Tag Archives: Houston Rockets

Hi! How Was Your Summer? Houston Rockets

 

Photo: Flickr/relucesco22

2012-’13: 45-37

New Faces: Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi, Reggie Williams, Aaron Brooks and Marcus Camby.

New Places: Thomas Robinson (Portland), James Anderson (76ers), Royce White (76ers), Tom Olbrecht (Also, 76ers), Carlos Delfino (Bucks)

Draft: Isaac Canaan (34th overall)

In short, this was the offseason Daryl Morey got his White Whale– Dwight Howard. For years, Morey had been amassing assets upon assets in hopes of being able to build a team appealing to a top free agent. Now, this season will be time for the Rockets to move on to the next part of their plan and see just how far this thing that Morey built will take them.

Acquiring Howard didn’t come painlessly. They gave up Thomas Robinson– a recent top-5 pick who could just never find the right fit for him to develop. Now he’s gone, and so is Royce White, who was also another first round pick, to the Sixers, joining about 87 other former Rockets in The City of Brotherly Love. However, the bulk of what the Rockets lost were expendable pieces. They were assets, meant to be disposed of in the name of acquiring a star and surrounding him with the best possible team. Guys like Robinson and White weren’t going to help them next season, so Morey sent them out east.

Joining Dwight, Omer Asik, James Harden and James Harden will now be Aaron Brooks, Marcus Camby, Omri Casspi and Reggie Williams. While they may not see tons of court time, we’ve seen with the Miami Heat how a championship team needs spot contributions from any given player on the roster for periods of time. Although, if your season comes down to playing Marcus Camby heavy minutes in 2014, you are probably more worried about where your drafting than what your playoff seed will be. It shouldn’t come to that. We think. We hope.

As for Canaan, he may not play a ton behind Jeremy Lin and Aaron Brooks, but the undersized point guard could provide them with some instant offense, should it come to that. But when you have Harden, Chandler Parsons (Woah. Forgot about him. This team is good.), Dwight…etc. offense shouldn’t be a problem.

The Rockets had an offseason that puts them right up there with the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers among the Western Conference’s elite. If Dwight is healthy and head coach Kevin McHale can put it all together, the Rockets could be a matchup nightmare on just about every night. Morey finally saw his plan through up to this point, now let’s see where this goes.

Infinite Joke

 Photo: goodwines | Flickr

Ed. Note: The following is a parody of Dwight Howard’s free agency saga written by friend of the blog Robert Silverman. You can read more from Robert over at TrueHoop Network Sister Site/Brother Blog Knickerblogger. Now sit back, relax, and let the satire consume you.


Contrary to published reports, the Dwightmare isn’t over yet. In a hastily organized press conference at 5am from a remote sub-basement of the purportedly haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado, Dwight Howard announced that he had not yet made a decision on which team he will sign with because he’s determined to first finish reading David Foster Wallace’s seminal, ground-breaking novel, Infinite Jest.

“I was listening to offers from the Rockets and the Lakers and the Mavericks and the Hawks and I think maybe a Chuck E Cheese franchise rec league team and I just couldn’t make up my mind,” the free agent center stated, looking noticeably disheveled, as if he hadn’t slept in many a night. He continued, “So when I saw this copy of Infinite Jest being used to prop up a rusty, discarded hot water heater, I realized that I’d never actually gotten all the way through it. “

Gobbling fistfuls of Jujubes, Howard added that he had been a long-time fan of Wallace’s work, beginning with Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. “I thought it was about Stan Van Gundy! Hahahahahaha. I’m kidding. Seriously though, then I moved on to his non-fiction stuff—the Lobster thing. And I knew I wanted to read Infinite Jest, but it’s so freaking long. Who has the time?”

And then, like I started and it was really confusing. The narrative keeps jumping around and there’s this whole mishegas with like subsidized time? What’s that? Do you know whether the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment is before or after the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar? I don’t. No one does. And what’s with all these Canadians in wheelchairs? But I was crouched in the corner of the basement and like, I’ve been reading the book non-stop for the last 48 hours. I dunno, maybe more. I totally lost track of time. Subsidized time, get it! And let me tell you, my mind is completely blown. Completely. Totally Blown. Eliminate-my-own-map-type blown.

Howard’s behavior began to grow more feverish and erratic as he continued to outline his ever-increasing passion for David Foster Wallace’s fiction, and his borderline obsessive quest to complete the novel and determine, “What the hell Wallace really wanted to say.”

I mean, I think I’ve got it. Infinite Jest the book IS Infinite Jest the movie. Because of its non-completed arc, inspires the same kind of all-consuming, self-abnegating, addiction in the reader that the characters experience. You hear me? The book itself is something you get hooked on. And yeah, the Hamlet thing, but that’s like totally a red herring. I mean Joelle says it’s a pretentious title, which is totally like Wallace making a meta-critique of his own delusions of grandeur to rewrite freaking Shakespeare.

When asked what he thought of the book’s themes of addictive behavior and an eternal quest for personal pleasure necessarily leading to repetitive, self-destructive behavior, Howard seemed to ignore the question entirely.

I so want to figure out what happened to Hal. Did he eat the fungus or was it the DMZ or is it just withdrawal from marijuana? I like, really need to know the answer, you know. I keep going back and forth and changing my mind and that’s really frustrating, you get me?

Howard added that his current literary inquisition would only ensure that he makes the proper decision in deciding which team to ply his trade with next season.

Look, the suicide thing. You get to a place where Wallace has to be viewed as Kate Gompert, and that’s so freaking reductive, man. Wallace-as-Gompert necessarily forces the reader into a wholly simplistic either/or cage; eviscerating the larger conundrum – I mean it’s so freaking simple that it’s like monstrous, you know – is life worth living? And like if Wallace said no, it isn’t and…I dunno. That just so depresses me.

So I can’t do that. I can’t choose one team and reject another. There’s a third path where I, Dwight Howard, play for all teams and yet none. David would have wanted it that way, I think. I dunno. I keep going back and forth and back and forth. it’s really giving me a case of the Howling Fantods.

Muttering to himself, Howard then abruptly left the podium, furiously highlighting sections and making notes in the corners of his ragged, dog-eared copy.

Right. Yeah. So I just gotta finish this book and then I super-promise. NBA team. Real soon. Legacy. Gonna be champions.

He paused momentarily and began barking at the teeming throng of reporters

Oh yeah. You GOTTA read the footnotes. Don’t skip them or you miss important stuff, like Mike Pemulis getting the boot and…John ‘No Relation’ Wayne dies! It’s in Gately’s precognitive fever-dream. Maybe I should get together a book club and we can all talk this thing out. Morey can come. Kupchak can come.

But not Kobe, ’cause he kinda reminds me of poor old Orin Incandenza.

James Harden Is Gone, Deal With It

It has become a common refrain revolving around a suddenly disappointing Oklahoma City playoff run, something of a go-to move once the head-shaking and the Perk-wringing ceases:

“Poor Kevin Durant had to do everything without Russell Westbrook and James Harden”.

At its very core, the statement is factually accurate. The load thrust upon Durant during this postseason was monstrous, and eventually led to his downfall at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies. But it is also partially borne out of a sentiment that is 6 months out of date. Yes, Westbrook’s absence has been a humongous blow to the Thunder’s title chances, as injuries to top 10 players worldwide are wont to do. But the absence of Harden hurts the Thunder just as much as the absence of prime Hakeem Olajuwon hurts the Thunder – both of them would help, both of them wear Rockets jerseys instead, and we should move on.

Criticism of the Harden trade is hardly new. It has been a prominent thread upon the NBA discussion spool since Sam Presti and Daryl Morey shocked NBA observers three days before the start of the regular season, will likely remain such until Kevin Durant raises Oklahoma City’s inaugural NBA championship, and even then, may return if Houston matches with a Larry O’Brien of their own. All-world contributors rarely get traded by contenders; whether Presti knew that Harden is such a player or not, willingly declining to retain his services for the following decade is a historical outlier. Morey, for his part, gambled on Harden being this sort of player, and is now watching his creation pay off in the form of long-term relevance.

My issue with the Harden talk, however, stems from what is either a conceptual misunderstanding or wilful ignorance of what the trade was supposed to accomplish.

I don’t think there is a single soul who thinks this team wouldn’t have been better had The Bearded One been there to come off the bench instead of Kevin Martin (who, to be fair, had a decent if inconsistent playoff run). This includes Sam Presti. Trading Harden wasn’t done with this season in mind – otherwise, Presti wouldn’t have gone for a trade that includes only one rotation player in Martin and three long-term prospects in Jeremy Lamb and two future first round picks. Rather, the idea behind the Harden trade was a wager that the Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka core was enough to contend long-term to allow a Harden sacrifice of sorts in the name of financial and roster flexibility.

Was that idea misguided? Common logic dictates that once a title is within your grasp, an immediate full-on pursuit is the only reasonable plan. The NBA becomes volatile once timelines are stretched to multiple years, with multiple future dynasties having dissolved before they’ve even managed their initial ascension over the course history. Within said prism, Presti’s decision is a too-cute attempt to juggle both immediate and future fruit.

That said, Oklahoma City’s regular season performance indicates that this current core, even Harden-less, is indeed title-caliber. The Thunder blew the league away in average margin of victory, which has a strong correlation with playoff success, and matched their typically potent offense with their first top 5 defensive outfit of the Kevin Durant era. By all accounts, this team was a major Miami-shaped hurdle away from the title, and that hurdle was possible, if not probable, for a clearing.

If this seems like a long-winded attempt to make the story about the Westbrook injury, well, it is. Russ is just too big a variable to presciently dissect any other part of this current’s team makeup. While the stagnant offense and the Scott Brooks question (and, as a byproduct, the Kendrick Perkins/Derek Fisher questions) are concerns, confidently stating that they would or would not ultimately be the downfall of this squad with Westbrook’s meniscus remaining intact are but speculation. As is the baseless claim that had the team both kept Harden and seen the same Westbrook injury (though, without Harden, the Rockets never make the playoffs and Patrick Beverley can’t run into Russ, but then again, without Harden maybe the Rockets never sign Beverley in the first place and instead he signs with the Utah Jazz who would have surely been the 8th seed with the Rockets out of the picture, except, there was no Harden trade, right, so I bet the Mavericks would have traded for Kevin Martin instead, and they really needed more scoring, so with Martin I bet they make the 8th seed and they don’t have Beverley and oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed).

Moving Harden did not doom this title run. It lowered the odds in the name of the future. The question, then, is not whether Sam Presti’s long-term trade was, indeed, a long-term improvement. And while it’s not looking good, it’s impossible to say so early on. Yes, Jeremy Lamb did not impress in his rookie season… but the point guard who just sunk the Thunder, Mike Conley, was a bust three years in. Yes, Harden is a franchise player any way you try to analyze his game, but those touches and that stature were unavailable in Oklahoma City, and it’s impossible know how he would have developed with those restrictions. Yes, the pick OKC will get from Toronto will probably be in the lower teams of a terrible draft… but good players emerge from such spots every now and then, much like Serge Ibaka (24th, 2008) or Reggie Jackson (24th, 2011) have for these exact same Thunder. And with the exception of one Cole Aldrich, Presti’s drafting acumen has been proven almost every time he’s stepped to the plate.

I personally don’t think it was a good move – Harden is too good, and that team was too special, with three young stars growing and bursting upon the stage together – but I also don’t know how the future pans out. Presti has somehow backed himself from being a leaguewide golden boy to having somewhat of a burden of proof, but he’s done an excellent job before, and will probably make good moves again. Pointing to the Harden trade as the move that dismantled the team of the 2010s when the Thunder have neither seized hold of the decade nor lost their grip on it is premature.

15 FOOTER, 4/29/13: Losing is not an option

Before we get to previewing tonight’s games, you really need to take a few minutes and read the incredible, powerful Sports Illustrated piece on Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay player in any of the “Big Four” men’s professional sports leagues. Today was undoubtedly a watershed moment in sports, and I would be remiss in my duty to cover the latest news going on in the NBA without linking to the article at hand. Now, on to the games tonight…

Chicago at Brooklyn (7:00 PM, TNT)

Interesting decision by the NBA as this will be the first ever day-night doubleheader in NBA history as these teams are expected to finish up Game 4 around 6:30 PM and then go right into Game 5 at 8:00 P…oh wait, I’m now being told that Saturday’s marathon actually did finish with the Bulls riding Nate Robinson to a stunning 142-134 3OT victory. It is a good thing that the Bulls were able to prevail in Game 4 because any time you have people comparing Nate Robinson’s performance to the infamous Sleepy Floyd Game in the 1987 Western Conference Semifinals, you pretty much cannot afford to waste that performance. We almost did not get to see most of the greatness, however. A blown dunk by C.J. Watson that would have put Brooklyn up 16 to play with 3:16 left in the game could have provided the dagger for Brooklyn and rendered Robinson’s performance irrelevant, but like the 3:16 verse in the Book of John states, instead it gave the Bulls everlasting life in a game that seemingly took forever. As we head into Game 5, the stakes are simple. For the Nets, it’s win or go home. For the Bulls, it’s win and head to Miami. I still think Brooklyn has one last gasp in them though.

Prediction: Brooklyn 96-91

Indiana at Atlanta (7:30 PM, NBA TV)

Surely the Law of Averages dictates that at least one of the games in this series will be relatively close, right? After the Pacers crushed the Hawks by 17 and 15 points in the confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the momentum shifted when the series headed back to Atlanta where Indiana only mustered a Celtics-esque 69 points in 21 point loss to the Hawks. George Hill and Lance Stephenson have to quickly block out and forget about whatever they were doing on Saturday night as they combined to go 2-15 from the field. Meanwhile, Al Horford was in Beast Mode as he busted out with a tidy little 26-16 performance. This is as close to a must win game as the Hawks could possibly face because there is no way they are taking three straight from Indiana if they lose tonight. Unfortunately for them, I see Hill and Stephenson’s performances as more of an aberration than a harbinger of things to come. Plus, I picked Indiana to win this series in five games, and I’m sticking by that.

Prediction: Indiana 98-88

Oklahoma City at Houston (9:30 PM, TNT)

As a basketball community, it is no secret that we are frequently driven by narratives. Whether it’s Tracy McGrady’s inability to get out of the first round, the Lakers problems that began in training camp and lasted through the end of the season, or a myriad of other talking points, we love looking at the same story through the context of different lenses and making it our own. Of course, one of the most popular narratives that we see over and over again is whether or not a team is secretly better without its best player in the lineup. Call it the Ewing Theory if you want, but just this year, we’ve seen it rear its head with Derrick Rose and the Bulls, Rajon Rondo and the Celtics, and now Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Let’s stop this right now; no, the Thunder, despite getting 41 points from Kevin Durant in Game 3, are not better off without Russell Westbrook. No, Westbrook was not holding Durant back in any way, shape, or form. Instead, what we saw in Game 3 was Durant putting a team that needed him on his shoulders and leading them to victory, even if he needed a little luck along the way. I mean, seriously, he broke eight laws of physics on this shot alone:

GIF via SBNation

So no, it’s not that Westbrook was getting in the way of KD; it’s just that the Durantula is really freaking good. And a majority of the time, the team with the best player on the floor wins the series. Houston, you have a problem, and his name is Kevin Durant.

Prediction: Oklahoma City 103-99

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 4/25/13: ONE GOOD GAME OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

 

Lion Face. Lemon Face. Good moments. Bad moments. You guys know the drill by now. Let’s do this.

Lion Face: Roy Hibbert’s dunk

Few men have done things like this to Ivan Johnson and lived to tell about it. Hibbert managed to save his best dunk of the year for the playoffs with this one. Just to show off, Hibbert would then proceed to knock down a three pointer at the end of the first quarter that was eventually waved off as it came a split second after the clock expired. Still though, a solid two minute stretch for Hibbert.

Lemon Face: Danny Crawford

Greg Smith threw down a strong dunk over Serge Ibaka, then got T’d up by Danny Crawford because he…well you see you can’t…uhhhh…yeah…Apparently Smith looked too menacingly toward Ibaka which drew him a technical. A rare controversial call from one of the Crawford brothers. Who would have guessed?

Lion Face: The George Boys

Paul George and George Hill carried the load for Indiana last night by providing 49 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals between them. The G2 zone at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was rocking as the Pacers took care of business in a series that can’t conclude quick enough.

Lemon Face: Patrick Beverley’s dirty play

GIF via SBNation

In the second quarter of the Thunder-Rockets game, Russell Westbrook was casually bringing the ball up the court to call a timeout as teams tend to do literally hundreds of time every season. Rather than allowing Westbrook to get the easy timeout, Beverley instead attempted a steal the ball. While I’m all for playing until the whistle blows, the angle Beverley took resulted in him colliding with Westbrook’s knee which initially looked like it caused damage. Westbrook would continue to play on, but the jostling between Westbrook and Beverley may be something to watch for the rest of the series as there is clearly bad blood between the two.

Lion Face: Pacers end of quarter play

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARB85gVzHpQ

Play of the night? Play of the night.

Lemon Face: Houston’s end of game possession

With 11 seconds remaining and trailing by four points, Houston had the ball following a missed Kevin Martin free throw. In this situation, you either want an extremely quick two or relative quick three point attempt. The opposite of what you want is running nearly 10 seconds off the clock and getting a seven foot floater out of it. Patrick Beverley knocked down the shot, but that effectively ended any chance that Houston had to steal a game on the road from Oklahoma City which I can only assume led to Thunder fans across the nation chanting…

Lion Face: This

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yVV-ugC-k

No comment.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

GIF via SBNation

If you tell me that you’ve never done this on an eight-foot hoop in your backyard, either you’re lying or I weep for your childhood. In addition to this alley oop, Leonard finished the first half with 14 points on 7-10 shooting in 20 minutes of play. His performance begs the question, Kawhi haven’t you been paying attention to him this series? (I’m so sorry for that.)

Lemon Face: Steve Nash v. the Spurs

 

 

While Nash and the Lakers entered the season dreaming of a championship, in reality it has been a nightmare for them. After playing in at least 85% of games every season from 2000-2012, Nash has battled injuries all year as age has finally caught up to him. He gritted his way through last night’s game but was largely overshadowed by Steve Blake’s surprisingly impressive performance.

Lion Face: Manu Ginobili

After missing nine of the Spurs last 10 games of the year with a strained hamstring, Ginobili’s health was up in the air heading into the playoffs. Well, at least that’s what Gregg Popovich and the Spurs wanted you to believe. Instead, Ginobili has looked as good as can be in Games 1 and 2. In the first half alone, Ginobili  scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from beyond the arc) while dishing out four assists. Can you say efficient?

Lemon Face: This Sports Illustrated Pre-Season Cover

SICover

Well, technically, it has been fun…provided you’re not a Lakers fan. Unfortunately for Lakers fans and those who enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of the Lakers dismal performance this year, their season, barring a miracle that may need to be confirmed by the Vatican, appears to be rapidly coming to an end.

BONUS Lion Face: THAT PASS

GIF via @cjzero

Usually I try to have an equal amount of Lion Faces and Lemon Faces to balance everything out, but then Manu Ginobili decided to do this at the end of the game and there’s just absolutely no way I could not include it, so I’ll leave you with this.

Revisionist History 101

In which Noam and I discuss Omer Asik, Jerry Reinsdorf’s frugality, Daryl Morey, carrots and revisionist history. 

Noam: Last summer, Daryl Morey took his poison pills and dropped them in the drinks of his New York and Chicago counterparts. When the mischievous act was all said and done, Morey emerged with a new starting point guard in Jeremy Lin, and a new starting center in Omer Asik. Glen Grunwald and Gar Forman, meanwhile, were left to try and figure out how a pocket square nerd stole their prized assets; the Biffs to Morey’s McFly, if you will.

The reaction to New York declining to match Lin’s offer sheet was loud and swift, as New York reactions tend to go. The anti-Bulls movement was much quieter. Asik was just one member of the well designed Bench Mob that the Bulls willingly broke up last summer, and Derrick Rose’s knee didn’t leave much narrative space to begin with. If the death of Linsanity by James Dolan’s odd pettiness was predictably absurd, Jerry Reinsdorf’s frugality leading to a new home for Asik was predictably predictable.
Not anymore! With Joakim Noah hobbled and Asik coming off a fantastic inaugural season in Houston, it has finally, belatedly become acceptable to chastise the Bulls for letting him go. Some may say that waiting 9 months to form an opinion on a move is the smart thing to do; I would counter that in the world of restricted free agency, where decisions must be made within 3 days, such opinions reek of revisionist history. Jordan, your opinions reek of revisionist history. Defend yourself or reek forever.
Jordan: Seriously? I just showered, so I shouldn’t smell all that bad. And Noam, I believe you’re the one engaging in revisionist practices. Asik’s defensive brilliance is impossible to define in simple numbers or even by sight. On/off data doesn’t appear in box scores, nor do per 36 statistics. All we saw was a gargantuan Judge Reinhold doppelganger moving around the court with a speed just above plodding or lumbering, occasionally blocking a shot or snagging a difficult rebound, but nothing spectacular. His genius lies in the “hidden” (though, not really all that hidden) numbers. Fortunately, it is in the swamps of those murky mathematical waters that Daryl Morey makes his home. Morey saw Asik’s brilliance. This wasn’t an impulse buy, as one might do with a car or a puppy.

Yet the only numbers Reinsdorf took into account were those in the contract. Not the amount of minutes Thibodeau plays his starters, which border on insanity. Not the defensive numbers of the Asik/Gibson front court. Yes, it was predictable that Reinsdorf wouldn’t match, but predictability isn’t a defense. An explanation, maybe. By the way, how sad is it that an owner in one of the largest markets in the league being cheap is predictable? Especially when he spends so much on the OTHER MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS TEAM HE OWNS. To claim the necessity of frugality with one team, then spend more money than Midas had gold with the other, is hypocritical to say the least.
This isn’t the case of a rookie, or a little-used player suddenly blowing up with a new team. Asik’s on/off numbers were impressive, and while they also came in a bench roll, and in limited minutes, teams simply didn’t score against the tandem of Asik and Gibson when they shared the court. Further, it’s not as if they ONLY had three days to measure the offer and make a decision. Teams record more data points on their own players than on any other player on any other team. Chicago should have been prepared for any such offer, and had a plan in place when it came.
That’s why it’s fair to glance in Reinsdorf’s direction when we learn of Noah’s injury or Chicago’s overall fatigue, while also seeing Asik thrive as a starter in Houston. Like Reinsdorf, they were predictable.
Noam: I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Asik/Judge Reinhold parallels, which is odd because the internet seems to come up with Asik lookalikes daily. Personally, I like to imagine that he is the love child of John C. Reilly and the goth kid from South Park.

But I digress. I don’t think anyone denies that Chicago’s last offseason was financially motivated to a fault. Kyle Korver was literally given away for nothing. Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson ended up signing minimum deals elsewhere, and while it’s not certain they would have done the same to stay in Chicago, their part in the Bulls’ success in the Tom Thibodeau era bench was undisputed. Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Vlad Rad – all were brought in as minimum replacements instead. Nate has had a good, if typically Nate-ish year, but without the emergence of Jimmy Butler, there would be a whole lot of nothing on the wing rotation a year after it was, if not a strength, then at least not a weakness.
It’s easy to lump in Asik as one of the Bench-Mob-Let-Go and complain about stinginess with regard to the entire ensemble. But Asik was a completely different situation than any of those guys. The deal he got from Houston was a much bigger long term commitment than any other Bull bench member, and though one could make the case that he was the most valuable Bull-sub in a vacuum, he was also part of a major frontcourt logjam; in a repeater-tax world, can one really afford to shell out around 40 million yearly to solidify only two positions?
The Bulls were stuck in a sinking ship, and had room for only 3 big men on the life raft. Joakim Noah had already reserved his place by finding the raft in the first place; from that point on, it was either amnestying Boozer, or refusing to extend either Asik or Taj Gibson. Of Noah-Boozer-Gibson, you can play any two of the three together and get by. Asik, on the other hand, couldn’t play next to Noah – the spacing is too bad, especially for a team that hardly shoots or makes threes – which would have once again limited him to fourth big status and a minutes per game figure in the teens. You can’t pay so much for that guy.
Jordan: That’s a fair point. Although, maybe they could have gotten away with amnestying Boozers and starting Noah/Gibson while bringing Asik off the bench. And again, it’s not as if this is the Pelicans or Bobcats. IT’S THE FREAKING BULLS. One of the most storied franchises in a world-renowned city with one of the most loyal (though god knows why) fanbases in all of sports. Reinsdorf can afford to pay four bigs, especially given their unique values.

Still, the refusal to match Houston’s offer was more emblematic of an ownership that has repeatedly favored finances over success. That Reinsdorf declined to match, coupled with Asik’s subsequent terrific play with his new team, is simply the boiling point for an already frustrated fanbase.

But let’s switch topics for a second. Does Asik’s production, as well as Jeremy Lin’s, vindicate Daryl Morey? Even though some of the basketball intelligentsia liked the Asik contract, hardly anyone loved it. Some even went so far as to question whether Morey had lost his mojo. Now? Morey’s sitting pretty with a young, talented team that is only going to get smarter and better. So, Noam, do you trust Daryl Morey again?
Noam: My Morey trust meter was refilled the second he pulled off the James Harden trade. The issue with Morey over the past few seasons was that his trades started to look like a series of randomly scattered incremental improvements rather than a coherent plan. Bringing in Harden leveled those concerns.

The Asik and Lin contracts are a funnier story. I don’t think you’d find many pundits willing to criticize them at this point in time – not when the Rockets are one of the league’s youngest teams with a bearded superstar, cap flexibility and plenty of room internal improvement. But again, this exists within the context of the Harden trade. Had it not gone down, we’d probably be looking at a bottom feeder starting a disgruntled Kevin Martin and hanging its hat on two lottery picks in a weak draft. In such a hypothetical scenario, the money Lin and Asik are getting, while not preposterous, might have been frowned upon.
This brings me back to my original point, elegantly circumventing your shameless attempt to change the subject by waiving a Morey-shaped carrot in front of my face – there is too little regard to context in the way we judge moves. Lin and Asik were good signings for the Rockets because they were young players who did well in limited sample sizes in their first two seasons – giving them slightly above average deals and banking on them sustaining that production when given 30+ minutes a night was shrewd business. Harden’s existence should have done nothing to retroactively change that analysis, but it probably did, because we’re human.
Similarly, the Bulls letting Asik walk has been made to look much worst in the months since. Be it signing Nazr Mohammed as a replacement, or subsequently running Noah and his plantar fasciitis into the ground, the Bulls have done everything possible to make us retroactively question their decision; it doesn’t mean it was wrong (albeit cheap).
Carrot Morey

Carrot Morey

Jordan: Damn. You saw through my ruse.

I think letting Asik walk was shortsighted, more than anything, at least from a basketball perspective. But, for the most part, you’re right. Still, an inevitable part of sports fandom is looking back on these sorts of moves and reacting accordingly, context be damned. We don’t know how Asik would perform in the absence of James Harden and his 56 assists to Asik, per NBA.com, nor do we care. All that matters is that he’s thriving while Chicago is depleted. We look back and wonder, what if, then look to who’s responsible for why it isn’t. Which, in this case, means Reinsdorf.
Noam: The Reinsdorf discussion is a different one for a different time, but I do want to drive a final financial point home. The new luxury tax works as something of an excuse for owners who don’t want to spend crazy money – which makes sense, since that was the entire point of it – but it does so much better than the old version. Fans couldn’t/wouldn’t emphasize with an owner that doesn’t cross the tax line to save money; however, staying under the line to keep the full MLE and the ability to sign-and-trade is the perfect artificial excuse. It’s what makes the Asik non-match work: in the new NBA landscape, overall roster flexibility with 3 very good big men takes precedence over being stuck with 4 of them.

The only counter is whether this is still true for large market teams, who can always get a premier veteran for the mini-MLE and can (mostly) survive tax payments. Add in Reinsdorf’s other major sports team, and the anger towards him is warranted. I just wish that anger didn’t cloud analysis of Chicago’s actual moves. Almost everything they did this year was a consensus screw up; this one, however painful in retrospect, makes sense.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: The Thunder-Rockets 2012-2013 Playoff Preview

From October through April, thirty teams scratched and clawed their way for this opportunity. Who will make it out? Who will be disappointed? Who will shock and surprise? Who will hit an insane buzzer beater that will make us all collectively gasp so loudly that we will be able hear each other from six counties away? WHO? TELL ME, WHO?

Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm 2012-2013 Playoff Previews.

Virtual Systems Analysis

by Andrew Lynch

I wanted to start this preview off with the V for Vendetta volume of V’s video, because apparently I’m stuck in 2005. Honestly, though, that’s way too many V’s for this series. THUNDERROCKETS needs but three:

Vengeance. Vindication. Variance.

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but vengeance? She is a visage best viewed bearded, like some sort of angry carnival attraction. And James Harden, the PT Barnum of Offensive Efficiency, has a whole circus’s worth of vengeance to unleash upon his former mates in Oklahoma City. The Thunder wouldn’t give him his $6 million dollars, so he’s going to bring his Omer Asik elephants down I-35 like a millionaire Hannibal of Carthage.

Unfortunately for Harden and his three-point shooting acrobats, Oklahoma City stands to be vindicated for its decision — for now. The Thunder are heavy favorites, as they should be. Kevin Martin has done his level best to provide three-quarters of Harden’s production off the bench, and organic growth of the young core players has taken the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook/Serge Ibaka combination to a higher plane of enlightenment.

The Thunder are far from nirvana, though, particularly with a Dalai Lama whose Four Noble Truths are predicated on playing Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher copious minutes. And, if the Rockets can jack up the variance in this series by running, gunning and doing what they do best, they’ll stand a chance — to win two games instead of one. It won’t be a very good chance; after all, circuses are kind of a dying business. But a little bit of probability goes a long way when the alternative is impossibility.

I Do Declare

by Amin Vafa

Any number of unexpected things can happen in this series. As a wise man once said, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!!!!” And he was right. Records can be topped, players can get injured (knock on wood that they don’t), upsets can occur, and hearts can be broken. But enough with the schmaltz. Let’s make some kooky predictions, shall we?

OK, I’m going to make three tiers of predictions, and make three predictions in each tier. Here we go:

Tier One: The Potential for an in-game fracas

1. Kendrick Perkins and Thomas Robinson will get double technicals in Game 1 because Robinson will misinterpret Perkins’s regular frown-prone face as a personal affront and will argue with him.

2. Kevin Durant (who is apparently “not nice” these days) will get a technical foul in Game 4 for yelling at Joey Crawford for calling him for a charge that he deserved.

3. Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia have to be separated in Game 4 because of Martin’s insistence that Knucklehead is better than that Parker’s.

Tier Two: Fans Gone Wild

1. OKC fans will boo James Harden in Game 1, causing him to go 3-15 in the first half. He will finish the game with 48 points.

2. Game 4 will be suffer a delay in the fourth quarter for over 20 minutes as the floor is being cleared of promotional “FEAR THE BEARD” fake James Harden-like beards that unhappy fans have thrown onto the floor of a 25-point rout.

3. Game 5 will begin on a 45-minute delay because “Mini Oil Derrick Giveaway Night” will have made the floor too slick. But for real, they should have seen that one coming.

Tier Three: WHAT THE WHAT?

1. The Rockets will lose the series at home at Game 6 because Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha will be replaced by MONSTARS. Kevin McHale is notoriously bad at game-planning against MONSTARS.

2. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will both get technical fouls in Game 2. This will occur because a fan from the stands will scream “WE SHOULDA TRADED YOU, RUSS!” Unfortunately, for Harden, the fan in the crowd will be an amateur ventriloquist, and Westbrook will think think Harden was the one who said it. The confusion will result in a very tense and confusing moment that will end in Westbrook sitting more minutes than he normally would.

3. Both teams will forfeit the series because they’ll all get emotional having watched hours of footage with Harden on the Thunder and Martin on the Rockets. As soon as both teams step out onto the court, Harden and Martin run past each other and hug their old teammates. They embrace and cry for so long that even the officials are too overcome with emotion to blow the whistle and start the game. The crowd goes silent for 10 minutes, until you hear one child sniffle. Then the entire stadium is filled with wailing sobs and memories of yore. The jumbotron no longer carrie a live feed and is instead filled with montages of Martin and Harden on their respective previous teams. The Rockets montage is set to “Good Riddance” by Green Day (those lyrics are so tricky, though! they’re so loving in parts!), and the Thunder montage is set to “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

Then the Thunder and Rockets all sign each other’s yearbooks. “H.A.G.S.!”

Through the Looking Glass

by Jordan White

Predictions for this series:

James Harden will score 45 points on 20 shots

James Harden will score 20 points on 30 shots

Chandler Parsons will continue to be handsome

Kendrick Perkins will continue to mean mug everyone

There will be at least one spat between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and once again we’ll find ourselves in the throes of the beaten-t0-death “they don’t like each other” narrative.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will continue to say how much they like each other

Jeremy Lin will remind everyone that he wasn’t a product of the New York media hype, and is actually pretty damn good

Omer Asik will be hilarious, without ever cracking a joke. Seriously, just look at the way he runs.

Derek Fisher will hit one big shot in a close game, vindicating Scott Brooks, but not really.

Reggie Jackson will miss an insignificant shot, and will get pulled instantly.

Serge Ibaka will bite on a pump fake

Terrence Jones will have a 20-10 game

Patrick Beverly-Reggie Jackson, though a likely insignificant match-up, will cause unexpected entertainment

Kevin Durant will have a triple double, and it won’t even be his best game of the series

The Thunder will win in 5.

Statistical Anomaly: Rockets @ Grizzlies

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Grizzlies “not as close as the final score indicates” win over the Rockets.

Quincy Pondexter, statistically speaking, is having his best season as a professional, but his play has had no impact on the final result. In fact, it has held an indirect relationship of late. Over the last 11 days, Pondexter is shooting 47.4% in losses and 18.8% in victories. Furthermore, Memphis was outscored by 12 points during his 16 minutes on the court and outscored Houston by 21 points in the other 32 minutes. That -12 plus/minus ratio is twice as bad as his cumulative ratio in the Grizzlies last four losses. As the playoffs approach, it is clear that Memphis can defend at a championship level (second best scoring defense in the NBA), but can they score enough? Don’t be surprised if they begin to phase out Pondexter in favor of an expanded offensive role for Tony Allen and Jerryd Bayless.

Mike Conley filled his role to perfection, allowing the Grizzlies to play up to their potential. Five of Memphis’ last eight wins have come when the underrated point guard records a double double, with the last three such games coming in wins against playoff bound teams. Conley excels at initiating the offense, and while he can score at a high level, his cerebral style allows the Grizz to maximize their offensive productivity. He isn’t as physically gifted as the highlight reel point guards in today’s game, but the ability to read and react is just as valuable (see Parker, Tony). Memphis isn’t being considered a title contender in the top heavy Western Conference, but there is little doubt in my mind that Conley has the tools to be a PG on a title winner.

Grizzlies

Over the last two months, the Grizzlies have lost one game when Marc Gasol and/or Zach Randolph attempt at least three free throws and shot at least 76% from the line. Both players did so against the Rockets, giving Memphis the rarest of combinations in the NBA: paint protectors with touch and the ability to be effective in late game situations. Both players can control the lane and step out for the mid range jump shot, forcing opponents to alter their typical rotation. The Grizzlies are a team that nobody wants to play, especially if they can get bench production.

Thomas Robinson went 2/10 from the field as his unpolished offensive game tends to appear on a regular basis. That being said, he battles on the glass at a strong level for a 22 year old, giving Rocket fans reason for optimism. The rookie is averaging 16 rebounds per 48 minutes over the last 2+ weeks, a stretch that includes games against the Spurs, Jazz, and Pacers. Robinson is lucky to be a Rocket and Houston is lucky to have a young forward who is physically ready to succeed right now.

This was the sixth consecutive game against a team battling for playoff position in which James Harden shot less than 38% from the field. Against the Grizzlies, Harden (the fifth leading scorer in the NBA) took more shots than just two of his teammates. Not that I doubt Harden’s talent, but we at least have to ask if he is ready for being the “go-to” guy on the big stage. Sure, he played well with the Thunder, but he wasn’t the focal point of opposing defenses for 48 minutes. Defenses are going to throw the kitchen sink at the crafty scorer, and lately, he hasn’t led his team against the upper portion of the league.

This was an interesting match up as it pitted a strong defensive unit against an elite offensive squad. The difference, however, was the Grizzlies versatility on offense and the poor defending of the Rockets. No playoff team wants to see either one of these teams, but for my money, it’s the Grizzlies that fit the postseason format better. They can run if need be, but they prefer to grind in the half court, and with their personal, they are probably the best team in the league at playing their game. The Rockets can run up and down the court, but could they beat any of the elite teams in a series format that way? I’d rather take my chances with the Grizzlies, a team that dictates pace and excels when they control the style of play. Who do you think is better prepared for the playoffs? Do you trust the team with a true star player, or would you rather roll with a balanced scoring attack? Fast paced offense or bloody your nose defense? Who ya got?

Statistical Anomaly: Timberwolves @ Rockets

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Rockets 108-100 victory over the visiting Timberwolves.

Omer Asik continues to grab rebounds, but his offensive game is as limited as ever. For the third time in four games Asik recorded 0 FTM, 10+ rebounds, and single digit points. Prior to this run, Asik only had one such game in the calendar year. A consistent presence on the offensive end would be nice, but Asik gives Houston exactly what they need. With their high scoring back-court, Asik provides toughness and grit on the interior, a reason why no team wants to see Houston in the first round. They don’t match up well with Oklahoma City, but if they can move up to the six seed and play Memphis, Asik’s role would be a key factor in their potential success.

For the second time in three games, James Harden attempted 10+ three pointers and 10+ free throws, something he hadn’t done once in his career prior to this stretch. Is it possible that Harden is the most complete (not the best but the most complete) scorer in the NBA? He’s more consistent from distance than LeBron and he attacks the basket better than Durant. At 23 years old, Kobe Bryant averaged a similar number of points (25.2 as compared to Harden’s 26.2), but he shot 25% from distance. Harden’s ability to get to the rim is highlighted by his 10 FTA per game and the fact that no player averages more FTM+3PM (11.0).

Harden

The Timberwolves have lost 41 games this season, but heading into action Friday, they had a better winning percentage when scoring 100+ points (.733) than the Denver Nuggets (.712). The stat line from James Harden (37 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds that all came on the defensive end) was eerily similar to the stat line Russell Westbrook produced on January 22nd (37 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds that all came on the defensive end). The last time the Timberwolves scored 100+ points in a losing effort. Minnesota’s success when scoring 100+ points comes from their successful offense inspiring solid defense, but without a true star player (healthy), they lose high scoring games when they can’t match the scoring abilities of the opponent’s best player.

Oddly enough, JJ Barea has been at his best from inside the arc in those games that Minnesota losses despite eclipsing the century mark. He has had just three games since the beginning of February in which he has made at least two two point field goals and shot better than 50% on two pointers, with the Timberwolves losing all three contests while scoring 100+ points. With Barea being an undersized, yet aggressive, point guard, it makes sense that when he is on the floor, the scoring picks up. He has an uncanny ability to get into the paint and thus get Minnesota good looks at the basket, but he also has a very difficult time matching up with bigger guards on the defensive end. That is why Barea is pigeonholed as a valuable piece off the bench as opposed to a starting PG in the NBA.

Ricky Rubio continued his run of well rounded games, notching seven rebounds to go along with his seven assists and 14 points. Over his last 13 games, Rubio is averaging 13.8 points, 9.4 assists, and 6.9 rebounds. For reference, Chris Paul’s greatest season AR (assist + rebound) average was 16.5. Rubio’s seven dimes against Houston was the most predictable stat of the entire game due to the 10 assists he handed out on Wednesday. If you break the Timberwolves point guard March into consecutive two game segments, you’ll notice that in all four instances, he has tallied exactly 17 assists. It is clear that Rubio is getting comfortable with the speed of the NBA game, a dangerous thought for the rest of the league when Kevin Love is on the active roster. “Testigo” (“witness” in Spanish) is still only 22 years of age, the same age Steve Nash entered the NBA at. In a league where explosive point guards are becoming the norm, Rubio is a throwback floor general who makes everyone around him better. He may not be a player to build a winner around, but he is certainly the type of PG that will maximize the talent of the pieces on the floor.

The Rockets improved in a big way seemingly overnight by acquiring Harden and Lin this off season, and the Timberwolves could be the 2013-2014 version. With a solid back-court, a healthy Kevin Love, and a top 10 pick (Shabazz Muhammad would be a nice fit), things are headed in the right direction for Minnesota. When it comes to the rockets, they score enough to keep up with anybody. That being said, they need to commit to the defensive end of the floor if they want any chance in a series format. They have lost as many games this year when scoring 100+ points as the Timberwolves have scored 100+ points, not the ideal formula to win in June. James Harden has proved himself a championship level player and the Rockets have a nice core of young players to support him. Their arrow is pointing up, but their improvement in the win column next season will be directly correlated to their defensive intensity. Offense sells tickets, but defensive still plays a vital role in winning titles.