With the Rockets very much in the middle of the Carmelo Anthony discussions, Rockets fans have been quick to get on the bandwagon to make such a move, believing that such a move would be exactly what the team needs to regain the glory of the championship years of the 1990's.
While Anthony would undoubtedly improve the team, the most prudent course of action for the Rockets right now is building through the NBA Draft. People talk about how this year is a weak draft, how some prospects will be scared off by labor uncertainty, and that young players are wild cards, and people who say these things are completely right.
There are no sure things in the draft. Some players, like Adam Morrison, completely bust even when many predict stardom, while others, like Rashard Lewis, succeed when not much is expected of them.
Still, given the current state of affairs in Houston, taking the uncertain course is the best choice. Read on and find out why.
Cheap talent in the NBA is among the most valuable assets a team can have. In an era of penny-pinching and horrible losses, countless teams are looking to acquire players at low salaries.
Simply put, there is no better place to find inexpensive talent than in the NBA Draft. Because of the rookie scale, most first rounders make pennies on the dollar compared to their true value. With the Rockets looking to rebuild, these players would be incredibly valuable.
While the Rockets are stretched thin financially this because of huge commitments to veteran players, a few years of drafting smart would eliminate the need to sign stop-gap veterans like Brad Miller to large contracts, instead opening up the door for more major transactions.
While the draft is anything but a sure thing, picking up extra draft picks to rebuild would help the Rockets financial situation significantly.
The sale of draft picks has become more and more prevalent over the last few years. With some teams not wishing to give out guaranteed contracts, late 1st round picks have been offered up at increasingly low rates.
Perhaps the most notorious example of this was Rajon Rondo. Because of years of poor financial decisions and bad contracts, the Suns took to selling their draft picks and traded away Rajon Rondo to the Celtics for a mere sum of $3 million. Rondo, the league's assist leader and All-NBA First Team Defense selection, would certainly look good in a Suns uniform, but because the Suns moved their pick, they will never know.
Because of their favorable position financially, the Rockets will have a much easier time than most rebuilding through the draft as they can add draft picks for simple cash transactions. Last year, there was talk of mid-first round picks being available for nothing more than the maximum $3 million.
With the added revenue from Yao Ming, the Rockets have money to spend. If they want to spend it wisely, they will acquire draft picks, as these draft picks will likely never be this inexpensive again.
With Yao Ming going down again for perhaps the last time this season, the Rockets are undoubtedly scouring the trade market to find a successor for the center position. Unfortunately, they have been less than successful.
After reportedly being engaged by the Dallas Mavericks for Brendan Haywood and his laughably large contract, the Rockets have been rebuffed in their efforts to acquire a solid center who can lock down the middle. They've been connected to Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby and Nene, but have been unable to work out a deal to get any of them.
While Nene and Camby (when he gets healthy) would each add a lot to the team, they are unlikely to come at a reasonable price because of their value to their respective teams. Kaman would come cheaper, but that is because he is an overpaid, aging center who lacks strong defensive instincts.
With so few centers out there, any center that could become available would either cost too much to acquire or be overpaid. Because of that, the Rockets should look to add a center in the draft who could eventually take over the spot.
Given the Rockets' success in developing big men in recent years, taking a project center in the draft is the best course of action. While they rarely succeed, drafting a big man with potential can have a huge reward with a few years of patience (see Jordan, DeAndre).
Since Daryl Morey has taken the helm as the Rockets' general manager, he has overseen one of the league's best drafting teams as they have added numerous cogs to the rotation. Drafting Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry late in 2007 draft was his first act of genius as both would go on to be extremely capable scorers despite their apparent faults.
Next, after surrendering his first round picks in consecutive years to acquire Ron Artest, Morey bought multiple picks in the second round of the 2009 draft, landing Chase Budinger and Sergio Llull, two players who figure prominently into Houston's future. Budinger has emerged as a solid bench player with outstanding athleticism, solid shooting touch, and impressive finishing ability in transition while Llull has worked his way up the rankings of international prospects as he plays in Europe.
Even his most recent draft pick, Patrick Patterson is already contributing, as he has become a deadly floor-spacing big man who can defend and rebound coming off the bench.
If the Rockets commit to rebuilding through the draft, they will likely have even higher draft selections in higher quantities. Given Morey's track record in the draft, the possibility of an impressive young team to develop is enticing.
While free agency and trades can be a part of a team's plan for contention under the right circumstances, the Rockets need to be looking for more than one player at this point. Unfortunately, that is not possible except through rebuilding in the draft.
While the Rockets have some idea of who the starting shooting guard and power forward are going to be moving forward, at the remaining three positions, there is little certainty.
At point guard, Kyle Lowry has asserted himself as the starting point guard, but his long term viability as a starter is unclear. Shane Battier has started for years at the small forward position, but he is aging and both Chase Budinger and Terrence Williams have their own weaknesses. Finally, at center, the Rockets are completely unclear about their future. Surely they can't start a 6'6" player for another year, but Jordan Hill doesn't appear ready to take over the full time job.
Because of this uncertainty, the Rockets need to work in the draft to remedy these areas. Even if they can't fill each of these voids, they will go a long way towards creating a championship level team if they can even find one long term starter.
As mentioned earlier, the draft affords the teams drafting a tremendous opportunity by allowing them to acquire players at low rates. With a new collective bargaining agreement potentially restricting a team's ability to spend, the value of having low salary players under contract cannot overstated.
With the league hemorrhaging money, the owners have proposed huge cuts across the board for players. The proposal has reportedly included an elimination of exceptions that allow teams to exceed the cap, in essence creating a hard cap.
If the CBA included a hard cap, financial flexibility would be extremely important.
With so many teams looking to cut salary and willing to give up assets in order to do so, the flexibility afforded to the Rockets by a focus on the draft rather than acquiring high salaried veterans would be powerful. The Rockets could take advantage of desperate teams and perhaps get their star player that way.
Ever since 1995, nearly everything the Rockets have done has been a disappointment to the city of Houston. After getting Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets were expected to assert themselves as one of the league's best teams but instead failed to stay healthy and found themselves stuck in mediocrity.
Now, with both of these players in the rear view mirror for all intents and purposes, the Rockets are in a transitional phase. They are nearly good nor bad, on the bubble for the playoff and unlikely to make any noise if they make it. For fans, there is nothing worse.
Rockets fans have teased by impressive play for too long and are willing to endure a rough stretch of a couple of years if it means that the Rockets could potentially emerge as a talented young team.
Considering that Houston has waited for 16 years for another championship, a few more would be bearable.
The obvious alternative to building through the draft, going out and acquiring Carmelo Anthony, is a very popular idea among Rockets fans. After permanently losing Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady to injuries, Rockets fans are looking for somebody to fill the void they left.
Carmelo Anthony, at least on first glance, appeared to be that guy.
Hitting shots that seem impossible with apparent ease, Anthony certainly looks like a superstar, but he really isn't upon further evaluation. He is an inefficient scorer, turns the ball over a lot, struggles defensively, and needs to pass more.
While he has a lot of value as someone who can get their own shot at any time, that he is worth a max contract is a debatable point. Given that the Rockets would have to give up a boatload of draft picks and young players to get him, staying the course and building through the draft would seem to be the smart play.
The alternative to building in the draft, potentially mortgaging the future for a championship run, is a strategy that is not without merit. The Celtics employed this strategy successful and have made the finals twice in the last two years, winning once, but it can also be extremely dangerous.
The Cavaliers are a reminder of exactly how dangerous this strategy is, as they now possess the league's worst record and are trotting out what equates to a Summer League team. Hoping to win a championship with LeBron James and convince him to stay in Cleveland, the Cavaliers acquired Mo Williams, gave Anderson Varejão a lucrative extension, and traded for Antawn Jamison.
Now, with James' departure, they are ill-equipped to handle an NBA schedule, especially with injuries to Williams and Varejão.
If the Rockets were to go after Carmelo Anthony and win the sweepstakes without an extension signed from Carmelo, the Rockets could potentially go down the road the Cavaliers did this year. With the possibility that Carmelo leaves at the end of the year, the Rockets would be left with little young talent, tons of bad contracts (Al Harrington, etc.), and few draft picks to rebuild.
Instead, they must resist the temptation to go for that deal and wait out the stretch, knowing that patience is often the best policy.
With the obvious exception of the Miami Heat this summer, the overwhelming majority of star players are acquired in the draft. In fact, every championship team in recent memory has been at least partially led by a player acquired in the draft by that franchise.
The Lakers, who have won the last two championships, are led by Kobe Bryant, who was not drafted by the Lakers but was traded on draft night for Vlade Divac.
The Spurs, who had one of the strongest stretches in NBA history from 1999 to 2007, had a troika of draft picks leading the way for them in Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan.
Even the Celtics, who went out and acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett the summer before they won the 2008 Finals, would not have made it without contributions from Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
While teams like New York, Miami, or Los Angeles may be in a position to secure star players in free agency because of the obvious appeal of playing there, for Houston, a less attractive city, doing so is extremely unlikely.
If Houston wants to succeed in its long quest to find a star player, the best course of action would be to pile up draft picks and swing for the fences.