NBA PM: The Houston Rockets’ Trade Scenario
“When we’re on a losing streak like this, I can’t even think about All-Star honestly.”
That was Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin’s response when he was asked recently what he thought about being a part of the festivities that will take place in Houston mid-February as the NBA takes a few days off to stage their annual All-Star game.
Lin wasn’t voted in by the fans, but since the game is in Houston there’s a chance that he could be selected by coaches to play in the big game anyway. He was the third-highest vote-getter among Western Conference guards, but it seems far more likely that James Harden will be Houston’s appointee given his outstanding season.
“We knew he was going to be good, but we didn’t know how good,” Lin says of his new backcourt mate. “I think he’s surpassed everyone’s expectations in the entire organization and he’s been incredible for us, been a big part of our success.”
Harden has emerged as one of the game’s top scorers and is also a strong candidate for Most Improved Player, averaging 25.8 points per game for the Rockets. Lin, on the other hand, is still trying to find consistency in his game. He’s been better of late, but early in the season he was recovering from surgery, getting adjusted to a new team and city, and learning the expectations of a new head coach.
“It was just a combination of all those, new team, new coaches, new city, new system,” Lin tells HOOPSWORLD. “I went through a knee surgery, so just trying to get my explosiveness back, get my legs underneath me. I’d have to say all those things.”
There have been times this season when Lin and Harden have looked like one of the best backcourts in the NBA. There have also been times when Lin has struggled to hold up his end of that equation, when Toney Douglas has been the one finishing games. Rockets head coach Kevin McHale believes his back court is still a work in progress.
“James never had this role before, which is a new role of trying to lead a team. For Jeremy, this is the first time he’s come into a season as a starting point guard,” says McHale. “For those guys to have good chemistry, and there’s a lot of them, we’ve got a lot of young guys that are all learning together. It gets fragile sometimes, just like a lot of teams do like right now for us. We’re going through a period where we’ve had our chances at games, we didn’t have a chance against the Clippers because they just waxed us. Watching film of that game shows that we’re evolving into who we’re going to be and they are who they are. They play a certain style; they’re very disciplined in what they do, how they do it and how they play and we’ve got to get to that point where we play like that every single night.”
Of course, the Clippers also have multiple All-Stars, including one of the best point guards in the league in Chris Paul and one of the most dynamic frontcourt players in Blake Griffin. They have the tools to get out and run in transition, but they also have the personnel to slow it down and run effective sets in the half court. The Rockets, on the other hand, have a hard time slowing down and getting easy buckets in the post. They rank in the sixth percentile scoring on cuts to the basket and boast the top pick-and-roll offense in the league, but without a dominant frontcourt player they often turn the ball over as they rush to get into their motion-oriented sets.
The NBA’s trade deadline is fast approaching, and with it will come a plethora of trade rumors, some more plausible than others. Over the weekend, HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy was told that the Memphis Grizzlies were considering trading Zach Randolph to the Rockets, and while Randolph makes some sense for Houston, the Grizzlies have now vehemently denied any interest in such a deal.
That’s just as well, because the Rockets would have a hard time making a deal like that work. Sure, they have plenty of young power forwards and other assets to send Memphis, but Randolph’s $16 million deal means the Rockets have to send out quite a bit of contract money. They’re under the cap, so they wouldn’t have to send out exactly $16 million, but they would have to send out somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million, and assuming that Harden, Lin and Asik are off the table, that means they would have to send three or four players to Memphis, and the Grizzlies can’t absorb that many contracts.
Additionally, such a move would rob Houston of the cap freedom they have worked so hard to maintain. It would prevent them from making a move down the line similar to the one they made to land Harden, who is a long-term impact player for the team. The Rockets are looking for another deal like that one (think Nikola Pekovic in Minnesota), and until it comes they are unlikely to commit a high percentage of their resources to an older, more expensive player like Randolph.
Until that next player comes along, the Rockets will continue to develop their young talent and hope a couple of more players evolve to be as good as Harden. Lin is first on that list.
“I don’t know what my ceiling is, but my job is to work as hard as I can and get as close as I can to my ceiling,” says Lin. “I think the things that I need to work on, defense to start, is number one. Number two, be more consistent whether that is with my outside shot or creating a way to be effective every single game and not have so many ups and downs.”
“It’s been good and it’s going to continue to get better,” Harden says of his chemistry with Lin. “It’s tough because me and Jeremy control the ball the majority of the game, so we got to do a better job of limiting our turnovers and making the right plays more often. We’re just trying to get better every day. We’ve only been together for 40-something games. We’re just trying to get better and work on our chemistry, not just with Jeremy but the whole team.”
As for McHale, he has a clearer vision of what his backcourt duo might be capable of achieving.
“I think they can both average 25 points a game,” says McHale. “I think that might be nice. I think that will happen and it’ll get better.”
If Harden and Lin can both average 25 points per game and the Rockets can add or develop a dynamic front court talent, the Houston Rockets just might give the Los Angeles Clippers and the West’s best teams a run for their money.
Celtics Blockbuster Still Cooking?
The Boston Celtics made news a couple of weeks ago when they made it known that they had a “blockbuster” trade in the works. It seemed odd, not because the Celtics were playing well at all, but because they were also saying that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley were off the table. That talk died down when Bradley’s return helped spark a six-game winning streak that included wins over Eastern Conference playoff teams in Atlanta, Indiana and New York, but now the team has hit upon hard times again and head coach Doc Rivers is talking like big changes are coming.
“I gotta either find the right combination or the right guys, or we’re going to get some guys out of here,” said Rivers after the Celtics lost their third straight game to the lowly Detroit Pistons, of all teams. “That’s the bottom line. This group right now, they’re not playing right. It’s in them to play right, but right now they haven’t been, either because I’m not getting to them, or they’re not getting to each other.”
“I’m pretty sure Doc’s upset and frustrated like everybody else here right now,” Garnett added. “He’s mad as me, he thinks in those terms. I’m a player and I have to say, ‘What can I do better?’ That’s where I’m at.”
Last year at this time, sources close to the Celtics were telling anyone who would listen that team president Danny Ainge was about to blow up the older core and rebuild around the younger guys, but that didn’t happen and the Celtics wound up making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before eventually losing the Miami HEAT. This year’s team does not appear to be on a similar journey, so it wouldn’t be a surprise of similar trade rumors start to surface this year, only this time coming to fruition.
Varejao Done For the Season
The Cleveland Cavaliers just got the worst news they could have gotten with regards to starting center Anderson Varejao. Having lost him in December to knee surgery, they are now going to be without him for the rest of the season due to a blood clot that has formed in his lung.
“We’re just feeling bad for Andy,” Cavs coach Byron Scott told the Associated Press. “I think the world of Andy, especially with the way he plays. My heart just goes out to him. He’s had some bad luck in the last three years. I’m sure it’s devastating to him. I feel real bad for him.”
This is just the latest in what has been a bizarre string of injuries for Varejao, who is the league’s leading rebounder and could well have been headed for an All-Star appearance had he not been injured.
“They’ve all really been freak things,” said Cavaliers GM Chris Grant. “He’s frustrated. We’re frustrated for him and with him. We would love to have him out there, particularly the type of year he was having. He’s really come into his own as a leader on the court, so it’s difficult. But at the same time we believe in him as a guy, we know what he can do. He’s played in a lot of big games for us, into the Finals. We’ll continue to support him.”
The news is bad on two fronts for the Cavaliers, for whom Varejao held a great deal of value both as a player and as a possible trade piece. The injury not only keeps Varejao out of action, it also means other teams will be reluctant to trade for him due to his ongoing issues with injuries.
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