The NBA trade deadline is always a weird time. It comes on the heels of the NBA's most glamorous weekend and right in the middle of the season. Most years there are trades here and there. Occasionally, there's a blockbuster. Since Daryl Morey has taken over as the general manager for the Rockets, they have almost always been involved. The deadline is today and Morey has said he did not expect the Rockets to do anything this year. Yeah, right.
Prior to the start of the Oklahoma City game at Toyota Center Wednesday night, the Rockets pulled starter Patrick Patterson, rotation players Marcus Morris and Toney Douglas, and back-up center Cole Aldrich from the team's active roster, and anyone paying attention knew something was afoot. The first deal to go down, according to reports, was a trade with the Sacramento Kings, a franchise in limbo as they wait to see if they will remain in California or be moved to Seattle in the offseason. But very few expected them to do what they did last night.
Sacramento sent the fifth pick in last year's draft, power forward Thomas Robinson (only the fifth top five pick to be traded in his rookie season in league history), along with sharp-shooting veteran guard Francisco Garcia and forward Tyler Honeycutt, to Houston in exchange for Patterson, Douglas and Aldrich. In a separate move, Morris was dealt to the Suns for a second-round draft pick. Morris will reunite in Phoenix with his identical twin brother, Markieff.
Meanwhile, on the floor, the shorthanded Rockets flew out to an early lead over the Thunder, the reigning Western Conference champs and former home to James Harden, who was acquired by the Rockets during the preseason. The Thunder eventually erased the deficit and took as much as a 14-point lead late in the game.
But the backcourt of Harden and Jeremy Lin led the Rockets back during a scintillating fourth quarter. Both hit critical three-pointers and free throws down the stretch as the home team beat the Thunder for the first time this year 122-119, raising their record to 30-26. Harden had a career-high 46 points on 14-19 shooting including 7-8 from beyond the arc and 11-12 from the free throw line to go with 8 rebounds and 6 assists in 44 minutes of action. It overshadowed an absolutely fantastic game by Lin, who finished with 29 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
For the first time in what seemed like forever, the Toyota Center erupted as the Rockets took the fourth quarter 35-27 despite dressing only nine players and watching as Chandler Parsons crumpled to the ground after rolling an ankle in the second half (fortunately, he'd return later after being helped off the floor).
For some perspective on how good the Rockets backcourt has been, Matt Jackson from sports radio station KBME 790 AM tweeted these eye-popping stats this morning: In February, Harden is averaging 30 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor and 55 percent from three-point range. During that same time, Lin is averaging 17 points and 7 assists while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range.
Yet, with all the fireworks on the floor, it was yet another trade by Morey that captivated hard-core fans last night. Not only does the deal bring in a top five draft pick in a draft many considered to be VERY deep, but it actually frees additional cap space, giving them greater flexibility in the offseason to go after another big-time free agent. They are already more than $5 million under the cap and Garcia has a $6.1 million contract with a team option, meaning he'll likely be let go at the end of the season.
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All this is happening to the youngest team in the NBA, a team that is currently in the eighth spot in the West and should almost certainly challenge for the playoffs.
The move for Robinson, a talented power forward out of Kansas who has played limited minutes on a bad Sacramento team, will free up time for youngsters like Dontas Montejunas, who, by all reports, has been playing extremely well lately, and rookie Terrence Jones. It also gives them another veteran shooter in Garcia, who can light it up from distance.
At this point, even if the Rockets made no moves at all, there is a legitimate argument to make that they have the pieces they need to be a serious contender for the Western Conference title in the not too distant future. But don't be surprised if Morey pulls another rabbit out of his hat, maybe even before the deadline this afternoon.