Though the Houston Rockets clearly won Wednesday’s Thomas Robinson/Patrick Patterson deal – acquiring a young forward whose work on a rookie contract will last longer than Patterson’s will, gaining more cap space along the way – it’s easy to forget that the teams involved in such deals have no real interest in who wins or loses these things. That the coaches don’t really care about summertime cap flexibility when they have to call on that first big man off the bench in February, and that players may actually have lasting relationships with any or all of the “assets” dealt.
Jeremy Lin, in the hours after Wednesday night’s thrilling Rockets/Oklahoma City Thunder bash-fest, was pretty despondent despite the win and despite perhaps his best game as a member of the Rockets. It’s clear that the first-year Houston guard was more than a little bummed about losing Patterson, Toney Douglas, Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris (in another deal, with Phoenix) in swift succession. From CSN Houston:
“That was just pretty much the worst thing,” Jeremy Lin said. “It sucks because we’re a close-knit team and we actually really, really care about everybody that got shipped off and it was just really emotional for me.
“To be honest, I was like ‘I don’t even want to play. I don’t even want to play tonight.’ It was really emotional. I wish them the best. It just sucks to see them go and I guess that’s a part of the business but that’s a tough part for me.”
This may have been Houston’s most important game of the year – a home tilt against the defending conference champions, and James Harden’s former team. And yet Lin – only a Rocket for two-thirds of a season, now – was so down about losing four teammates that he didn’t even feel like lacing up. And before you go off on Jeremy, understand that he probably spoke for just about everyone associated with the Rockets’ roster on Wednesday night.
Friendships aside, this was a great deal for Houston. They’ll pay more in 2012-13, what’s left of the season at least, and get a lottery-selected big man and extra cap space in the summer (should they decide to decline Francisco Garcia’s team option, a likely maneuver) for their troubles. More assets and more space for a team that has had plenty in the past, with little to show until they unloaded with Oklahoma City in the move to grab James Harden.
Harden’s presence in acquiring free agents will help, according to coach Kevin McHale, but in the meantime the threat of cap room isn’t putting any fear into the opposing power forward. From USA Today:
Rockets coach Kevin McHale is clearly hoping the cap room is eventually spent on a big-time player, though he's not about to assume as much.
"I've never seen Cap Room score a basket yet though," McHale said recently. "I've seen old Cap, and his last name is Room, I've yet to see him put a hoop in, haven't seen him block a shot, haven't seen him get a rebound yet. But when Cap Room starts putting up numbers, we should be in great shape."
Jokes aside, McHale said Houston has plenty to offer prospective free agents.
"It's a good city," he said. "It's a city, I think, that people want to come to; a lot of players live there in the offseason. I think it's a nice draw. And then having a guy like James, of course, is a big draw."
The “big draw,” in an NBA completely re-strung after the 2011 lockout, isn’t what it used to be. Not only are teams literally and figuratively paying for the big contracts signed before that labor dispute, but just about every team is fearful of the impending repeater luxury tax – and if you don’t think owners in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and New York will be wary of paying so much for less than guaranteed results, bookmark this page and come back to it in three or four years.
Having cap space on hand in order to make deals, as Houston general manager Daryl Morey proved with Harden last October, is key. Having cap space also means you can facilitate deals with other teams that are desperate to avoid the tax or cut overall payroll, as the Rockets could prove on Thursday before the 2 p.m. local trade deadline.
That still means moving people – not assets, not cap figures – around from town to town. All while expecting the people they work with to act as cold and exacting as we do while discussing potential deals, or summarizing a transaction’s aftermath. Even if the action on Thursday’s trade deadline is relatively light, look out for some slumped shoulders on Thursday and Friday. Some guys will have lost a locker next to a chum, after a GM throws another too-expensive contract to the sharks.
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