GAME TIME: Houston Rockets - Carmelo Anthony...Make It Happen, Daryl
"Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them." -- Bud Fox
Since taking over general manager's duties for the Rockets in May 2007, Daryl Morey's tenure has been marked more by readying the team for "the big deal" as opposed to going and making it; the Morey Era has largely been a series of smaller transactions (in stature, if not number of teams and players involved) that have ultimately yielded a slew of valuable assets. That's ok -- the approach has been a function of the hand Morey was dealt coming in, strapped with two monster contracts for stars whose bodies wouldn't cooperate.
If Isiah Thomas' tenure with the New York Knicks' devolved into a yard sale of disjointed, overpriced, dilapidated junk, then Morey's current iteration of the Rockets is the complete opposite -- a nice retail establishment with desirable, mostly new gems where people with something to offer (like, say, an exquisite Carmelo Anthony piece) can shop in comfort.
That said, Rockets' fans have reached a point where they need to see some of the items start to move off the shelves. Hopefully, the Denver Nuggets will walk in the front door.
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Virtually all of the deals Morey has made since Tracy McGrady opted to donate his knees to science in February 2009 have been to simultaneously try and keep winning while corralling as many young, inexpensive, cap friendly assets as possible. It's not an easy juggling act, but Morey has nailed it.
The act, however, has a grand finale -- flip all of this stuff for a top 10 player to put with Yao Ming. Indeed, life does come down to a few moments -- for Daryl Morey, closing out the Carmelo Anthony Situation is one of them.
The reasons a Carmelo Anthony-to-Houston deal makes sense are many:
1. Carmelo likes Houston. According to multiple sources, Anthony has not only expressed a desire to leave Denver, but also has been specific in that Houston and New York are the two places most desirable to him as a landing spot, and depending on whom you read, Houston more so than New York. After an off-season where the Rockets were basically ignored by marquee free agents (yeah, Bosh, that means you), the significance of having an elite player like 'Melo see potential in Houston cannot be understated, especially when you consider the BIG reason why elite players may have cooled on the Rockets.... 2. Yao insurance. ...in some sense, you can't blame players that control their own "place of employment" destiny for being cautious about hitching their wagon to Yao Ming's tissue paper feet. Carmelo Anthony not only doesn't appear to be phased by this, but is also one of the few players who could still carry the remaining roster of players competitively in the Western Conference. If Yao goes down, you can still compete in the West with 'Melo carrying a supporting cast of Brooks, Scola, Lee, Miller, Lowry, Battier, Hayes, remnants of the Hill/Patterson/Budinger trio etc. (As you'll see in a minute, there's a reason I don't list Kevin Martin and a reason that there are "or" style slashes between Hill, Patterson and Budinger.) In short, you're a helluva lot better than 42-40 if Yao goes down again, not to mention that you remain attractive to free agents or stars wanting out of their current situations. (NOTE: It pains me to just casually accept stars' maneuvering/manipulating their way out of their current venues while under contract as "part of the game." Unfortunately, it just is.) 3. Offensive firepower. A starting frontcourt of Yao, Carmelo and Scola would be among the most dynamic offensively in the league, if not the most. All three guys have excellent mid range games ('Melo can extend out to the three point line), and closer to the basket you have a really intriguing variety of back-to-the-basket/around the rim skillsets. Carmelo is a pretty underrated, relentless rebounder on the offensive end of the floor (statistically, 4th among small forwards in offensive rebound rate), and Yao and Carmelo are both guys that require a double team. In short, the Rockets become a matchup nightmare with a healthy Yao and an in-his-prime Carmelo Anthony, and unlike the 2009-2010 Nets, you can actually get away with Courtney Lee as your starting two guard, if need be.
4. Western Conference arms race. Sports is always about the latest trend, spotting what the successful teams are doing. The NBA the last four years has turned into an arms race, where the teams that can assemble the most star power simply "out-talent" the teams put in front of them. The Celtics, in a sense, started the ball rolling in 2007 when they made the deals for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett (the development of Rajon Rondo was an added bonus), which forced the Lakers to make the deal to pilfer Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies. This begat Orlando making a deal to bring in Vince Carter, and eventually spawned LeDwayne Bosh in Miami. (Hell, even the Spurs made a popcorn fart attempt at the talent-over-chemistry play by bringing in the shell of Richard Jefferson.) Recent history says this approach works. In the restaurant of NBA contenders, the Rockets as currently constructed are in the bar area waiting for a table without a reservation. With Carmelo, they have a sweet booth in the corner awaiting them after drinks.
So what would a Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets trade look like? Well, first let's assume that Kevin Martin will be part of any deal that is a straight up trade with the Nuggets (as opposed to a three or more team deal), partially because there will be a serious scoring void to fill in Denver and partially because he's one of just a few Rockets whose salary gets this deal close to working under the cap.
Next, let's assume that the Rockets will be forced to part with at least one of their (relatively) underpaid, on-the-come assets -- Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger probably chief among these. (Aaron Brooks, too, but with Chauncey Billups and Ty Lawson in Denver, Brooks probably only goes if it's a three team deal.)
Also, the Rockets have control of the Knicks next two first round picks -- the ability to switch with them in 2011 and outright ownership of the Knicks' first round pick in 2012. Assume that one or both of these would be in play, probably the outright pick in 2012 for sure, which is obviously its own asset, as opposed to an uncertain upgrade of an existing asset like switching picks in 2011.
Also, this is all under the assumption that Carmelo signs an extension somewhere in the neighborhood of the three year, $65 million deal Denver has offered up.
So via the magic of the ESPN Trade Machine, I came up with this -- ROCKETS TRADE: SG Kevin Martin, SF Chase Budinger, SF Jared Jeffries (expiring contract) and the Knicks 2012 first round pick (top five protected) NUGGETS TRADE: SF Carmelo Anthony
The Nuggets are in the unenviable position of knowing they're only going to figuratively get 60 cents on the dollar for Carmelo. In this case, 60 cents comes out to a reasonably priced 20 point per game guy in Martin (with three years left on his deal), a young small forward with big upside in Budinger, nearly $7 million in expiring contract (which could be flipped during deadline time or kept), and a potential lottery pick in 2012.
For the record, if I'm the Rockets, I'd even throw in the "switch with the Knicks in 2011" potential and replace Jeffries with Shane Battier if I had to to get the deal done.
It's rare, in this day and age where players control so much of their destiny either through free agency or de facto free agency (euphemism for "leveraging their way out of town") that a team gets a chance to acquire a game changer like a willing Carmelo Anthony. Even more rare is it that a team is astute enough to have stockpiled the assets to make it happen.
Daryl Morey has.
Now, you just have to make it happen, Daryl. As Bud Fox said, "Piece of cake, Gordo." Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 PM weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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