NBA Purgatory

Neither the best nor the worst, the Rockets remain stuck in professional basketball's great midsection.


The Rockets went into draft night back in June 2009 with literally no draft choices. By the end of the night, Daryl Morey had bargained his way into the rights to a few second-round picks, including current starting small forward Chase Budinger. Like any year, the 2009 draft lottery had its fair share of hits and even more misses. So a year or so later, Morey did what any self-respecting general manager trying to find a game-changing needle in the NBA haystack would do — he started collecting wayward former blue-chippers like they were penny stocks.

It started with the eighth overall pick from 2009, big man Jordan Hill, coming over from the Knicks halfway through his rookie season as part of the deal that sent Tracy McGrady's still barely warm corpse to New York. Then, in December 2010, the Rockets traded a lottery-protected first-round pick to the Nets for the 11th overall 2009 pick, swingman Terrence Williams, who at the time he was traded was fresh off a call-up from the D League. Then, around the trade deadline in 2011, the Rockets said goodbye to Shane Battier and hello to 2009 second overall pick, center Hasheem Thabeet, in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. And finally, on draft night 2011, sixth overall pick point guard Jonny Flynn came over in a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Forward Luis Scola is the only current Rocket who has been in Houston for the entire Daryl Morey era.
Forward Luis Scola is the only current Rocket who has been in Houston for the entire Daryl Morey era.
The good news is Kyle Lowry has grown into the Rockets' best player; the bad news is the Rockets' best player is Kyle Lowry.
The good news is Kyle Lowry has grown into the Rockets' best player; the bad news is the Rockets' best player is Kyle Lowry.

In one sense, it clarifies how utterly silly the process is of grading a team's draft the night of the draft. If Daryl Morey had come away on draft night in 2009 with the second, sixth, eighth and 11th players overall, he would have been lauded as some sort of love child of Jerry West and R.C. Buford, and been given an A+++. Less than two years later, he had gathered all of those same (now underachieving) players on his roster, and he is the butt of a bunch of Hoarders jokes.

(Sidebar: I would DVR and assign "If You Delete This, I Will Kill You" status to the episode of Hoarders with Morey in his office in the fetal position surrounded by stacks of old newspapers, litters of stray kittens, piles of rat feces, and the four 2009 lottery picks all stacked in a big pile. Bonus points if there is a scene with a belligerent Morey yelling at his relatives as they try and intervene. Yes, I watch too much television.)

The early returns on the four players are about what you'd expect on penny stocks. Hill has the largest body of work, and at best he is a serviceable, active big man. Williams has gotten more playing time this season, but he has major consistency issues. Flynn is stuck behind Lowry and Dragic in the battle for minutes at point guard. Of the four players, the one with the physical makeup to have the biggest impact is Thabeet, but he's the only player I've ever seen who appears legitimately happier sitting at the end of the bench than he does, you know, actually playing in games.

(Funny Thabeet story if you're someone other than his employer: Chris Vernon is a radio host in Memphis, and on the day that Thabeet was traded to the Rockets, I had Vernon on my radio show on 1560 The Game last year to give my listeners a Thabeet scouting report. Vernon said, "All you need to know about Thabeet is when the Rookie All-Star Game was being played during Thabeet's rookie year, he tweeted during the game, 'WHAT'S UP, PEEPO? I'M AT THE MALL, PEEPO!' It would have been nice if the second overall pick had actually been PLAYING in the Rookie All-Star game." Perhaps if the Rockets want to get more production out of Thabeet, they should look at the possibility of playing their home games at the food court at Memorial City Mall.)

Anyway, with the 66-game schedule, depth is going to be key. The Rockets need at least two of these 2009 lottery refugees to be solid rotation players. Three would be a bonus. Four would, quite frankly, be a miracle.


Circle March 15. That's the date of the NBA trade deadline, which has to feel like the beginning of Lent for Daryl Morey, since at that point he can't make any trades until the end of June.

Rest assured, Morey will continue to burn up the phone lines trying to find that elusive superstar. As for established "above the line" guys, he's pretty much run out of options, unless he can rekindle the talks for Gasol in some other fashion, either directly with the Lakers or as the third team in a reconfigured three-way trade (maybe with Orlando sending Howard to the Lakers?). More likely, if he does want to deal, Morey would have to go after a younger player with "above the line" potential, preferably someone more established than the 2009 Lottery pupu platter.

My personal sleeper scenario? The Sacramento Kings continue to piss off center DeMarcus Cousins and, fearful that Cousins might dismember an assistant coach during a timeout on national television, the Maloof brothers decide to move Cousins to the Rockets for a package that includes former King Kevin Martin, allowing Martin to assume his rightful place as "best player on a really shitty Sacramento team." The universe just seems like a more orderly place when that's the case.

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If you look at the all the NBA champions since 1980, all the teams had at least one superstar. There may be one exception with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons that real good starting five. So, based on the last 30 years a superstar is pretty much needed to win a championship. The Rockets do not have that super star.


The Rockets are ONE exceptional basketball player away from being the best team in the West, and until they get that player, being your favorite basketball teams, favorite basketball team, will continue

Polly Jenkins
Polly Jenkins

Of course luck has a lot to do about it but skill is in there too.


When Morey got to town, he inherited a team that had most of its salary tied up in two players (Yao and T-Mac). Using the very little wiggle room he had to work with, he assembled a remarkable amount of talent on the cheap: Scola, Lowry, Budinger, Hayes et al.

But that could only get him so far. He was forced to gamble that Yao would return to full strength. And it was a gamble that he obviously lost. This was, and to a large extent remains, a team built to revolve around a superstar that we no longer have.

So here we are: a franchise with arguably the best supporting cast in the league, with no centerpiece.

I understand King's sentiments about Morey. Until recently, I somewhat shared them. That changed when Morey had the deal in place for Gasol. Remember: the only reason it didn't happen was because of Stern.

I remain a believer in Morey. It's not just because he's playing Moneyball, although that's a big part of it. He understands the intangibles in finding good players, thinks strategically, always works several moves ahead.

Yeah, this season is gonna be rough. But I'm sticking with my team. And In Morey I Trust.


Never thought I'd say this, but it may be time to start looking at Morey as a possible source of these problems. Houston isn't L.A. and New York, but it sure as hell is a lot better than Oklahoma City. You're right in saying the team in its current make-up is built to be broken down, but that doesn't mean you still can't put a quality product on the floor. The trade pieces are there, but what's left if Morey does finally obtain a superstar? Two of last year's team captains are gone. The team is young and directionless and without a core in place to entice any superstar to want to come here.

Yao and McGrady were bad breaks. That's excusable. But those problems became evident SEVERAL seasons ago. There's no excuse for the fourth largest city in the country with a good infrastructure and flexible owner in place to not have a contending team.

Yeah, the pieces on the floor are not the answer, that's obvious. But it's time to start questioning whether the man putting these pieces together is the one to do it.

As String would say, 'There's games beyond the fuckin' game.'


That's insane. This proves what people have been saying about the league for years. Luck is more important than anything in the NBA.

The Bulls get Rose but the Wizards get stuck with John Wall, Blazers get Oden and the Thunder get Durant. The Rockets got their luck with Yao from the 12th pick position up to #1. The Spurs get happens over and over. Blaming Morey for not being able to fool a GM into a Pau Gasol to the Lakers deal isn't reasonable.

It looks like we'll have to take a shot on a player like Cousins or the like and make it a boom/bust thing.

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