Anyone who went to a college with fraternities, sororities, or even just big-time football weekends knows what it's like to live on that row of houses or apartments where every Friday and Saturday is a parade of different keg parties.
It's loud, it's raucous, and usually pretty damn fun. But sometimes there are weekends where you just want to lay low, but the craziness is still tough to avoid. No matter how hard you try to keep the lights off at your place and just settle in to watch a movie or play Madden, you hear the music outside and you know that one of your shitfaced friends is going to knock on your door and you're going to get sucked in.
Well, the NBA free-agency market in 2010 is that row of loud, drunken frat houses, and Daryl Morey has been the dude trying to ignore the noise and just play NCAA 2011 Dynasty mode in peace. Unfortunately, Kyle Lowry just showed up at his door with a $24 million keg of beer (or at least an offer sheet for keg beer that he got down the street at the Pi Kappa Gilbert house).
It was just a matter of time before the free-agency lunacy of this summer knocked on the Rockets' door; after all, they have two of the more coveted restricted free agents on the market in Lowry and Luis Scola. With every Wesley Matthews and Drew Gooden seeming to get a shiny new five-year deal for $30-some-odd million, it became more and more apparent that Rocket GM Daryl Morey's blanket vow of "We will match whatever offers come Kyle's or Luis' way" would be put to the test.
That day came yesterday.
The Cleveland Cavaliers signed Lowry to an offer sheet for a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth year that could total as much as $24 million. The Rockets have seven days to match the offer or Lowry becomes a Cleveland Cavalier, and likely moves into their starting lineup. So, if you're the Rockets you now have a decision to make -- whether or not to pay about $6 million per year for your backup point guard.
For the average, casual NBA fan to get to the place where that makes sense means you've accepted that (a) we operate in a world where the average annual salary is nearly $6 million per year and (b) this offseason that amount (and frankly, amounts even greater than that...cough...Amir Johnson) has been going to players who are not even average NBA players.
Honestly, if you haven't accepted those two things, you probably didn't click on this article.
Fortunately, Daryl Morey is not the average, casual NBA fan. He's a number cruncher, a value hunter, and someone who looks at every move with an eye on how it could potential play into the next four moves he's pondering. So when Morey's done crunching the statistical and the subjective on Kyle Lowry, he'll come to the only logical conclusion -- matching the Cavs' offer to Lowry is a no-brainer. (Honestly, I think it's such an easy decision that I'm fearful Morey might do it sometime in the forty minutes or so between the time I submit this post and the time it goes up on HoustonPress.com, rendering it obsolete.)
I think any time you're evaluating a player, you start with looking at the "bring to the table" factors, i.e. "What are the things he does really, really well and just how well does he do them compared to his peers?" With Lowry, there are a few things --
1. If you lose Lowry, you're losing your toughest and grittiest backcourt defender in a backcourt that is (at least in the starting lineup with Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin) one of the worst defensively in the league. If Steve Nash or Deron Williams or Chris Paul is having a typical Nash/Williams/Paul night and you want to do something -- anything -- to disrupt their rhythm, Lowry is the guy who does that, not Brooks.
2. Lowry's "Rebound Rate", which is the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds, is the second best in the entire league among point guards at 8.6, behind only Jason Kidd and ahead of bigger, longer point guards like Russell Westbrook, Tyreke Evans and Rajon Rondo.
(NOTE: Each of those first two bullet points are completely a product of desire and effort and the gargantuan chip that is installed on the shoulder of players who come from Philadelphia. My point is (and this is never a lock) that you likely won't have to worry about all of a sudden not getting the same work rate from Lowry that you were getting under his rookie contract.)
3. Although he's a below-average outside shooter, Lowry is a very good free-throw shooter (over 80 percent) which means you can have him on the floor at the end of games and you don't have to worry about giving up empty possessions at the free throw line. He can close out games for a good team, if you need him.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room is that any decision you make with Kyle Lowry has to be made with Aaron Brooks in mind. The perception around the league, and probably among Rockets' fans, is that Brooks is the leader of the two-headed Rocket point-guard monster (see Player, NBA's Most Improved), but the fact of the matter is when you Ben Franklin the pro's and con's of each guy, Lowry probably has more things he does at an elite level for a point guard than Brooks. There are at least two for Lowry -- on-ball defense and rebounding. Brooks is a multifaceted scorer for a point guard, and probably does more things pretty well than Lowry.
And therein lies my point -- the Rockets have to ask themselves two questions --
1. If Kyle Lowry is getting a $6 million per year deal this offseason, what will Aaron Brooks get when it's his turn at restricted free agency next year? Perception leads me to believe more than that, maybe a lot more -- if the Knicks gave Raymond Felton $7 million per year, and Brooks were out there, wouldn't he have gotten at least that from somebody? Maybe more? (And yes, everything beyond 2010 has a huge collective bargaining asterisk next to it, I get it.)
2. If the Rockets decide to trade Brooks (and his name is seemingly always the first one to come up in almost every trade scenario) and it's not for Chris Paul, are you good with Kyle Lowry as your starting point guard? Assuming whomever came back in a Brooks trade was an elite scorer at another position (and assuming Yao is healthy....yeah, I hear ya), then I would say "Probably."
So in conclusion, did Daryl Morey look outside at the row of drunken debauchery at the Milwaukee, Memphis, and New Jersey frat houses this offseason and say to himself "You know what, if at all possible, I'm just hanging in tonight. I don't feel like getting THAT shitfaced."? Probably. But much like fraternity row and any college campus, eventually peer pressure forces you to do things you'd rather not do -- like pay Kyle Lowry $6 million per year. But then you realize that you kind of have to do it -- after all, you chose to go to a party school.
Now when Luis Scola shows up on Morey's doorstep with a $10 million per year jug of purple drank, then we'll find out just how much Daryl wants to party.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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