While the NBA Playoffs have been rolling toward their exciting conclusion in Miami and Oklahoma City, back here in Houston, the Rockets have been busy trying to figure out how they can somehow come out of the next few months of NBA player activity with a team that at least feels like a threat to make the playoffs in 2012-13.
By whatever means necessary -- the draft next week, free agency, craigslist -- the time is now for the Rockets to go from Daryl Morey's personal "asset swap" garage sale to a roster built around someone, someone either with serious perennial All-Star potential or (gasp) an actual perennial All-Star.
Daryl Morey met with the media yesterday to discuss what he's been up to recently and what his expectations are for the next few weeks and months. Below is a transcript of the important chunks of that media session along with some of my
far less intelligent than Morey's thoughts sprinkled in with the header "SP:".
Morey on his place in next Thursday's draft
DM: We're excited. We really like the draft. We like the players we'll get in this range. We were looking at it and, the past couple of years, we were picking 14 and one year we liked eight guys and another year we liked ten guys, so we were sweating it quite a bit. This year we feel comfortable that there's at least 16 guys we think are solid picks. We feel like we're going to leave the draft with two very good players assuming we don't move around, trade, things like that.
SP: Well, if you go into this draft assuming the Rockets don't "move around, trade, things like that," then you're not approaching this correctly. Right now my big board for the 14th and 16th picks looks like this:
-- Rockets keep both picks +125 -- Rockets package picks to move up into the top 10 +800 (I think they'd LOVE to do this, but takes two to tango) -- Rockets trade one or both of these picks as part of some deal for a player/more picks/a Moochie Norris bobble head -130
Personally, I'd love to see a move into the top 8 somehow (Kyle Lowry and a pick?) and draft someone with some NBA skills and All-Star upside (Jeremy Lamb, Austin Rivers?). That said, Morey's got it right with this draft -- I think that player number 16 has as good a chance as player number 5 of making an impact. Hell, we've seen it plenty over the last few years. Look at the Pacers with a starting lineup that includes Danny Granger (17th overall), Roy Hibbert (17th), Darren Collison (21st), David West (18th). It can be done.
By the way, we may never find out, but I'll take a wild stab at Morey's sixteen players he thinks are solid picks:
No brainers (10): Anthony Davis, Brad Beal, Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, John Henson, Austin Rivers, Damian Lillard Educated guesses (5): Tyler Zeller, Terrence Jones, Kendall Marshall, Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross Flyer (1): Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure (four-year guy with size, this year's Kenneth Faried small-school, late-first-round impact guy -- thank God the Spurs don't have a first round pick)
Let's keep moving...
Morey on the pieces in place for this offseason, and some Donatas Motiejunas updates
DM: Obviously our history is we'll be aggressive. Mr. Alexander really doesn't accept status quo and is a very competitive guy so we're going to continue to be aggressive. But the nice thing is we can be aggressive not out of desperation, but out of having two very good picks that teams will want. We have another player, Donatas Motiejunas, coming over that we're excited about, so we have a bunch of really high upside guys that we're going to add to the roster and hopefully show on the court next year what they can do...
...and the latest on Motiejunas
DM: As soon as we're allowed to sign him, which looks like it will be very early July, we plan to sign him and then he'll play for our summer league team and become part of the program here.
SP: Motiejunas is a big key to this offseason, especially if they wind up keeping the 14th and 16th picks (assuming they don't whiff on the pick like they did with Marcus Morris last season). Motiejunas is a seven-footer with skills; if they hit on one or both of the first-round picks this year (or move up into the top ten), add D-Mo to a young nucleus of Patrick Patterson, Chandler Parsons, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger and whatever the point guard solution ends up being. That's kind of intriguing. (I'm putting Luis Scola and Kevin Martin aside in this assessment; just talking about young guys still on rookie deals or early second contracts.) Morey on whether the draft determines how aggressive they'll be in the free agent market
DM: They're pretty unrelated. I think in general we're in the mode of trying to add players who are either right now All-Star caliber guys sort of like the trade that we did that didn't end up happening, or add guys we think are high upside guys who could become All-Star types.
SP: Every time Morey reminds us of the Pau Gasol non-trade, Luis Scola's hair loses a little more grease (the Rockets' equivalent of an angel losing its wings).
Morey on moving up in the draft, possibly into the top 10
DM: I think it's always hard. I think teams fall in love with who they might get so it's very hard, unless you're already top 10, to move within the top 10. I think if there is a move-up option it will be for a couple spots versus a big leap. We would like to move quite a bit up but I think that's unrealistic.
The nice thing is that after maybe the first three-to-five guys, it's pretty flat. We could easily get someone who we might rank six or seven at 14, just because it's very unpredictable after the first three-to-five picks in this draft.
SP: Updated odds on what happens with picks 14 and 16:
-- Rockets keep both picks +140 -- Rockets package picks to move up into the top 10 +1500 (I think they'd LOVE to do this, but takes two to tango) -- Rockets trade one or both of these picks as part of some deal for a player/more picks/a Moochie Norris bobble head -160
Morey on if he feels pressure this offseason after having not made the playoffs the last three years
DM: I think you have to continue to stay the course, stay with the plan. Obviously we're all frustrated that we haven't been a playoff team; that's not something that's acceptable. But I think worse would be to be impatient and to make moves that are very short term based when the reality is we need to add players. If that trade we had made had gone through, then you're making more short-term moves similar to how we added Ron Artest when we had Yao and Tracy. I think you need to keep the big picture in mind otherwise you can make mistakes in terms of losing your cap flexibility or losing your trade ability or hurting your draft status.
SP: ...sobbing....more Scola grease drips out....I weep....
Morey on the amount of pieces they have to make deals and if this is the most he's ever had as the GM
DM: Yeah, I think this is the second year without Yao. Obviously people see it as bigger but it's really the second year without his contract commitments. So now this is our first year where we're going to have cap room and I think cap room is a really good tool to create upgrades.
From a trade perspective, yeah, I think we've got more to work with than we're ever had to work with, and from a draft perspective as well. Now all that adds up to is not enough on the floor yet to be a playoff team, but it does give us our best hand that we've had to work with. Whereas in the past where we might have had the 3-7 off-suited, now we've got maybe a pocket pair of 8s or something (laughs). So we're going to continue to try to upgrade our ability to pull off the move or draft someone who's got upside or have one of our players who we very much believe in who we think could take a step forward as well.
SP: Anytime I'm in a rut, I like to remind myself of the things that I have going for myself, maybe even write those items on a piece of paper. (Typically, this is an exercise that takes roughly five or six seconds.) The Rockets are in a three-year rut, so to feel good about this offseason, let's make an asset list as they head into this critical month:
-- Roughly $20 million in salary cap space, depending on what they do with certain guys -- Picks 14 and 16 in a fairly deep draft (at least they think it's deep) -- Kevin Martin's $13 million contract expires after this season, could be valuable especially at deadline time -- Motiejunas is coming! -- Chandler Parsons was found money and could be of value in a deal -- Kyle Lowry has two years at roughly $6 million per year left on his deal, making him a desirable trade asset -- Right of first refusal on Courtney Lee -- Bird rights on Goran Dragic
Feeling any better? Slightly? Okay.
And finally, Morey on the Goran Dragic situation
DM: I mean he's wearing Rockets jerseys already so I feel like it's already done (laughs). We plan to bring Goran Dragic back. Obviously there's some days between the desire and making that happen, but I think he wants to be here, we want him here and that's the best start you can have. We can't really talk specifics until we get to that period but the fact that there's mutual interest, and not just a little but a lot, gives it a good chance to happen.
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SP: We need Dragic back just so we can hear Clyde spend 48 minutes calling a grown man "Gogie." Always makes me chuckle.
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