The Rockets finished the 2011-12 NBA season with perhaps the top point guard combination in the entire league. Kyle Lowry was a borderline All-Star at midseason and one of the top all-around players at the position, not to mention a massive bargain at $5.75 million per year.
When Lowry went down with a bacterial infection in March, his backup Goran Dragic stepped up huge, at one point garnering Player of the Week honors for the Western Conference.
I hope you enjoyed them both, Rocket fans, because now they're gone.
Dragic's leaving was a mild surprise to Red Nation, only because the Rockets said that they would do whatever they needed to keep him and the vibe coming out of Toyota Center seemed to be a comfort level that both parties wanted to stay in business together. However, when free agency began, every piece of news surrounding the Dragic-Rockets negotiation was about how far apart the two sides were. It's like all of the previous Dragic intel we'd heard occurred in an alternate universe.
Eventually, Dragic inked a four-year, $34 million deal with the team that sent him packing a year or so ago, the Phoenix Suns. In keeping with the "overpaying for guys you once had at a bargain and then kicked to the curb" theme, the Rockets had been haggling over an offer sheet with Jeremy Lin for three days before agreeing to a deal for "near Dragic" money Thursday night. Of course, Lin is a restricted free agent and the New York Knicks will almost assuredly match the Rockets' offer in order to keep Lin.
Lowry's departure was far less surprising, and probably more acrimonious than Dragic's. Lowry had been unhappy with everything, from his role coming off the bench to the guy whose decision it was to bring him off the bench (Kevin McHale), ever since he returned from his mysterious ailment late in the season.
Maybe the only thing surprising about the deal, which sends Lowry to Toronto for a uniquely protected first-round pick (more on this in a moment) and something called Gary Forbes, is that it didn't occur on draft night when apparently the teams were close on a deal involving the eighth pick in the 2012 draft (which the Raptors used on Washington guard Terrence Ross).
Instead, the two teams get a deal done one week later and it could potentially be much better for the Rockets than the eighth pick. It also could be worse, but it's a unique gamble. Here's how the protection on the Raptors first-round pick will work with this deal, courtesy of Clutchfans.net:
Houston receives the Raptors draft pick next year if it falls between 4-14. If not, it must fall between 3-14 in 2014 or 2015 or 2-14 in 2016 or 2017 to come to Houston. If it never hits any of those ranges, the pick goes to Houston unprotected in 2018.
I like the structure of it. If the Raptors suck over the next few years (a strong possibility for a franchise that is giving out multi-year deals to Landry Fields and Amir Johnson like they're drink tickets at a keg party), then there's a good chance the Rockets will have a top-ten (likely even better) pick on their hands. If the Raptors happen to turn into a playoff team this season (and the next four after that), the Rockets have to wait until 2018 to get anything, which with a young roster here is probably more desirable than having to add another rookie with a pick in the high teens over the next few years.
The worst-case (and easily the most tragically hilarious) scenario would be the Raptors morphing into the Rockets of the East, and the Rockets getting saddled with the fourteenth pick again.
So we say goodbye to Dragic and Lowry, as both continue the trend of Rocket point guards going from hometown heroes to squirrelly heels (although neither comes close to Aaron Brooks's heel turn, which saw him go from Most Improved Player in 2009-2010 to borderline asshole in 2011, complete with ejections and ball-throwing incidents) and then eventually saying "Adios."
If you're keeping score at home, as of this typing, the Rockets lineup going into the weekend looks like this:
PG: Jeremy Lin's signed offer sheet SG: Kevin Martin's expiring contract C: Omer Asik's signed offer sheet SF: Chandler Parsons PF: A roulette wheel with roughly a hundred names on it
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But Daryl Morey won another trade, he got over Toronto, so yay.
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