Beyond The Boxscore
It's hard to blame Daryl Morey for the Dwight Howard fantasy, hard to imagine that the Houston Rockets' sixth-year general manager played any part in perpetuating the myth of the best big man in basketball playing in H-Town for one glorious season.
Howard as a Rocket always loomed as believable as Peter Pan to anyone who knew any basketball. The debate over whether it'd be "worth" trading for Howard for one season was laughable.
You'd include coach Kevin McHale, Morey's reams of basketball Moneyball data and Leslie Alexander's jet along with anyone and everyone on the Rockets' roster to get Howard in Houston for any length of time. Worth it?
Please, the Rockets should be so lucky. And after an NBA Draft in which Morey's valiant effort to move into the Top 5 ends for naught — resulting in UConn forward Jeremy Lamb (at No. 12), Iowa State forward Royce White (at No. 16) and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones (at No. 18) instead — there appears to be less chance of that than ever.
If Daryl Morey was a contestant on Extreme Couponing, the Rockets would be on to something. Unfortunately, he's trying to reenergize an NBA city that's dying.
"Houston's due some luck," former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy tells America in ESPN's draft telecast.
Van Gundy's right. But Houston doesn't get any luck on Thursday night. Instead, the Rockets probably got what Kevin McHale calls it in his own national interview, a "good" draft.
Morey did well. But "good" drafts mean little in the modern NBA, where it's all about great players. And the Rockets are not any closer to having one.
Dwight Howard? Please. What would possibly compel the Orlando Magic to send their franchise player — one of the few, true franchise players in the NBA — to Houston now outside of a complete brain fart? Orlando can get one more season out of Howard (or most of a season) and still trade him. Or watch him walk at the end of the season, be horrible for the following season and then rebuild around a Top 3 pick and plenty of cap space.
That's how you get better in David Stern's NBA. You stink first. You really don't think that Stern wouldn't work his magic if the Magic lost Howard? It worked for Cleveland with LeBron James. It worked for New Orleans with Chris Paul.
For all of owner Dan Gilbert's comical whining, the Cavaliers are better poised to be an exciting, winning team of the future with 2011 No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving than the dutiful Rockets, who always do enough to never be truly bad.
It doesn't pay to care too much in Stern's NBA. And Alexander cares too much to let the Rockets be horrible enough to someday matter again.
Let's Try It Again
Howard is not coming through the door unless the Rockets add a lot more talent first. Just like Chris Bosh was never coming to Houston (OK, Morey did pump up that particular fantasy a few summers ago).
"Good" drafts mean little in the modern NBA, where it's all about great players. And the Rockets are not any closer to having one.
Still, Morey and executive vice president of basketball operations Sam Hinkie worked hard to make the Rockets the story of this NBA Draft. They made smart moves. But they couldn't make the big move.
Chase Budinger is a complimentary player at best, who should be thanking his lucky stars that he gets to catch passes from Ricky Rubio. Getting something for Sam Dalembert was even more important to reshaping the roster into something coach Kevin McHale could mold.
I covered Dalembert during his college days at Seton Hall and he's one of my all-time favorite athletes, a good guy who sees a world beyond basketball. But Dalembert doesn't love the game enough to ever dominate despite all his physical skills and this would have ever driven McHale crazy. By the end of last season, it became apparent that the eternally inconsistent Dalembert and McHale cannot coexist.
If shedding Dalembert helped the Rockets land Lamb, that's a win.
Lamb probably played the best games of his college career in Houston, wrapping his long arms all over the 2011 Final Four at Reliant Stadium. It was Lamb, not Kemba Walker, who terrorized Butler in the national championship game, leaving the tough, battle-tested Bulldogs wondering if they'd been attacked by a pterodactyl.
The 6-foot-5 Lamb swooped into passing lanes and came out of nowhere to alter shots. There is no doubt he's a good value at No. 12.
White is a more debatable selection. One can more than reasonably argue that North Carolina center Tyler Zeller would have been a better pick. The 7-foot Zeller is a surer bet to succeed in the NBA. White — with his anxiety disorder and noted fear of flying — could be a complete bust. But he also has a better chance to turn into a star than Zeller.
And what do the Rockets need most of all? Stars — any type of star.
How versatile is White? He led Iowa State in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.
You almost have to admire the gamble Morey made with White. Zeller — who ended up getting picked one spot later by the Dallas Mavericks, who immediately shipped him off to Cleveland for three later picks — will likely put up better stats next season playing with Irving than White will in Houston (if he's in Houston).
The 6-foot-8, 261-pound White can be more in the future than Zeller if it all comes together for him though.
McHale calls him "a pass-first four." "His skill set just doesn't come along very often," McHale elaborates.
How versatile is White? He led Iowa State in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals last season. And no one played better against eventual champion Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament than Morey's choice.
Jones is another talent who seemed to get drafted a little lower than he should have. Again, good value at No. 18. If Daryl Morey was a contestant on Extreme Couponing, the Rockets would be on to something.
Unfortunately, he's trying to reenergize an NBA city that's dying for a reason to get excited (and no, having All-Star weekend in Houston next winter isn't going to cut it). And in the NBA, only true stars matter.
The Houston Rockets still don't have anything close to star. They still have nothing.
There's your draft night.