Houston Rockets Made Two Deadline Deals, But Did They Improve?

Robert KleemanSenior Analyst IFebruary 24, 2011

PHOENIX - NOVEMBER 25:  Hasheem Thabeet #34 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on November 25, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Grizzlies 126-111.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Carl Landry and Kendrick Perkins all switched addresses before today's trade deadline, and all of them will still enter the Toyota Center as visitors.

The Rockets now own two first-round picks in a starpower-drained draft where franchises seem determined to move down instead of up (plus two more, including one in 2013). I was going to center my column about Daryl Morey's inactivity around a Hasheem Thabeet joke. Yeah, they were even desperate enough to inquire about the seven-foot stiff with less game than Milos in the American Airlines commercials.

I then read the Rockets had indeed traded for Thabeet. Once I confirmed that Ashton Kutcher was not involved in the negotiation process, I needed a few hours to digest a stunning haul. Morey also acquired Demarre Carroll, Goran Dragic and a handful of first rounders.

The Thabeet-Dragic transactions qualify as "stunning" because I am not sure Morey could have predicted his Feb. 24 would end this way. His wish list began with Anthony, Williams and Chris Paul last summer. It ends, for now, with a former second overall selection who takes the concepts of "project" and "fixer-upper" to new levels and a Slovenian point guard with game-changing faculties.

Yeah, it was that kind of deadline day for the Rockets. I planned my response for most of the afternoon and remain unsure about it.

Houston departed Cleveland a dreary, ductile defensive team and will host New Jersey on Saturday with the same lethal flaws. They could not guard anybody before. With the roster's top perimeter stopper shipped to Memphis, the defenseless kids will not guard anybody now.

A 28-31 squad will not experience the sudden awakening necessary for a playoff push. The only difference after a flurry of moves: the Rockets will teeter and stumble toward the lottery with Dragic and Thabeet instead of Brooks and Battier.

Morey did not find a taker for Jared Jeffries with anything valuable to offer. He pushed Charlotte to unload Gerald Wallace and tried to pry Omer Asik from Chicago. The Blazers swooped in with the extra picks needed to satiate the payroll-slashing Bobcats, and the Bulls refused to part with their backup center.

He was not going to give away Courtney Lee, his best remaining two-way performer, without getting back Asik's considerable upside.

Battier and Brooks, in particular, carried their cell phones everywhere as if they were awaiting a childbirth notification. They never lost sight of them and kept the devices handy for when the inevitable news came.

Both reacted with professionalism when it did. Battier told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal he wanted to bring elusive playoff success to the city. Brooks said in a Houston radio interview that the opportunity to play behind Steve Nash, "a legend," floored and excited him.

The Rockets will miss what both brought when at their best, but no trade was going to make this morose, comatose unit worse. It will take some effort to top the face plants at home against Philadelphia and Minnesota. They won in Cleveland but not without allowing the Cavaliers to rack up 119 points.

Thabeet has a lot of work to do to become a serviceable, NBA-level big. The Grizzlies paid the Rockets to take him with a draft pick, so they could wash themselves of such an embarrassing draft blunder. He can block shots and bump exit signs with his forehead, but he cannot defend without fouling or score on a bedridden grandmother.

The Rockets were desperate for size, and his 7'3" frame will, as Houston Chronicle writer Jonathan Feigen suggested, make them look more impressive in hotel lobbies. The goal, though, was to look more impressive on the court.

Am I skeptical Thabeet can develop into a rotation cog? Put it this way: If Hakeem Olajuwon transforms this kid into a player, provided they work together again, someone should ask Dream about a cancer cure, the meaning of life and the key to world peace.

Jean de la Bruyere, a 17th century French satirist, once said, "Out of difficulties grow miracles." Should we plant the beanstalk now?

Dragic, on the other hand, proved in Phoenix he could ball with anyone. He hung 23 fourth-quarter points on the Spurs in a road playoff game. Witnessing that shocking eruption live may taint my glowing review of the Slovenian reserve. A 6'3" guard punked future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan with a variation of the Dream Shake.

All Suns coach Alvin Gentry could do that night was slap the scorer's table and yell with irrepressible glee, "Jesus Christ!" All Spurs fans could do was grumble that this guy was demolishing the home squad in ways Charles Barkley, Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Amar'e Stoudemire never did.

I should not have been surprised Lon Babby jettisoned the young floor general once touted as Nash's heir apparent. He did, after all, try to replace Stoudemire with Hedo Turkoglu.

Dragic can finish at the rim with either hand, plays aggressive, if frantic, defense, hits the long ball at a respectable rate and sometimes approximates his former teammate when delivering pick-and-roll passes. Brooks could not do any of that, but his agility with the ball and penchant for sticking triples from every angle confounded opponents.

He suffered an ankle injury in San Antonio and missed the ensuing 23 contests. He swore today he put his tenuous contract situation behind him long ago and abandoned his resentment that Kyle Lowry made millions more and usurped his accustomed starting role. It was clear he had not recovered from the toll of his first major career injury.

Brooks landed a fresh start in Phoenix, while Dragic can build on the role and approach he honed with Gentry.

Battier's departure should hurt fans most because his plane ticket back to Memphis cements Houston's recent championship push as a failure. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady's ailments made rebuilding probable. This move makes it official.

Morey would not trade the 32-year-old froward if he thought the Rockets were anywhere close to a third title. I hope Chris Wallace does the right thing and lets Battier walk to a contender after renting him for the Grizzlies' transient playoff run.

The anti-Morey dissenters will now lambaste him for swapping Battier and Rudy Gay in 2006 and then teaming Battier with Gay years later. Such is the life of a general manager tasked with reconstructing a fallen wannabe empire.

The Rockets need to turn those draft picks into something valuable and do it pronto, even if lottery protections and other restrictions—Memphis surrendered a 2013 selection—complicate the equation. That Morey also pursued Jonny Flynn proves his options were limited.

I wrote this Wednesday night on my laptop, before the Chronicle and other outlets lowered the boom.

"Daryl Morey pushed Charlotte to unload Gerald Wallace and considered dealing for Omer Asik, draft picks and several other project players. He even—and I’m not kidding here—asked about Hasheem Thabeet."

The joke was on me.

A guy averaging two points, two rebounds and two fouls for his career, which was highlighted by a D-League stint, will need to make the spectacular leap from space-taker to useful if Morey wants any return on his, albeit cheap, investment.

I should also mention that Dragic, for all his potential, posted a putrid plus/minus rating when he played alongside other Suns reserves this season, which is what he will often do in Houston. His seven-point, three-assist average will not remind fans here of John Lucas.

Carroll, a 6'8" three-four hybrid, shone best for NBA scouts in scrimmages, not individual workouts. His average lateral quickness but improved handle as a developing slasher make him a mystery. I need to see more of him to render a proper judgment.

At what position does he fit best? Is he an adequate wing? If he cannot check small forwards, can he defend post players as he did in college?

If nothing else, today's trades should open up plentiful minutes for Patrick Patterson and Terrence Williams. It would behoove Rick Adelman and Morey for those talented, simmering-in-the-crock-pot youngsters to sweat and smell NBA competition for at least 20 minutes per night.

Right now, Williams finds himself glued to the bench. Get him in the game, Rick.

Williams' situation, though, mirrors the Rockets'. They keep wishing and waiting for the big break that will make them relevant again. That watershed moment did not arrive today.

Say this for Thabeet: He does indeed look good in a hotel lobby. He has to look good somewhere, right?