Gone baby gone.
No, it's not just a movie masterminded by the Affleck brothers. It is now the rallying cry of hundreds of hopeless Rockets fans.
The Denver Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. The Utah Jazz, in a Wednesday morning stunner, shipped Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets.
GM Daryl Morey was not the only person in Houston who would have loved to see one or both in Rockets red and white. Houston, a 27-31 rudderless tease, must continue its desperate star search in vein. For some supporters, the end of this week could resemble being hit by a 2x4, a grand piano and a semi in succession.
Boom. Crush. Bam. Ouch. Please call 911.
Fans and analysts expect Morey to deliver a roster upgrade in advance of Thursday's trade deadline. They expect their next drive to Toyota Center—Saturday night—to culminate with the unwrapping of the franchise's biggest present in more than a decade.
News flash: Those of you anticipating the gift of a lifetime will end up with a singing fish, a calculator that tells time and a pair of ugly socks. I saw this scenario coming but held out hope that divine intervention or Morey's aplomb would make a difference.
Forgive my sacrilege and my naivete. My advice to those still praying for an 11th hour miracle: Conserve your efficacy for later. If slow and steady indeed wins the race, prepare to get lapped by turtles, tortoises, tricycles and tractors.
Rockets fans want a lot of things, but a few wishes rank above the rest. They want the rest of America's sports-watching public and the national media to view Houston as one of the world's most important cities. The energy industry and every publication that monitors job creation consider this city an epicenter, a dream destination and a vital commerce hub.
Top-tier free agents and disgruntled franchise pillars, such as Williams and Anthony, should feel the same way about the country's fourth largest metropolis. I love New York and San Francisco, but I would choose—even with all the globe's riches—to live here 10 times out of 10.
On that note, fans want a superstar, and they want one today. Cue the Veruca Salt comparisons.
But, daddy, I want a golden ticket now.
Houstonians should know the difference. Unearthing a foundation-caliber player is not as a facile as saying, "OK, my dear," and demanding that a factory full of workers tear through thousands of chocolate bars, or in this case, trade proposals, until they find one.
The season-ticket holders and residents who remain the Rockets' lifeblood should face the realities Morey already has:
1. The squad plays in the Western Conference. Three of the four piping hot names (Anthony, Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard) clogging the blazing rumor mill also occupy/occupied West rosters.
Smart franchises do not deal their best and most talented employees within the conference. Williams and Anthony will travel East. Jason Kidd was traded from New Jersey to Dallas. Miami dumped Shaquille O'Neal in Phoenix. Milwaukee donated Richard Jefferson to San Antonio. Minnesota and Seattle delivered Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston.
Pau Gasol's jog from Memphis to L.A. was an exception, and GM Chris Wallace endured plenty of curse-laden tirades from Michael Heisley, the Grizzlies' duplicitous, skinflint owner, because of it. Fellow executives, broadcasters, color analysts and hoops scribes gave him plenty of hell.
If Masai Ujiri and Kevin O'Connor did not want to know Cleveland GM Chris Grant's travail, they damn sure did not covet any of the personal attacks, credibility assaults or crude jokes lobbed at Wallace. Only now can anyone begin to laud the Memphis front office chief for turning a second-wheel Gasol into his younger brother and Zach Randolph.
Morey lost his bid for Anthony and Williams before he could make it. Smart franchises do not deal their best and most talented employees within the conference.
The prevailing opinion of the hauls secured by Ujiri and O'Connor, given that they executed transactions with organizations on the East coast: good job. Denver and Utah did well to flip Anthony and Williams for Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, and Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and a platter of draft picks.
It sure beats losing 'Melo and D-Will for nil.
2. A long-term plan is just that. Morey did not accept the Houston gig to produce exorbitant band-aids. He sought to lift the sagging Rockets back to championship heights of the mid-1990s. If you want the same, stop begging him to pursue Andre Igoudala, Samuel Dalembert, Marcus Camby, Rudy Gay or others of that overpriced ilk.
Houston's wound is a gaping gash, not a scratch, and it has infiltrated the skin and intoxicated the blood stream. A competent architect makes sure a new home's dimensions and design work first before picking out the master bathroom wallpaper. A construction crew should pour the concrete and erect the frame before installing the brass door handle and the flat-screen TV in the living room.
To build on this cracked bedrock is to fudge together a skyscraper on a Central Park-sized sinkhole.
3. The Rockets scripted their blockbuster production, and it flopped for reasons no one in the brain trust could control.
We should have expected a losing record when it became clear the Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming experiment was destined to end the way mixing an acid and a base does. Teams rarely recover quickly when a tandem that ties up the payroll leaves fans and the coach with their stomachs in knots.
You can find a 20-something with a Miami Heat, LeBron James jersey anywhere now. How many of those frontrunners could have named the arena in which the Heat plays during that 15-win season that will live in Florida sports infamy?
Most Rockets fans would love to trade places with Knicks followers now, but what about the last 10 years of New York's disgraceful irrelevance?
The recuperation process may prove painstaking, and it will test how much the decision-makers and paying customers trust one another. Expect this long-term reconstruction to take a long time.
4. Champions, and especially dynasties, begin with a once-in-a-generation draftee. The Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan. Houston netted hometown hero Hakeem Olajuwon. The San Antonio Spurs won the top picks when David Robinson and Tim Duncan were the consensus best players available. Then L.A. Lakers GM Jerry West traded with Charlotte for the rights to 13th pick Kobe Bryant.
The root of Miami's wannabe title-winning machine was Pat Riley's 2003 selection of Dwyane Wade. Boston's star-studded union began with Paul Pierce. Dallas fleeced Milwaukee for the draft rights to Dirk Nowitzki. The 1980s Lakers added top selection Magic Johnson to a core that included some guy named Kareem. Orlando and Chicago owe their current contention to Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose.
You get the point. There is no reason to believe this roster remaking will not require a June cargo that rivals Olajuwon.
5. Making deals for the sake of change yields disaster. Few of these frequent instances end well. Every player on Morey's payroll is an asset, but he is not obligated to deal away all or any of them. Will giving away Shane Battier make anyone in this city feel better?
Morey was not hired to downgrade Houston to a cesspool of bad contracts. It will become that if he agrees to some of the counterproductive transactions proposed in the blogosphere.
Gerald Wallace has anchored one of the league's best defenses. His versatility puts him in select company. He can do more than his 16-point, 10-rebound average will ever suggest. Yet, he cannot carry a franchise's leadership burden. The Bobcats' futility says as much.
The Nuggets appear determined to lock up Nene with an extension, and he wants to stay in Denver with his soon-to-expand family. He remains an attractive trade target, but he is a puzzle piece.
I would be wary of any deal not involving those two players, unless Howard or Paul is in the equation.
The history I detailed above does not add up to that thaumaturge. Morey should make a trade only if it portends long-term improvement. Band-aids are for kids with boo-boos—not these Rockets.
So, do you still trust the number-crunching MIT product to overhaul the Rockets the right way? Do you believe Alexander values winning above all else?
Karma punished Veruca Salt for her pretentious, spoiled and rotten attitude. Those fans not willing to accept all that a long-term plan entails will feel as crummy come Friday morning.
Morey knows this team, as constructed, will not do more than alternate encouraging victories with devastating defeats. He is as embarrassed about the Rockets losing at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers as the people in the nosebleeds who stormed out of Toyota Center shaking their heads and fists.
He knows Kevin Martin cannot defend. He knows Luis Scola needs a lot of help to ever live up to his true value. He knows Brooks has been an inadequate, shot-happy and injured reserve. He sees that Jordan Hill brings it once in four or five games.
He is as perplexed and chap-fallen that Chase Budinger fires so many blanks and often plays with such dispassion. He should regret handing Brad Miller a three-year, $15 million deal.
He did not acquire Patrick Patterson and Terrence Williams for what they would do in February 2011. He loves Kyle Lowry's fierce proclivity, but he cannot confuse the former backup for Williams or Paul. He has to know the starting five, anchored by a 6'6" center, is one of the NBA's least athletic.
The Bulls are pining for Courtney Lee but do not appear prepared to offer an asset worth Morey's trouble or time. The Celtics would love to replace the injured Marquis Daniels with Battier but any conversation that does not begin with Rajon Rondo or Kendrick Perkins will not keep Morey on the line for long.
The Rockets' front office welcomes the idea of a trade to re-invigorate a fanbase forced to cheer a 27-31 outfit. Morey knows it will take more than victories against the Detroit Pistons and Cavaliers to enthrall the spectators still in a mediocrity-induced coma.
He also cannot afford to make this team worse. Plenty of prospective transactions would accomplish that dubious feat.
Knicks' ticket prices doubled in the span of 24 hours. Mikhail Prokhorov landed his centerpiece in New Jersey.
Anthony wanted to return to his birthplace and suit up in Madison Square Garden. James Dolan and Donnie Walsh had nothing to do with that. The Jazz were not about to send the sullen Williams to the franchise's chief playoff rival.
Gone baby gone?
The Rockets' star search continues, but those who understand and appreciate the arduous process of fielding a champion must trust that Morey will pounce when the glorious validation of a long-term blueprint arrives.
This rebuilding thing could take a while.