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#Linsanity: 10 Months Later

I blabbered on and on about the intricacies about the NBA’s League Pass, the league’s now ubiquitous service in which hoop heads across the planet can watch any league sanctioned game, anytime, anywhere. I consistently refer to League Pass as a sort of “social deal breaker”; after all, why would I go out on a week day when I could see what all the fuss about Dion Waiters is about in another scintillating installment of Cavaliers/Milwaukee, the rivalry the entire country is simply abuzz about?

I mostly offer up my annual $180 dollars for the pleasure and sometimes excruciating pain of watching my Los Angeles Lakers. That in itself isn’t so much of a stretch–after all, who wouldn’t want to see their favorite team play against the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs of the world? But the Lakers have nearly 30 of their games broadcast on basic cable broadcasts throughout the country, via the largess of ESPN, NBATV and TNT. More than a third of the Lakers season, and the most important season-swinging games at that, will be thrown up on cable systems across the country for the added price of nothing. So in essence, I end up paying an extra $180 to watch a 30 point Golden State Warriors skewering and an inevitable mid-February Indiana Pacers game that would suck the enthusiasm out of even the most ardent fan.

This is what you call an addiction; a sickness. I love the NBA, and the Lakers in particular, enough to sacrifice my time, money and ultimately standings in my local social strata, to watch Kobe, Dwight, Pau and Nash eviscerate the hapless Wizards on a blustery January Sunday. It’s pathetic.

My aunty sat across the table, listening to my description of the NBA’s amazing service that has simultaneously sated my fandom and increased tenfold my eventual descent into true nerdom. As I reeled off the program’s many capabilities, perhaps condescendingly so, my aunt interrupted me in a sweet, comforting tone that can only come from the mouth of, well, your aunt. She told me that she in fact was a subscriber to NBA League Pass.

I looked at her quizzically. My aunt and uncle were lifelong Angelenos with a partial Lakers season ticket package. As much as a couple of middle-aged, empty nest parents of three could possibly muster, they were Lakers fans to the fullest. But living well within the reaches of Time Warner Cable Sportsnet and their nightly Lakers broadcasts, there was clearly no reason for them to drop cash onto League Pass. Well, unless my aunt had suddenly developed a deep and quite frankly disturbing addiction to Fantasy Basketball.
Before I asked why, my uncle cut in and said “…she wants to watch Jeremy Lin play.”
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It’s been over ten months since Jeremy Lin–he of #LINSANITY, lest we forget–broke into the major leagues. He was part camp, part hype, part narrative, but ultimately, all too real. Lin’s astronomical ascent from the doldrums of the 15th man to the cover of Sports Illustrated–twice in a row!–came without nearly any precedent. Left and right, people drew parallels to other sudden explosions in performance, from Brady Anderson to Micheal Ray Richardson to Flip Murray, and also to other breakthrough minority athletes, from Jackie Robinson to Roberto Clemente to Yao Ming. However, none of them quite fit the billing. Lin was Lin, his r
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Instant Trade Analysis: James Harden to the Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets get: G James Harden, C Cole Aldrich, G/F Daquan cook, G/F Lazar Hayward

Oklahoma City Thunder get: SG Kevin Martin, SG Jeremy Lamb, two 1st round picks (via Toronto and Dallas), one 2nd round pick (via Charlotte)

The writing was on the wall, but typing it out is still shocking: reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden has been traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets. The former Sonics dealt one of the key pieces that built them up into a Western Conference Champion and supposed future perennial title contender not as a basketball decision, but one that was almost 100% business.

The back story is the Thunder front office wasn’t willing to offer James Harden a maximum contract, which was about $60 million over four years. The closest they got was approximately $55 million over four years, which Harden and his management promptly rejected Saturday morning. The deadline for negotiating an extension with the OKC super-sub is Wednesday, and if not signed by then, Harden would become a restricted free agent next summer. Knowing that the team probably wouldn’t be able to get their reserve shooting guard to change his mind over the course of the season (they had been negotiating with him all summer long), GM Sam Presti worked out a deal with the Houston Rockets, and hours later, Harden was an ex-member of the reigning Western Conference Champions. That simple.

Harden can now sign a contract anywhere up to five years, $75 million, an extra year he couldn’t have gotten with the Thunder (a team can only dole out one five year contract under the current CBA–which was what the lockout was about last year–and they already used it on Russ Westbrook’s maximum extension). Rockets GM Daryl Morey will ink Harden to the deal before Wednesday, but at this point it’s just a matter of whether it will be four years or five years long.

So the question here is…why would the Thunder make this move?… Read more...

Linsanity? Or Morey’s Insanity? — Houston Rockets Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Jeremy Lin, SG Kevin Martin, SF Chandler Parsons, PF Royce White, C Omer Asik

Key Bench Players: SG Jeremy Lamb, SF Carlos Delfino, F Terence Jones, F Marcus Morris, F Patrick Patterson, PG Shaun Livinston, PF Donatas Montiejunas, PG Toney Douglas, C Jon Brockman

Notable offseason additions: PG Jeremy Lin, C Omer Asik, SG Jeremy Lamb (12th overall pick), F Royce White (16th overall pick), F Terence Jones (18th overall pick), PG Toney Douglas, SF Carlos Delfino

Offseason subtractions:  PF Luis Scola, SF Chase Budinger, PG Kyle Lowry, C Samuel Dalembert, SG Courtney Lee, C Marcus Camby, PG Goran Dragic

What a strange offseason.  Really, there is no other way to put it.  Starting with the trade of former starter Chase Budinger for a draft pick, the Rockets made a series of moves that were presumably designed to entice the Orlando Magic to trade star C Dwight Howard to H-Town.  Unfortunately for Houston GM Daryl Morey (and Rockets fans), the Magic decided to ship D-12 out to Los Angeles instead.  Perhaps no team was more effected by this than the Rockets, given the overhaul the roster went through just to be in a position to land Howard.

In addition to Budinger getting dealt, PF Luis Scola was amnestied, PG Kyle Lowry was traded to Toronto for a “guaranteed lottery” pick, and PG Goran Dragic signed with Phoenix after Houston failed to match his offer sheet.  A handful of other, lesser trades were made, with the end result being a complete mish-mash of a roster.  We could spend a whole blog post dissecting all of the players Houston sent packing, but why do that when this is a preview for the coming season?


The obvious starting point for Houston is international sensation Jeremy Lin.  If you’re reading this post, you know about Lin — the “long story-short” is an undrafted and twice-waived guard from Harvard started getting playing time for the New York Knicks, improbably turned the season around and saved the coach’s job (albeit temporarily), and was a household name by the end of a Disney movie-esque two week run.  For reasons typically associated with James Dolan, the comically inept owner, the Knicks let Lin, a marketing sensation at least and a pretty damn good guard at best, walk for nothing.

Who is the real Jeremy Lin?  Is he really a guy who can average 18 points and 8 assists over an entire 82 game season?  Is he really just a Harvard-educated J.J. Barea?  We will find out this season, as the Rockets will hand the keys to the offense over to Lin.  If Lin can really play at an elite level, the Rockets may not be half bad.  My personal take, having watched Lin first at Harvard and then during the Linsanity craze, is that he can play but not at an All-NBA level.  Something in the neighborhood of his Knicks averages (18 points, 8 assists, lots of turnovers) will be the production the Rockets get this year, which will put them somewhere between their Best Case and Absolute Apocalypse scenarios listed below.

Almost every other player on this roster is in a similar situation to Lin — definite potential, but nothing proven over an 82-game season in the NBA just yet.  It would be impossible to assess this group as an actual unit since almost nobody on the roster has played together.  Instead, let’s just look  individually at the players who will get the most minutes and see what we have.

The other big free agent acquisition was former Bull Omer Asik.  Asik is a 7-footer who can defend the rim and rebound, but has never been asked to play big minutes (last yeaRead more...

The Life and Times of Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey

Daryl Morey is one of the finest young minds in the NBA. As the current General Manager of the Houston Rockets, he has piloted the franchise with unorthodox methods through the waters of the professional basketball tides. Morey has long been a proponent of heavier reliance on statistical and technological analysis when evaluating basketball players, tied in with  traditional scouting. Popularized by sabermetric godfather Bill James and Oakland Athletics’ GM Billy Beane through the novel Moneyball, this application of numbers and percentages to the NBA is a practice that many old-time basketball people said could never be quite accurate enough. Morey, a graduate of Northwestern University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has defied his detractors, as the Rockets have in his five seasons as GM made the playoffs twice and narrowly missing them the other three seasons. Houston has never had a losing campaign under his stewardship, and while there certainly hasn’t been a championship contending squad in the bunch, Morey has certainly mimicked Beane in finding and acquiring undervalued assets to create proficient, if not spectacular teams.

However.

For all of Morey’s ingenuity, his teams have fallen well short of any NBA front office’s goals, with all of his Rockets teams being middle of the conference fodder, at best. Billy Beane’s A’s have frequently been one of baseball’s best teams and though they haven’t been in the game’s upper stratosphere since 2006, they certainly were contenders for multiple seasons before that. Morey seems to be in a circular pattern of acquiring undervalued assets, but never quite parlaying them into the requisite superstar or All-Stars needed to vault them into the NBA’s elite. Rockets fans are continually flummoxed by players being cycled in and out, like a Manny Ramirez pill carosel. Morey’s moves usually go deeper than how they appear on the surface, but an end game isn’t always clear much to the dismay of Houston basketball faithful.

I can’t imagine being a Rockets fan. They are gifted with one of the brilliant minds in the game, and yet, are stuck in a perpetual circle of roster turnover and unfulfillment. Very little personnel continuity has been kept, with Luis Scola being the longest tenured Rocket at five seasons. At the very least, his incessant roster turnover in the hopes of striking a winning formula of players is fascinating. I’m still not sure if Daryl Morey is a genius, or a just a misguided nerd who follows his statistical sherpas on a narrow trail to nowhere.  I suppose there’s only one way to really find out: Presenting the Life and Times of Daryl Morey.
June 28th, 2007: In a draft night coup, Morey takes G Aaron Brooks with the 26th pick, and F Carl Landry with the 31st pick. For such late selections, the new Houston GM showcases his greatest strength – evaluating underappreciated assets and using the least amount of resources to acquire them. (Moneyball)

July 12th, 2007: Morey trades Greek import Vassilis Spanoulis and a 2009 2nd round draft pick (Nando DeColo) to the San Antonio Spurs for Jackie Butler and Luis Scola. Scola’s acquisition was amongst Morey’s finest, outwitting a Spurs management that rarely makes misjudgments. (Moneyball)

July 20th, 2007: Signed Steve Francis to a one year deal hoping that the former Franchise could come halfway close to the 19/4/6 line he put up in his five seasons in Houston after … Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: The Camby Man Comes Home

(It’s a New York Knicks trade, so it’s El Miz territory. Check out our newest ITA on today’s deal)


New York Knickerbockers receive:  C Marcus Camby, 3 years, $13M ($5M, $5M, partially guaranteed 3rd year at $3M)

Houston Rockets receive:  G Toney Douglas, PF Josh Harrellson, C Jerome Jordan, 2014 2ndround pick, 2015 2nd round pick, “all you can eat, all you can drink” in the Delta Sky 360 Clubin Madison Square Garden for Rockets GM Daryl Morey

Marcus Camby will be returning to the Big Apple, a decade after he was ingloriously traded on Draft night in 2002 to the Denver Nuggets for Antonio McDyess. Three days after agreeing in principle with PG Jason Kidd, the Bockers’ bench overhaul is near completion. While the Knicks two newest super subs will be long in the tooth, both Camby and Kidd have been productive players even if the prime of their career is in the rearview.

Camby averaged over 9 rebounds per game and over 1 block per game last season, splitting his time between the Portland Trailblazers and then Houston Rockets after a midseason trade.  Camby joins frontcourt starters Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler, as well as the NBA’s reigning three-point king Steve Novak, who re-signed with the Knicks on Monday, giving the Knicks a variety of lineup options to employ with players of vastly different strengths. 


Known for his high-flying dunks and boundless energy as a 20-something in his first go-round with the Knicks, the now 38-year-old Camby is still one of the best rebounders in the NBA.  He lead the NBA in rebound rate in two of the last three seasons (2011-12 and 2009-10), and finished 2nd in rebound rate in 2010-11 (rebound rate is the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds when he is on the floor, so it equalizes for both the amount of minutes a player is in the game as well as the pace of the game).  In other words, Camby has grabbed a higher percentage of missed shots when he is on the floor than Dwight Howard or Kevin Love or anyone else in the NBA over the last three seasons, even if his minutes were limited due to his older age. He’sis still an adept shot blocker as well, and the Knicks will now be able to have a true center who can protect the rim on the court at all times with Camby backing up Chandler.

While Marcus cannot create his own offense, given the plethora of scoring options the Knicks will have next season, he will not be asked to score.  He will be focused on rebounding and blocking shots, as well as running the floor when the opportunity presents itself, as Camby can still get up and down the court better than most bigs. 

Although it seems like quite a large package when written out in full, the Knicks actually did not give up much. Former first-round pick Toney Douglas was never able to produce consistently for Mike D’Antoni, an alarming statement in itself given the amount of guards who have achieved career highs under the Gentleman Thief’s speedball system (Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, Jeremy Lin). Douglas is neither a point guard (he does not create offense or set people up) nor a shooting guard (he does not shoot consistently enough and cannot get to the rim easily).  At best, he could be a good backup guard who thrives on the defensive end, but he is not an NBA starter.

Many Knicks fans are sad to see second-round revelation Josh Harrellson get traded.  Better known as “Jorts” for his penchant for wearing jean shorts off the court, Harrellson shockingly emerged as a legitimate 3-point threat last year as a rookie (34%) despite only taking 29 from 3-pointers in his entire co
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Instant Trade Analysis: Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors

(Another ITA from El Miz, this time on now-Raptors PG Kyle Lowry. An excerpt from this post appears on “Toronto Raptors Morning Coffee July 6,” located at http://raptorsrepublic.com/2012/07/06/toronto-raptors-morning-coffee-july-6-3/)

Toronto Raptors get: PG Kyle Lowry

Houston Rockets get: A future-first round pick and some guy named Gary Forbes


What is your plan, Daryl Morey?  Morey claims to be engaged in a seemingly infinite practice of “asset accumulation.”  The idea, as the story goes, is to continue to accumulate “assets,” which in basketball parlance means young, cheap players and the rights to future draft picks so that when the next Disgruntled Superstar – be it Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, or currently, Dwight Howard – demands a trade, the Rockets can exchange a heaping scoop of assets for the Disgruntled Superstar. 


To the casual observer, it feels like Houston has made lateral move after lateral move since the retirement of Yao and the decline of former basketball demigod Tracy McGrady, constantly exchanging good players for other good players, assembling a roster of good but not great talent, and finishing on the outside looking in come playoff time.


Last offseason, in the now-infamous “Basketball Reasons” trade which was nullified by Commissioner David Stern, Morey attempted to trade SG Kevin Martin, PF Luis Scola, PG Goran Dragic as well as a first round pick to get C Pau Gasol.  The rumor at the time was that Morey would then turn around and sign PF Marc Gasol, Pau’s younger brother, as well. Basketball Reasons prevailed, and Stern wound up vetoing the trade which would have also sent PG Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers.

In the weeks preceding the draft, there were the usual Twitter grumblings that Morey would once again accumulate assets, this time to get  child-man Dwight Howard. Kyle Lowry’s name was mentioned as possible trade bait, because after all, Lowry was so good through the first three months of last season that there was a “Kyle Lowry: All Star?” sentiment bouncing around the NBA Twittersphere. Not only was he just entering his prime and signed to an incredibly team-friendly contract through 2013-14, but he was putting up poor man’s Jason Kidd numbers – and I’m talking Nets Jason Kidd merged with the latest iteration who happens to shoot 3’s.  Through three months Lowry averaged 16 points, 7 assists, almost 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in over 35 minutes per game, plus a 40% 3-point stroke.  Lowry was filling it up, going for 18 assists on December 31st, 33/9/8 on January 14th, and his first triple-double on January 23rdin a head-to-head battle with Ricky Rubio (16/10/10).  Lowry played defense like a pitbull, and fought in the paint for rebounds like a forward.  He could push the fast-break, set people up, and hit the 3 when the ball came back to him.  He would presumably be a very nice asset.


At the night’s conclusion, however, Morey and the Rockets were left with a very nice haul out of the first round: SG Jeremy Lamb, F Royce White, and F Terrence Jones.  But still no Howard, still no superstar to build around, and still, Kyle Lowry was a rocket.
The Lowry made sense, to a degree, after Lowry’s backup, Slovenian Goran Dragic, had emerged as more than capable after Lowry went down late in the season with a slew of injuries (a bacterial infection and a sports hernia, among others).  Lowry remained a Rocket after the draft, and soon after free agency started on July 1 it was announced that Dragic had agreed to a deal with the Phoeni
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Instant Trade Analysis: Odom Comes Home

Utah Jazz get: Mo Williams, draft rights to Shan Foster

YOUR Los Angeles Clippers get: Lamar Odom

Houston Rockets get: draft rights to Furkan Aldemir

Dallas Mavericks get: draft rights to Tadija Dragicevic, cash from Houston, and a relief from the pain and suffering brought by The Kardashian Curse

Odom’s 2.4 million dollar salary would have become a hefty 8.2 by tomorrow if Dallas couldn’t pull off a miracle. Enter the Utah Jazz and their Mormon kindness, willing to take disgruntled backup combo guard Mo Williams from the Clippers, to facilitate a four-way deal.

By unleashing the much-maligned but uber-talented Odom, Dallas puts the finishing touches on what has to go down as one of the most abysmal title defenses in recent history. Mark Cuban, in only one calendar year, did the following:

  • Lowballed Tyson Chandler, the man who allowed Dirk Nowitzki to hide on defense, which allowed Chandler to leave for New York
  • Signed Half-Man, Half-Woman Vince Carter
  • Traded Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez to Denver for a future second-round pick (!)
  • Traded a first-round pick and an 8.9 million dollar trade exception for to the Lakers for Lamar Odom and a second-round pick
Now, of the four, the Odom deal was universally described as brilliant. Odom was fresh off becoming an unsuspecting victim of David Stern’s “basketball reasons” veto, and couldn’t muster the testicles to play for a franchise that didn’t want him. (Of course, “didn’t want him” = “we were on the verge of getting Chris bleeping Paul, you idiot.”) We laughed at Los Angeles, as Dallas seemed to luckily pounce on Showtime’s misfortune.
But Odom endured the worst year of his personal and professional life. While basketball Twitter was focused on the rumblings of the lockout, Odom spent his summer in pain over two deaths. One was the murder of his cousin, the other was a teenage pedestrian killed when a car, in which Odom was a passenger, collided with a motorcycle. As a result, the former University of Rhode Island standout arrived in Big D looking as doughy as ever, his conditioning probably suffering from having to eat Khloe’s leftovers whenever the behemoth felt pressured by her breathtakingly beautiful sisters (meaning, everyday). Okay, his conditioning actually suffered from not playing any basketball at all during the offseason, as opposed to the previous year, where he made a valuable contribution to the Kevin Durant-led Team USA that won the World Championships in Turkey.
But everything was supposed to be water on the bridge once the first jumpball was thrown up. After all, this was the reigning Sixth Man of the Year (although I guess the award has lost some luster in the past few weeks. You know who you are.). This was the guy who was versatile enough to play all three frontcourt positions, handle the ball, create, pass, and shoot. This was the guy who was traded to a team that was coming off a Larry O’Brien trophy, dismantling the team that made the trade, via sweep.
Not so fast, my friends. Odom sauntered through the 2011-2012 NBA season, producing career per game lows in minutes played (20.5), points (6.6), rebounds (4.1), and shot a frightening 35% from the floor. He spent some time away from the team to figure his ish out, and even had a short stint in the D-League (although he did not play an actual game there).
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Even yours truly was guilty of poking fun at Lamar Odom. But with today’s news, Odom has an opportunity to reclaim his place as a contributing member o
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Instant Trade Analysis: Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves get: SF Chase Budinger

Houston Rockets get: 18th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft

In the first major pre-draft trade involving picks, the Houston Rockets have sent their sharp-shooting small forward Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 18th selection.

On the surface, the main ramification of this trade is pretty clear; the Rockets and their GM Daryl Morey are stockpiling picks for a run at an All-Star caliber player. Houston now owns the 14th, 16th, and 18th picks in the draft, with other trade assets such as guards Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee, as well as big men Marcus Morris, Luis Scola, Samuel Dalembert and Patrick Patterson. Rumors are circulating that the Rockets are going to use some combination of players and picks to eventually make a big play for Dwight Howard (even without the assurance that he’d sign an extension), with Pau Gasol and Josh Smith as back-up options.

Obviously the other shoe has yet to drop, so we’re just left to spectulate for now. On the immediate impact side, Chase Budinger looks like a solid pickup for the Wolves. Minnesota is likely to lose Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph to free agency this summer, as it’s quite obvious that SG Wesley Johnson isn’t who they thought they were when they drafted the swingman out of the ‘Cuse with the number 3 pick two years ago. With GM David Kahn likely to take a shooter or small forward with the 18th pick, trading for a proven gunner like Budinger could prove a shrewd move. The former Wildcat shot a career-high 40% from the arc in 2012 and along with his 10 point per game career average and better than expected rebounding from a swingman (4 per game).

The Timberwolves, who’ve been out of the playoffs for nearly a decade (their last appearance was with the Garnett-Cassell-Sprewell crew in 2003-2004), are poised to make a run next year with the emergence of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea and the aforementioned Williams. While the number 18 pick would likely bring them another young, talented and cheap player, coach Rick Adelman needs some NBA-ready bodies in there if they hope to compete in 2012-2013. Budinger is that guy.

What this also shows is that the team still might not see Derrick Williams as a small forward in the NBA. Last year’s number 2 overall pick certainly has the build and three-point acumen similar to a big 3-man, but the acquisition of a starting-caliber forward like Budinger certainly puts this into doubt.… Read more...

MAMBINO’s NBA 2nd Half Preview

If it feels like the season just started, you’re not that far off — amazingly, opening day tip-off was little more than 2 months ago. However, even with only 33 games under our belts, this season has developed similar to every season we’ve seen before; teams have dissapointed, and teams have surprised, with the caveat of a insane schedule where guys are playing 5 games in 6 nights and back to back to backs.
We’ve each picked teams that will, in the second half of the season, wilt like LeBron in the 4th quarter, rise up like Dirk or are badly in need of a trade. Read on MAMBINites.
Falling like LeBron in the 4th
Eastern Conference: Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic

KOBEsh: My disdain for the Atlanta Hawks is well documented on this blog, to the point where I thought over 2,000 words was tragic understatement. Though they were missing leading scorer Joe Johnson this past week, their epic no-show against the Knicks on Tuesday was both completely exemplary of why I have no respect for this pitiful Atlanta franchise and how the second half of the season isn’t getting any easier for them.

Horford isn’t coming back from surgery anytime soon, and the team really won’t have any other reinforcements coming via trade; they are up against the cap, and with the exception of All-Star snub Josh Smith, have no tradeable assets. They have no leadership in the immature Smith and “Silent” Joe Johnson, nor do they have discipline to reach whatever ceiling they have. Their 20-14 record is not at all indicative of how pathetic they really are. I expect a steep fall in the second half, maybe even out of the playoffs.

BockerKnocker: I’ll put my hate for Dwight Howard aside. Whether or not general manager Otis Smith decides to deal the big man at the trade deadline, the rumor mill will churn with more garbage than you or I can handle. And if the resulting impact is too much for simpletons like us to deal with, I can’t imagine what it will do to an already fractured Magic locker room. Obviously, if Howard does leave Orlando soon, then head coach Stan Van Gundy will have to work some magic of his own to sustain the team’s playoff run. Think Denver post-Melo, but with far less talented players and a more panicky coach. If Howard stays in Orlando, they’ll clearly do better than without him, but again, those rumors will gnaw at them every single day. The rumors won’t stop; they will just turn into “where will Dwight sign after the season.” Place your put options on the Orlando Magic right now.

Western Conference: Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs

K: Don’t get me wrong; I really like this Utah team. They’re really playing hard for coach Ty Corbin both on the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. Utah is a young team with a lot of rookie and sophmore players that seem to be relatively undaunted by the ultra-competitive Western Conference in front of them. That all being said, they’re 28th in the league with only 14 road games. Without the altitude and voracious home crowd behind them, I can’t see them keeping up their modest 31 win pace. Specifically, I expect Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks to slow down a bit in the second half.

BK: Just to set the record straight: the Spurs are a bonafide playoff team and will enter the playoffs with home court advantage in the first round. But to come in as the #2 seed, where the team currently sits, will be especially tough. It would be hard for any Western team to keep their standing, with the conference once again lRead more...

Burning Question #19: Do the Rockets Finally Make a Blockbuster Trade?

I haven’t seen Moneyball, nor have I read the book, but people tell me that both were pretty good. And sure, the concept of finding hidden gems using statistical analysis is intellectually stimulating. But intellectual stimulation is fleeting. Nobody cares anymore because the OBP-based Oakland Athletics never won a World Series. The numbers made some sort of sense, but the team wasn’t memorable enough. Seriously, did you enjoy watching Bobby Crosby? What about Jermaine Dye? The Oakland Beanes had a legitimate player here and there, but they all had some kind of flaw that made them unmarketable. Miguel Tejada could barely speak English. Johnny Damon hadn’t grown his hair out yet nor had he begun to realize he could talk. Jason Giambi was on his way to the Yankees as soon as he chose his jersey number (16 –1 + 6 = 7, Mickey Mantle’s number). And don’t get me started on those all-white unis. The Oakland As were the essence of boring. The idea behind Moneyball was cute, but where was the flash?

Conversely, we don’t remember teams and players with all-style-no-substance, either. Isaiah Rider won the dunk contest with an array of incredible moves, but he never produced a real career. Damon Jones displayed a closet full of ludicrous, eye-popping suits, but there will rarely be room in the NBA for a streaky 3-point shooter who is undersized, can’t defend, and can’t get to the rim. Sadly, Mike D’Antoni teams will never win a championship because he never requires his players to toughen up on the defensive end. When it’s all said and done, we forget about these types. There is too much sugar and not enough caffeine in their coffee, and sooner or later, we crash.

Why is this even a question?

The Houston Rockets have a lot of players that every championship team needs. Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Jonny Flynn, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Lee, and Chase Budinger are all players that could make worthy contributions on a contending squad. But take a look at that list again: I just named 7 dudes! That’s far too many role players. The best of the bunch, Kevin Martin, is a decent player, but he makes second banana-level money with only one elite skill: his jumpshot. At what point does Daryl Morey decide that the Oakland Athletics formula is even less relevant in a sport driven by superstars? At what point does he decide that being mediocre isn’t good enough?

How will this play out?

Rumors have already started circulating regarding the eventual landing spots for Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul, but if I were Morey, I would sit tight…for now. The Rockets need to give any of those aforementioned 7 players the opportunity to boost their trade value in the first half of the season. Would a Scola-Lowry-Budinger-1st Round Pick package look nice? Maybe, but wouldn’t it look better if at least one of them played like an All-Star (fine, an All-Star snub) for a 25-game stretch? Morey is too smart to keep trotting these guys out year after year, but if he doesn’t get a big name this season, then maybe it’s time to rescind his yearly Sloan Sports Conference invite.

Player to Watch: Chase Budinger
The knock on Budinger’s game is that he can’t defend the athletic shooting guards and small forwards at the NBA level. But he has one thing that can’t be taught: athleticism, which is impressive, considering he is of the Caucasian ilk. New head coach Kevin McHale might be able to teach Budinger a thing or two that offensive-m
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