NBA AM: Did The Houston Rockets Steal The Draft?
An address no NBA team wants to occupy for an extended period of time is the middle of the pack. And if there is a team who currently personifies this designation to the fullest it would be the Houston Rockets who over the past three years have missed the playoffs despite finishing above .500 in each of those seasons.
Part of the reason for the postseason drought is that NBA team success is typically rooted in possessing a franchise player on the active roster. The Rockets have been seeking said franchise player since the end of the 2009 season when it became apparent center Yao Ming would never return to his dominant perch.
Most teams in the Rockets’ position over the past few years would opt to completely blow up their respective rosters and usher in a massive rebuilding project. But Houston has gone against the proverbial grain and instead of blowing things up has decided to keep bringing in solid (some could argue redundant) young talent annually via the draft, while working the phone lines trying to trade for the missing face of the franchise.
In the week leading up to this year’s draft, the Rockets acquired the No. 18 overall pick from Minnesota in exchange for forward Chase Budinger. The team also moved Samuel Dalembert and the No. 14 pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in order to move up the draft board acquiring the No. 12 overall selection in the process. The goal was simple; the Rockets were trying to hit a home run via trade by stockpiling picks in a deep draft. Reported targets for the team were Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Atlanta’s Josh Smith, along with guys such as Memphis’ Rudy Gay and Los Angeles’ Pau Gasol.
Ultimately a deal for a top tier talent couldn’t be achieved and the Rockets went on to select University of Connecticut guard Jeremy Lamb, Iowa State forward Royce White and University of Kentucky big man Terrence Jones at 12, 16 and 18 respectively.
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander believes the team made out like bandits in the first round of this year’s draft compared to other teams around the league.
“We stole them,” Alexander told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “We had Lamb as the fifth-best player. We got him. Everybody wanted Royce. I thought at 18, we might not get somebody that terrific, but we did (Jones).”
Alexander has good reason to be excited about his newest batch of prospects – on paper. Lamb helped lead UCONN to a national championship during his freshman season in 2011 and further solidified himself as one of the smoothest scorers in the collegiate ranks last season. White proved he can hold his own on the big stage averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds on 71 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament. Jones won a national championship with Kentucky last season and was one of four Wildcats selected in the first round Thursday night.
Still, the Rockets goal is to ultimately land a franchise player and Alexander expressed mixed emotions that the team wasn’t able to land one on draft night.
“It’s both,” Alexander said admitting he had mixed feelings. “It’s a disappointment. You want to move up. But you’re happy you got three great guys. They’re big. Lamb is a real big two. Royce, all our guys love him. They think he will be a real star in this league. (Jones) is huge and he’s young.”
Throughout his tenure with the Rockets, Alexander has sought to bring in some of the game’s best players.
“I started with the Dream [Hakeem Olajuwon],” Alexander said. “It’s always been important. I traded for Clyde Drexler. I traded for Charles Barkley. I traded for Scottie Pippen. I traded for Steve Francis. I traded for Tracy McGrady.”
Despite the postseason drought and the club’s inability to land a franchise player, Alexander quickly put down any speculation that he may be seeking a replacement for Rockets general manager Daryl Morey by stating he’s happy with the direction the franchise is headed.
“I think Daryl has done a terrific job,” Alexander said. “Why would I want to change? I’m always getting that question for some reason. They expect him to get LeBron James tomorrow. That’s not happening.”
The Rockets will continue working phones throughout the summer trying to land their next star, but for now the team has gotten better from where they were at the end of last season. Not enough to push them into the ranks of the league’s elite, but maybe enough to get the franchise its first playoff appearance since 2009 next season.
At the very least the team has a significant amount of talented chips to use as trade assets going forward.
HEAT President Pat Riley Shows His Hand: The Miami HEAT fresh of winning their second championship in team history shed a little light on how they will handle the offseason.
With the draft in the rearview, Miami picked project big man Justin Hamilton in the second round, free agency looms and team president Pat Riley says the organization has a couple of players at the top of their list.
“We have five or six guys earmarked,” Riley said according to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports. “We go into free agency with an open mind. We’re encouraged we can talk to some players that may be interested in taking a little bit less. There’s a lot of room out there but not many teams that have a chance of winning a title. If we can add a shooter, that would help us. If we can add a real big, we might try to go in that direction. If there’s a three-point shooter who is long and can defend, we might go in that direction. We want to find as much space on the floor with Chris (Bosh) and Dwyane (Wade) and LeBron (James) to operate.”
A shooter who seemingly fits the bill perfectly would be future Hall of Fame guard Ray Allen who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Allen, who struggled with injuries last season with the Boston Celtics, is the game’s all-time leader in three-point field goals.
The Miami HEAT already have $78 million in salary commitments for the 2013 season putting them back in the luxury tax paying field, but Riley maintains a potential financial penalty won’t hinder his thought process at all when it comes to adding talent to his roster.
“If you give (owner Micky Arison) the right name and that right name can lead the team to the promised land, in the past he has always said yes,” Riley said.
Boston Celtics Bulk Up On The Interior: This past season the Boston Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals with veteran forward Kevin Garnett routinely playing out of position at center. With only five guys under contract for 2013 (Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore) the Celtics elected to address their lack of interior bulk by selecting Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger (No. 21) and Syracuse’s Fab Melo (No. 22) in the first round of Thursday’s draft.
Sullinger, a power forward, amassed over 1,200 points during his career with the Buckeyes and is listed at 280 pounds. Melo is a center and legitimate 7-footer known for his shot-blocking ability.
“Obviously, we needed to address height,” Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told Frank Dell’Apa of the Boston Globe. “The fact that Jared Sullinger fell to us is just fortunate. Last year he would have been a top five pick. All year he was a top-10 pick. The fact that he kept falling to us gives us a rebounder, high IQ player, great passer, and a very good shooter from the outside, gives us some physical force. Fab Melo does the same thing. He has size. We like size, we needed size — gives us a chance to work with him. We think he can be a good player.”
Sullinger fell rapidly down draft boards after being red flagged at the draft combine with a back issue. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge feels Sullinger was a steal at No. 21.
“When the day started, I did not think he would be there at 21,” Ainge said. “We got wind, the back issues, he was slipping in the draft. He was projected much higher last week, and so we’re fortunate to get him. We were concerned and we did our research on him and we felt comfortable. But there are some issues there. Our medical staff thinks short term and long term there may be some maintenance issues with the back. Doc Rivers played with a herniated disc for 13 years. So, he may need surgery at some point and may not. All I know is what the MRI results were at the end of the combine in Chicago.”
NBA Draft Day Trades: HOOPSWORLD’s senior NBA writer and college basketball editor Yannis Koutroupis has compiled a 2012 draft trade summary. If you need to catch up on all of the moves around the league check this out. LINK
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