Wade, and Bosh have yet to win actual NBA games together. The Rockets improved because they opted not to chase a lower position on the "wow acquisition" rankings.
The interior players available after Bosh would have commanded a lot more money than Scola to do a similar amount of work.
Adelman will enter training camp with one of the league's deepest rosters. Morey has a lot he can play with in trade discussions.
How this roster can go in the playoffs, assuming it can get there, remains an unknown. Fans should celebrate that Morey did not pursue or complete any regrettable deals.
Plenty of other franchises stepped up in that department.
The Rockets had no shot at LeBron and a miniscule one with CB4. They did not console themselves by overspending on someone just so they could say they spent money on someone. Darko, thank goodness, will play in Houston twice, not 41 times.
Kahn's thinking becomes crazier by the paragraph.
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