In the second season of The Sopranos, after getting shot in the abdomen and nearly dying, Christopher has dreams while in a coma about going to a place where people die every day the same painful way they died on earth. Convinced that it was hell he was dreaming about, Chrissy describes the scene and expresses his fear to Paulie that he may be indeed going to hell when he dies.
Paulie casually explains, "You didn't go to hell. You went to purgatory, my friend....a little detour on the way to paradise."
In other words, purgatory is not heaven, it's not hell. It's just an average, unpleasant space in between where you are forced to bide your time until you're presumably allowed through the pearly gates.
Paulie estimated he would have to spend 6,000 years in purgatory before he was allowed into heaven. Rockets general manager Darryl Morey doesn't have 6,000 years to get out of NBA purgatory. For him, it needs to happen sooner. Like now.
The NBA Draft comes up this Thursday and if ever there was a reminder of how decidedly disadvantaged the Rockets are for merely being good enough not to be awful, but bad enough to be totally irrelevant, it comes in the form of the 2011 NBA Draft.
After a 43-39 season that saw the Rockets actually finish as a fairly productive, kinda watchable bunch, the Rockets now sit with the 14th pick in the draft, the worst pick of the 14 NBA lottery teams. Tallest midget, king of the dipshits, it's NBA purgatory -- especially in this year's draft where the consensus seems to be that the top two players (Duke's Kyrie Irving and Arizona's Derrick Williams) have a chance to be very good (not great) and after that, it's a bunch of guys who Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler called "a bunch of sixth men" on my radio show.
(NOTE: The Rockets also have the 23rd pick courtesy of the Aaron Brooks trade to Phoenix, and a second round pick. So they have some ammunition to make a move up the board. To get whom and how high they could move, I have no idea.)
If the Rockets are in purgatory, then the Cavaliers and Timberwolves (picking first and second, respectively) are almost certainly in hell, for now. The Cavaliers crash landed there this past season after being jilted by LeBron James last summer; the Timberwolves have spent the better part of their history there, save a few Kevin Garnett-led playoff teams.
But here's the sad thing for Rockets fans -- in a league driven by star players, the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves are both in a better position to at least get the personnel to become relevant again than the Rockets are. Now, would I take the guys running the Cavs and the Timbys over Darryl Morey? Of course not, but with the NBA's current method of new talent dispersal, a method that rewards extreme ineptitude, Morey is in the worst possible spot you can be in: He's not bad enough to get good.
Back to the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves. The Cavs were 19-63 last season, proving among other things that LeBron's ability to will that supporting cast to back-to-back 60-plus win seasons was nothing short of miraculous. Through some shrewd maneuvering, Cleveland wound up with the first and the fourth picks in the draft.
According to reports, the Cavs have settled on Irving, a point guard long on skills if short on college experience (He missed all but about a dozen games in his only season at Duke with a toe injury.). They are supposedly fielding offers for the fourth pick, but worst case probably come away with a potentially solid big (Enes Kanter of Turkey) or a productive wing player (Kahwi Leonard of San Diego State).
Best case, they find a way to parlay the fourth pick and some other assets into the second pick and come away with Irving and Arizona's Derrick Williams. A long shot, but it's not out of the realm of discussion. Either way, the Cavaliers would have their foundation star in Irving.
As for Minnesota, let's pretend they hold onto the second pick and take Williams themselves. Add the dynamic forward to Spanish point guard sensation Ricky Rubio (finally coming over to the States after being selected fifth overall in 2009), double-double machine Kevin Love, and the enigmatic Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph, and you can begin to see something happening in the great white north.
Put it this way: If you had a dispersal draft of players on the Timberwolves and Rockets after Thursday's draft, the first three guys selected might be Timberwolves (I'll go with Love, Rubio and Williams). Again, Minnesota would appear to have a much better chance of having a playoff team foundation star player in their new mix (or two or three, for that matter) than the Rockets would. (Yes, the presence of team President David Kahn as the guy making moves in Minnesota negates some optimism, but eventually don't you stockpile enough players to start to "talent" your way back in the mix?)
Meanwhile, the Rockets on Thursday night need a small miracle to move the team off of the 42- to 44-win rut that they are in. They need either a significant trade up the board or they need the the rest of the league to just whiff on a guy who lands with them at 14.
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The Heat proved this postseason you can't just "out-superstar" everyone and win a title, but the Mavericks proved that you do need at least one superstar to get to the promised land and win meaningful games down the stretch. Come Friday morning, the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves will feel like they found their superstars. (Hell, the Timberwolves may already feel that way.)
Cavaliers' fans and Timberwolves' fans will have hope. Rockets' fans will be left to debate who their best player is -- Kevin Martin, Luis Scola or Kyle Lowry.
It's starting to feel like this thing may take 6,000 years.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.