COMMENTARY | The 2011-12 season was a strange one for the Houston Rockets.
In Kevin McHale's first year as the Rockets' head coach, he helped guide Houston to a 34-32 record in the lockout-shortened season, surpassing all expectations. Like so many other teams, Houston was planning to make a splash in the summer of 2012, hoping to score Dwight Howard via trade or Deron Williams via free agency.
Instead of hitting it big, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey completely struck out, and instead decided to settle for a pair of above-market-value contracts to restricted free agents Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
As it turned out, Morey pulled off the genius trade to get James Harden a handful of months later, and then pried Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers the following summer. All is well that ends OK, I guess.
However, did Morey's dreams of bringing in Williams and Howard keep him from retaining the biggest bargain of the summer of 2012?
Houston spent the first half of its up-and-down 2011-12 season with Kyle Lowry as its point guard, and the Villanova product was en route to a career year before going down in early March with an injury. Before getting hurt, Lowry averaged 15.9 points, 7.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals a night for the surprising Rockets, nearly earning his first All-Star bid.
Meanwhile, Goran Dragic played second fiddle to Lowry, averaging just 7.5 points, 3.4 assists and 20.1 minutes per game up until Lowry went on the shelf. When Lowry went down, though, Dragic took the team by the horns, and pushed it to new heights. During Lowry's absence, Dragic averaged 18.5 points (52% FG and 44% 3pt), 8.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
When Lowry was finally ready to return to the lineup, McHale did his best to ease him back into the rotation, but ultimately decided to keep Dragic as the starter. Within a week, Houston started to fade, dropping six games in a row and falling out of contention. It was clear that Lowry's return had messed with the chemistry, and it was later reported that Lowry was unhappy with his reduced role.
We'll never know how much Lowry's negative attitude actually affected the team (although, I'm of the belief it cost it a playoff berth), but, either way, Houston entered the offseason with a number of decisions to make. Morey wanted to grab a couple stars and abandon most of the surprisingly competitive roster; he was only able to do the latter.
Morey traded Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for 50 cents on the dollar, amnestied Luis Scola and dealt Samuel Dalembert to move up a few spots in the draft. But, worst of all (in retrospect), he let Dragic walk in free agency. At the time, it wasn't clear whether the Phoenix Suns had made the right move offering Dragic, who had only started 36 games in four seasons, $30 million over four years, but time has validated the move.
This season, while playing alongside Eric Bledsoe and a crew of outcasts that includes Gerald Green, P.J Tucker, Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee and a couple of identical twins, Dragic has put together his most impressive season as a pro. The numbers are pretty for Steve Nash's former backup, as he's averaged 19 points and 6 assists on 49% from the field and 38% from distance. More importantly, he has led the Suns to a 21-16 record in the highly contested Western Conference. To put that in perspective, some people, including myself, didn't have Phoenix winning 21 games all year.
We're all geniuses in retrospect, but as a Rockets contributor and as someone who truly enjoyed watching Dragic run the show in Houston, I have to wonder aloud:
What if Morey would have offered the three-year, $25 million contract to Dragic instead of Lin (which actually could have happened)? More importantly, what if Dragic would have accepted the deal and stayed in Houston?
At the time, I was of the belief that Dragic could have been Houston's long-term solution at point guard, which is something Morey is still searching for. Obviously, every situation doesn't translate perfectly, and you can't just compare Dragic's numbers to Lin's. But at this point I think it's clear that Dragic is a superior overall player. Dragic is a better ball-handler and floor general, while Lin's best attribute, his ability to slash and score, is only equal to Dragic's abilities as a scorer (although I'd argue that Dragic is a better scorer as well).
Also, judging by what I've seen from Dragic in Houston and in Phoenix, he'd be an amazing complement to Harden. Despite being great scorers, both Dragic and Harden are creative and willing passers, and there's no doubt that they'd combine to form one of the best and most exciting backcourts in the game.
It's easy to go into a franchise's history and point out the missteps of its front office, and I'm not in the business of doing that; I'm just giving out a little food for thought. Replace Lin with Dragic and is Houston farther along in its progression? Are the Rockets looking for their final piece during the trade deadline? Are they set for the next couple years at the 1? Would Dragic's dribble-heavy mode of attack actually detract from the overall product of the team, or would it complement their style and provide stability?
The Suns are certainly the feel-good story of the NBA season, and Dragic is a big reason why. Would all of his skills translate as a third or fourth option who is playing next to a pair of superstars? Maybe. Maybe not.
We'll never really know, but it's worth the thought.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie who has followed the Rockets since his childhood. He often wonders why left-handed shooters have such pretty shooting strokes.
- Sports & Recreation
- Houston Rockets
- Goran Dragic
- Kyle Lowry
- Daryl Morey