Reality was starting to set in. The 76ers made it clear that they weren't moving Andre Iguodala, and the Wizards had finalized a deal sending Caron Butler to the Mavericks. The top two targets in the Stacy errr Tracy McGrady sweepstakes were now unobtainable. Only slim pickings remained.
The Warriors weren't parting with Monta Ellis, Anthony Randolph, or Anthony Morrow. The Bulls refused to even discuss Joakim Noah. The Knicks said no chance on Danilo Gallinari. The Wizards wanted back some of the Rockets' rotation players if they were giving up Antawn Jameson or Javale McGee.
What remained was a combination of Tyrus Thomas, Brad Miller, John Salmons, and Kirk Hinrich from Chicago or a package involving Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Al Harrington, andLarry Hughes from the Knicks. Neither seemed likely with bothteams wanting the Rockets to take back a bad contract in exchange for their young talent. Hinrich (two yr / $17 million) would have to come with Thomas, and Jeffries (one yr / $7 million) would accompany Hill. Taking back either of these players would virtually make the Rockets non-factors in the much anticipated 2010 free agent class, especially if they choose to resign F Luis Scola and dynamic backup PG Kyle Lowry.
It looked almost inevitable that McGrady would remain a Rocket, expire after the season, and give the team a chance to lure an upper echelon free agent to one the leagues' most friendly basketball cities.
Enter Rockets GM Daryl Morey.
After months of back and forth, Morey and Knicks GM Donnie Walsh, who actually has interest in McGrady as a player and his league high $23 million expiring contract, are on the verge of making one of those trades that will define their respective franchises for a decade.
The reported deal breaks down as follows:
Houston receives: Al Harrington or Larry Hughes, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, New York's 2011 first round pick, 2011 second round pick (possibly), and 2012 first round pick.
New York receives: Tracy McGrady, Joey Dorsey, Brian Cook if Larry Hughes is traded instead of Harrington, and Houston's 2011 first round pick.
(NOTE: The Utah Jazz own the Knicks' 2010 first round selection. The NBA does not allow a team to trade out of the first round in two consecutive years. Since New York and Houston are swapping 2011 first round selections, thus keeping NY in the first round this year, it is legal for the 2011 and 2012 first round selections to be traded to Houston.)
So let's break this down from each team's position.
Houston Rockets: How it affects them right now
The Rockets currently sit at 27-24, good for ninth place in the West and only two behind the Portland Trailblazers for the eighth and final playoff spot in an incredibly crowded race. The Rockets struggle to play solid defense, ranking 18th in the NBA and giving up 100.4 points per game, while ranking 15th in scoring, also at 100.4 per game.
The biggest problem the Rockets face is an offensively inept starting five and an overall lack of skill at the SG and C positions. There are many games where Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola are playing two on five at the offensive end.
Trevor Ariza is a chucker, and a very inefficient one at that. Ariza is sixth in the NBA in three pointers attempted per game at 5.9 despite shooting a mere 30.3 percent, bad enough for 47th out of the top 50 three point shooters in the league. His overall FG percentage sits at 37.8 percent, 49th out of the top 50 volume shooters in the league.
Starting SF Shane Battier and starting C Chuck Hayes, while both solid defensive players, combine for only 12.8 PPG. When Ariza is struggling from the field, which is more often then not, it is hard for the Rockets to overcome. When Aaron Brooks and Ariza are having off nights, forget about it.
The Rockets' biggest strengths are their bench and their PG play. Aaron Brooks is emerging as one of the premiere scoring PGs in the NBA in his third season out of Oregon.
His backup, Kyle Lowry, is no slouch either. Morey says Kyle Lowry is the best player in the NBA at changing the pace of the game and claims to have the stats to back it up. Lowry leads the Rockets in every +/- stat (raw, adjusted, on/off, per 100 possessions, and statistical) and leads the league in offensive fouls drawn. He also leads all NBA PGs in offensive rebounding and is a part of the Rockets' top six five man units. According to his twitter account, Lowry will be out "a few more weeks" due to a sprained left ankle suffered against Philadelphia last week.
Coming off the bench with Lowry is sixth man of the year candidate Carl Landry. Landry is averaging 16.3 PTS and 5.5 REB per game and is second in NBA in fourth quarter scoring, trailing only LeBron James.
The addition of Al Harrington or Larry Hughes is the most significant piece for this year's team. Let us look at Harrington first.
If it is Harrington, you can expect him to replace Hayes as the starting center. Harington's 16 PPG will bring a much needed boost to the Rockets' scoring woes. His ability to stretch the floor all the way to the three point line will replace Hayes's inability to even command a defender if he is more then eight feet away from the basket. Defensively, he is excellent when it comes to fronting his opponent but below average in almost every other aspect. Don't expect that to be too much of a problem since Harrington's offense will more then compensate for his lack of overall defense.
The acquisition of Harrington will also move Chuck Hayes to the bench and possibly have current backup center, David Andersen seeing a lot of DNP-Coach's Decision in his immediate future. Although Andersen's ability to step out and hit a 20 footer is important to the second unit, Hayes is a hard working big man who can run the floor and is an excellent passer out of the low post, so he should be able to fit in with the fast pace offense that Houston's second unit brings.
Defensively, he is a huge improvement over Andersen, who commits a lot of shooting fouls while being bullied around down low by much stronger opposing centers. Joey Dorsey was seeing limited minutes lately as the Rockets third center and it is quite possible those minutes could now belong to Andersen or one of the two other players coming back from NY, Jared Jeffries or Jordan Hill.
There is also the possibility that Harrington could start at the SF position, forcing Shane Battier to come off the bench. Many fans believe breaking up the starting SG/SF combo, known simply as Battriza, will directly result in a playoff berth.
If the Rockets get Larry Hughes, well quite frankly, that could mean a few different things. It is hard to speculate what Hughes's role in Houston would be this year. He was exiled to the bench by Head Coach Mike D'Antoni in New York and has only appeared in four of the team's last 19 games and is currently recovering from a sprained right toe. Despite that, his numbers are not anything to overlook. He is averaging 9.5 PTS, 3.5 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.0 three pointer, and 1.3 STL per game while seeing just over 26 minutes per contest. Productive enough numbers to warrant playing time for sure. The question is how much?
The flexibility of the Rockets' perimeter players will definitely be helpful if Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman decides to play Hughes. Here are the most likely scenarios involving Hughes, in order of practicality, of course.
- Trevor Ariza logs over 38 minutes a game, and Shane Battier's aging body plays 33 minutes. Certainly both players could benefit from more rest than they currently receive. Fresh legs are a huge advantage come playoff time. Look for Hughes or rookie Chase Budingerto enter the game around the five minute mark of the first quarter for either Ariza or Battier. If the Rockets are struggling offensively, look for Battier to head to the bench and Ariza to slide over to the three. In addition to the starting pairing of Battier and Ariza, the Rockets can also use any combination of Hughes or Budinger and Battier or Ariza depending on game situation without losing much on either end of the court. Expect Hughes to get 10-15 MPG, taking a few minutes from each of the three players mentioned above, and help boost an already incredibly productive bench.
- Shane Battier is moved to the bench, Trevor Ariza starts at SF, and Chase Budinger starts at SG. Just like the first scenario, the main objectives remain the same. Keep Ariza and Battier fresh for any potential playoff run and help the starting five be a little more productive on the offensive end. Adelmanis known for being reluctant to tinker with his starting lineup, so don't hold you breath waiting for this to happen. Hughes likely won't be resigned after this season, so you can pretty much throw out any chance that he starts. Adelman would be crazy not to give that experience to Budinger, who Morey has made clear is part of the Rockets' long term plans. Is this option unlikely? Yes. Is it out of the question? No. Expect the same outlook for Hughes in this scenario, 10-15 MPG.
- Larry Hughes doesn't play. Adelman doesn't want to disrupt the chemistry that his team, especially the second unit, has built. Hughes doesn't shoot a great percentage and turns the ball over a little too much (1.8 / gm) for his position and playing time. Daryl Morey breathes efficiency, and Hughes isn't perfect in that regard by any means. This shouldn't be the case, though. Hughes brings enough to the table to steal some minutes from someone, especially with Lowry being sidelined for at least two more weeks.
Jordan Hill also will be fighting to find playing time in an already crowded post-trade lineup. Hill, the eighth overall selection in this year's draft, will reunite with former University of Arizona teammate Chase Budinger on the Rockets' bench. Hill's upside is tremendous, but we'll get into that a little later on.
Despite seeing only 10 minutes per game over 22 appearances, Hill has registered an unconscious 22.1 PER from the PF position. He stands 6'10" but possesses a 7'2" wingspan. Although PF is his natural spot, that position is currently clogged by Scola and Landry. Since he can also play SF and C, that could allow him to claim Joey Dorsey's former minutes. If he plays well, he could potentially find himself as the backup C, assuming the Rockets land Hughes instead of Harrington.
Jared Jeffries finds himself in the same group as Andersen and Hill. He is a great player to have on your team but not necessarily what the Rockets need to get to the next level. If you fused Chuck Hayes and David Anderson together, you would wind up with Jeffries. He brings both players' strengths to the table but also brings their weaknesses. He is a great defender averaging a block and a steal per game while leading the league in charges drawn.
However, he is a pretty bad rebounder for his size and isn't exactly the strongest guy around. He does have the ability to shoot the three ball, hitting 31.8 percent on the season, but has been incredibly strong recently, connecting on 11-for-23 (47.8 percent) in the past seven games. Previous to that he was only 7-for-33 (21.2 percent) for the year and 25.8 percent for his career, so don't get overly excited. The best part about Jeffries is his ability to guard four positions.
It should be interesting to see how Adelman chooses to use his new assets. Lowry's injury should give the coaching squad and fans alike a chance to see all the new Rockets play significant minutes in the upcoming weeks. To recap
- Brooks / Lowry
- Ariza / Budinger / Jeffries / Taylor
- Battier / Ariza / Hill / Jeffries
- Scola / Landry / Hill / Jeffries
- Harrington / Hayes / Jeffries / Hill / Andersen
One sentence synopsis: Damn, that's a crowded frontcourt with some serious flexibility!
- Brooks / Lowry
- Ariza / Budinger / Hughes / Taylor
- Battier / Ariza
- Scola / Landry / Hill
- Hayes / Jeffries / Hill / Andersen
One sentence synopsis: No matter what, it sucks to be David Andersen right about now.
New York Knicks: How it affects them right now
The Knicks are 19-32, which puts them 11th in the Eastern Conference and 6.5 games out of the playoffs. Not an impossible deficit to overcome, but no easy task at all.
Their biggest strength is their only strength, David Lee. It doesn't matter what anyone says, that guy should have been an all-star. End of discussion. Their biggest weaknesses are, well, everything that isn't David Lee (shoutout to Danilo Gallinari here). The Knicks are in the bottom 10 in the league in PPG allowed as well as team FG%, which is not a good combination if your trying to win ball games.
For this year's team it all depends on how McGrady plays. No one can sit here and positively say how many minutes he'll play or how effective he will be, but we can and will speculate.
The Knicks' starting five will remain unchanged, except McGrady will take over for Jeffries at the two. Toney Douglas and Jonathan Bender should see increased minutes, and maybe there will be a little more playing time available for undrafted rookie small forward Marcus Landry.
Best case scenario, McGrady is the Tracy of old, his reconstructed left knee is 100 percent, three teams out of Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Miami collapse, and the Knicks sneak into the eighth seed.
Worst case scenario, McGrady isn't half the player he used to be, the Knicks finish in the bottom five in the league, and they wind up in the lottery. Too bad their first round pick belongs to Utah.
For the Knicks, this trade is all about the summer of 2010. Did I even need to write that?
Houston Rockets: How it affects their future
This deal has the potential to set the Rockets up for a long time. The Rockets are loaded with young, cheap talent and draft picks to build around. Carl Landry has one year left at $3 million, Brooks and Budinger still have another year on their respective rookie deals, Hill has two more years on his rookie deal, Ariza has four more years at $5.8 million, and Lowry, who is a restricted free agent, should be able to be resigned for less than the mid-level exception if the Rockets choose to keep him.
The Rockets also get Yao Ming back next year. God help you if you don't understand the importance of Yao Ming.
The Rockets will most likely end up with a pick in the teens this year, the Knicks' first rounder next year, and both their own and the Knicks' first rounders in 2012. They also have three (potentially four if the Knicks include their 2011 second round pick) second rounders in the next three years. With eight picks in three years, Morey is bound to strike gold. He found Brooks with the 26th pick in '07, Landry with the 31st in '07, Nicholas Batum 25th in '08, and Budinger with the 44th in '09. Imagine what he can do with some mid or high first round selections.
The Knicks' picks could even turn out to be better then expected. The Knicks are banking on landing at least one, if not two of the big free agents this summer. What if LeBron wins a championship in Cleveland this year? Dwayne Wade doesn't seem poised to leave South Beach. If the Knicks don't make a big splash over the summer, they could be lottery bound again, which turns their two first rounders into incredible assets. The Jazz have the fifth best record in the NBA right now, and it looks like they will wind up with a top five pick in the draft thanks to NY. This could happen to the Rockets' two years in a row.
The Rockets also have a ton a cap space to work with over the next few seasons. This coming offseason the Rockets project to about $5 million under the cap plus the mid level exception. They will use that money to sign their two draft picks and probably resign Lowry and possibly Scola.
After the 2010-11 season, Ming, Jeffries, Hayes, and Battier all come off the books. That is over $32 million to spend however they see fit. They will, of course, have to sign two first round picks and at least one second rounder in that draft. They will also need to give an extension to Brooks, Landry, and Budinger and might choose to lock up Hill long term. The Rockets will have their pick of free agents in the summer of 2011 or 2012 and a core of talented young guys poised for a championship run.
This deal couldn't be any sweeter for Houston.
New York Knicks: How it affects their future
Well, it's no surprise what the Knicks are doing. They are clearing as much cap space as possible to persuade two max contract free agents to come to New York in the offseason. The main thing is that they get rid of Jared Jeffries' contract, something Walsh has been trying to do since he took over. The Knicks only have $18 million on the books for next season, and with no first round draft pick, that gives them about $35.5 million to spend.
If they land two max contracts, that will be roughly $26.5 million. They also will want to resign David Lee, which should cost about $7 million rounding out all their available money. Anyone else they sign will put them in the luxury tax, but that doesn't really matter. If it plays out like this, after signing their second round pick, they will have only eight players on the roster, and their biggest need will be a serviceable point guard. Expect them to go after a cheap game manager type player like Earl Watson, Rafer Alston, or Luke Ridnour.
Everything this trade is about depends solely on what Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson decide to do come June. Cleveland is currently in talks for A'mare Stoudamire, which could propel them to win the NBA Championship this year. If that happens, will LeBron leave his home town team? As of now, Wade and Johnson are both 50/50 to leave their respective teams. Bosh seems all but gone, but will he have any interest in playing in New York without a second superstar?
The Knicks are essentially going all-in with this move. If this offseason doesn't work out, they will be going back to the lottery and won't be able to reap the benefits of those high picks. They will still have cap flexibility, although they will basically need to sign an entire team's worth of players. One or two bad signings, and everything could revert right back to where it was before this deal. For the Knicks, it is high risk, higher reward.
Of course it could be high risk, no reward.