Daryl Morey, as always, had us all fooled.
We assumed the Rockets' general manager had little on the table for the dead carcass of Tracy McGrady, save the Bulls' and Knicks' offers centered around future draft picks that could later be used as assets to trade for a star. The offers weren't bad, but for the Rockets to acquire the second star that TMac was supposed to be, it meant a delay of the process.
Then, early Thursday morning, news broke and tomorrow became today. Kevin Martin - he of the 24 points per game average on above 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc over the last two seasons in Sacramento - is a Houston Rocket.
And as fans - just as we did with last season's Rafer Alston for Kyle Lowry deadline swap - we apologize for having even the slightest of doubts about the best executive in basketball.
Doesn't this seem familiar?
Sure, the trade doesn't come without risk. No big one does. Carl Landry is a steep price to pay, and one of the most efficient offensive big men in the league, scoring 16 points on 55 percent shooting in 27 minutes. But his defense was still matador-esque, and he wasn't adept at handling the double teams that top options draw.
Over time, could he develop in both of those areas? Sure. But there's a compelling case that as a second-round draft pick, Landry had maxed out his ability (and value). Given Morey's history, that's what I tend to believe. Moreover, the Rockets also have Luis Scola at power forward.
Martin, on the other hand, has already made the good-to-elite leap that Landry is still searching for. He's lightning quick with unlimited range. He's a team player with a great reputation around the league. He drives to the basket with authority.
Unfortunately for him, Sacramento rookie Tyreke Evans is the type that needs to dominate the ball to be effective -- picture Steve Francis in Houston -- and the two never meshed. That opened up an opportunity for Morey to acquire his second star, and he took full advantage.
Yes, Martin has been injured, and Rockets fans are a sensitive lot to that. However, there's a difference in being injury-prone and simply having bad luck. With Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, you know it's the former. McGrady has had well-documented chronic back problems since his entrance into the NBA, and Yao has broken the same foot three times.
But the injuries to "K-Mart" over the past three seasons -- a broken wrist off a freak accident, sprained ankle and pulled hamstring -- appear to be random bad luck, more than anything else. Remember, Vince Carter was once considered injury-prone as well, even as he appeared to have no chronic problems. He's since played 76 or more games in each of the past four seasons.
Landry will certainly be missed, particularly by those of us in the media, for which he was a godsend and the best interview on the team. But while he's a wonderful story for a second-round pick and a great guy, he's a complimentary piece. Martin is a star.
A lineup of Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Yao Ming with Kyle Lowry, Chase Budinger, Trevor Ariza and Chuck Hayes off the bench can be a true contender. Yes, they need to stay healthy. Yes, they need to find an offensively-capable big man in the off-season to come off the bench. But that team has scoring, shooting, defense and overall balance on both ends.
It would take a lot of things going right, but admit it. There's a case to be made where the 2010-11 Rockets, upon Yao's return, can truly challenge the Lakers. We didn't see that case on Wednesday night.
That's where Morey steps in.
Somehow, it's not even that much of a surprise. Welcome back to NBA relevance, Rockets.