NBA Draft 2011 Instant Analysis: Houston Rockets Move and Shake, Must Move More

Robert KleemanSenior Analyst IJune 24, 2011

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 08:  Donatas Motiejunas of Lithuania tries to get past Gordon Hayward of the United States defends during the U19 Basketball World Championships match between the United States and Lithuania at North Shore Events Centre on July 8, 2009 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
Hannah Johnston/Getty Images

When Daryl Morey put his left foot in and his left foot out, his left foot in and shook it all about, he wasn't doing the Hokey Pokey.

No, Thursday night, he merely performed another NBA draft shuffle. This familiar dance yielded both shrugs and applause. He didn't do any backflips, but he tossed some roster essentials on the backburner.

The most important player in the Rockets' haul was picked 20th, not 14th. The team's second-rounder, Chandler Parsons, seems destined for D-League duty before he can ever crack a big league club's rotation.

Houston needed an interior defender and a better wing defender and landed neither, despite three picks and a boatload of rebuffed trade offers. The one proposal that stuck, a transaction with the Minnesota Timberwolves, tendered perhaps the draft's most enchanting project behind center Jonas Valanciunas.

Confused? Even Morey has not learned all the steps yet. He's still working on that right foot.

If anyone questioned his commitment to not picking prospects based on need, Thursday proved his philosophy remains unshakable.

The Rockets used their lottery selection to nab undersized forward Marcus Morris, the more polished of the Morris twins. If the description 6'9" forward seems familiar, it applies to a pair of current Houston contributors, Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson.

Chuck Hayes, the defensive stalwart Morey hopes to re-sign whenever free agency opens, started two years in a row as a 6'6" center.

The evening's steal acquisition was Lithuanian forward Donatas Motiejunas (He also grabbed Wolves point guard Jonny Flynn in the exchange). Snatching a seven-footer with immense skill and upside at 20—an international baller once projected as a top-five lottery pick—may someday rank as highway robbery.

The motorists can already see the guy with the black shirt and ski mask coming. Morey zipped down Loop 610 and sealed a deal with Minnesota to embezzle the player I thought he should have tapped at 14 instead of Morris.

I do not detest the former Kansas Jayhawk, but his arrival does little to enthrall a fanbase hungry for another title run. A glut of undersized 4's and 5's suggests more deals anyway. The front office will have to consider trading Scola, Patterson or Morris if only because open roster spots are sparse.

Morey knows the Rockets cannot win with a bunch of 6'9" guys and no legitimate giant to patrol the paint.

Motiejunas will stay and with substantial practice and work, could become the next great import. The comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki are premature and unfair. He still lacks the overall game and the dedication that defines the Dallas Mavericks' reigning Finals MVP.

Though he may operate at first as an oversized shooter, with proper tutelage, he can learn to put the ball on the floor and take bigs off the dribble. He possesses that God-given faculty.

New head coach Kevin McHale can help Motiejunas develop already solid footwork. He'll thrive in an up-tempo system, can create his own shot and should make opponents pay at the charity stripe. An inferior free-throw percentage does not match his outside touch.

His supposed displays of damning dispassion caused his stock to fall as much as anything else. Other GMs probably saw the dauntlessness they craved in other prospective contributors and passed.

Minnesota could not afford to take a flier on another overseas-to-U.S. possibility. What Morey snuck into the deal should have Timberwolves diehards screaming until their lungs fail.


That the Rockets found a taker, any taker, for Brad Miller is a miracle. A slow, defenseless, old white guy became a burden and a liability as the 2010-2011 season progressed. His physical limitations outweigh what he can still provide as a passing center and perimeter shooter.

Morey did not select Motiejunas because the coach he just hired ranks as one of the greatest low post power forwards ever, though that doesn't hurt. The Lithuanian was the best talent available at both 14 and 20.

If he flops, so be it. If he becomes a smash sensation, or a least a useful cog, Morey pulled off one of the 2011 draft's biggest heists.

Morris was projected by many scouts to leave the board before 10, but the event's volatility makes that irrelevant. Few projected Texas big man Tristan Thompson would head to Cleveland at No. 4.

The Rockets didn't grapple a franchise savior, a defensive pillar or a natural, freakishly athletic 3 because none of those were available. Morey's primary offseason targets remain elusive.

Until he acquires more impact defenders and the team's version of Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan, Houston cannot expect to travel beyond the 40 to 43-win plateau. The Rockets won't get better without those rare ingredients.

Morris can survive and perhaps carve out an extended career at basketball's highest elevation, but that's like lauding a burger joint for serving edible burgers. Hooray, he doesn't suck.

If McHale opened training camp today, he would do so with 11 players under contract. That excludes Yao Ming, Hayes, Motiejunas, Parsons, Flynn and Morris. Something has to give there. NBA squads cannot carry more than 15 players.

The Rockets now employ three point guards in Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Flynn. ESPN reported Morey has aggressively shopped Flynn. Even if management crosses him off the camp inventory, it still has many more decisions to make.

Morey continues to dance this way in hopes the pieces he collects will net that evasive MVP-level player. No team can compete for a championship without one.

While Kevin Martin's remarkable offensive efficiency makes him a second-tier star, he isn't Nowitzki, Bryant or Derrick Rose. The Rockets need that guy.

Reeling in Tyson Chandler or Marc Gasol would help, too. Good luck with that, Daryl.

If nothing else, Morey has stockpiled lottery reaches from 2009. He has acquired the second, sixth, eighth and 11th picks from that draft.

Give Morris a chance, but don't get giddy that he "fell" to 14. Do you expect a GM to ever say, "Man, we had to settle on this scrub?"

When Morey gushed about Morris' talent and toughness, he wasn't blowing smoke. His track record also demonstrates he can heap effusive praise on a youngster and then dump him a year later.

Trevor Ariza, anyone?

Motiejunas is Thursday night's real story because of what he could become given the right attitude and coaching. A 7-footer that can shoot and drive is unusual and merits a faith-based plunge by a newfangled front office.

There was no way Morey could justify saying "no" to such a package. Motiejunas balled with Benetton Treviso, one of the premiere clubs in Europe, and the Rockets can bring him over now if they wish.

The 20-year-old forward's game must grow with his proclivity. He can expand both.

Did the Rockets fill urgent needs? No, but Morey doesn't draft with those in mind.

He puts his right foot in, his right foot out, right foot it, shakes it all about and awaits the next move.

If only the draft shuffle was as simple as the Hokey Pokey.