It's official, or as official as things can be in Houston GM Daryl Morey's world. The Houston Rockets are rebuilding. What started off as an offseason bent on one last attempt at acquiring Orlando Magic big man Dwight Howard through a series of draft-related shake-em-ups now has the team dealing point guard Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for guard Gary Forbes and a future first-round pick. This follows the departure of fellow point man Goran Dragic, the likely New York matching of Houston's eventual free-agent offer to Jeremy Lin, and the addition of three (good!) rookies through the draft.
Oh. And no Dwight Howard. No Samuel Dalembert, either, as last year's starter was sent to the Milwaukee Bucks so Houston could move up in the draft. And, in a surprise, there are even rumblings the Chicago Bulls might be interested in matching the Rockets' wildly rear-loaded contract offer to defensive stalwart Omer Asik.
Somehow, Lowry's departure is both the most surprising and the most obvious of Houston's offseason machinations. The dogged point man made waves during the playoffs by suggesting that he couldn't work under coach Kevin McHale, and that the team should look to trade him should Houston decide to hang on to the Hall of Fame (um, as a player …) coach. A rash of draft-related trade rumors sparked up, with one such line seemingly tossing the unhappy Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for the team's eighth overall pick in last month's draft. Instead, the Rockets waited until things fell apart, and sent Lowry away for … we don't know.
It's going to be a lottery pick, we know as much. Protected out of the lower 16 picks of the draft, in a move I cannot recall a mirrored one for in years of covering the NBA. It's also protected out of the top three next year, the top two in 2014 and 2015, and first overall in 2016. If the Raptors have a terrible time in the winnin' business over that span and luck out with those considerations, they'll also keep the pick. This is also where we remind you that Lowry has two years left on a contract that will pay him $12 million over that span (the final year the Raptors could even waive, should they decide to, and keep all but a million of the savings); a contract that might be the best value for production deal amongst NBA players that aren't on their initial rookie deals.
Lowry has been around since 2006, but he's only 26 even after six years of service. This puts him, like we mentioned with Goran Dragic as he scampered back to Phoenix, in the good-enough position of being old enough to be relied on by a young and flighty Toronto team, but young enough to be around (should the team extend him as a Raptor beyond 2014) if things finally pick up with a Raptor team that has made it out of the first round of the playoffs just once since the team's entrance into the NBA in 1995. In adding Lowry and Landry Fields so far this offseason, along with lottery pick Terrence Ross and potentially 2011 pick Jonas Valunciunas, the Raptors are slowly adding. Steadily.
The Rockets are wildly picking apart.
There isn't much left here but unending amounts of cap space. The team even removed its qualifying offer to Courtney Lee the other day, securing that the defensive-minded guard will sign elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent. Even with veterans Kevin Martin and Luis Scola (two guys that could truly put a very good team over the top if sent out in individual trades), the Rockets are still going to have to sign or acquire a few years just to vault over the minimum salary floor. Even if the Bulls pass on keeping Asik, the below-average first two years of his deal guarantee that the Rockets will still have plenty of room to maneuver under the cap.
Even if, as it has been for years with the team's myriad and by now infamous "assets," the franchise has nobody to spend it on.
It could be a train wreck, or it could be the start of something huge in Houston. Whatever the eventual destination, the moves haven't finished. And it's been astonishing to watch, as a hoop head.
Enjoy your damn good point guard, Toronto.