Ugly aftermath of trade deadline begins for Houston Rockets

Feb 4, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts on the court at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts on the court at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Rockets dirty laundry has been laid to bare and now the squad has just 26 games left to reshape their disappointing season.

With the trade deadline past, the only roster additions Daryl Morey can make to the 2016 version of the Houston Rockets are players who get released, bought out or decide to toss in their golf shoes and lace up their Nikes (Ray Allen anyone?).

Now the inevitable acquiescing of feelings must occur with GM Morey needing to massage the fractured ego’s of Dwight Howard, Ty Lawson and Patrick Beverley who were all openly shopped. Terrence Jones may also be in a funk given his name was the one (other than Lawson) most prominently in the news as being available.

In a game that requires a high level of confidence for ultimate production on the court, finding out you are expendable can’t be easy. Moreover the fact your name could be publicly shopped with no remorse speaks to how little the Rockets value the players feelings or relevance on the team.

In the aftermath of Morey shopping so many assets those players now have to find a reason to bust their asses in a manner for the team to win without looking like they are trying to build their own personal resume for the summer.

The Expendable

Dwight Howard: Immediately following the Rockets second loss to the Blazers in five days Howard, James Harden and Daryl Morey met behind closed doors. Interesting it took Houston falling out of the playoff seeds for the team leaders and GM to recognize there were major issues at hand.

Oh to be a fly on the wall of the meeting that had two players who had each individually marched into Morey’s office last season requesting the others trade.

Sure Fran Blinebury noted this occurrence, but on the same day as the deadline in TORONTO I had already learned about that fact via The Hangout a weekly Toronto Raptors and NBA show. Akil Augustine spoke of both players requesting the trade of the other leader, so this was knowledge obviously widely known even North of the border!

(Though you won’t hear about the double trade request bit it in the YouTube selection below you’ll get a feel for this very well produced show that has Augustine hosting with a rotating panel of 3 guests weekly.)

So  as the seconds on the clocked neared the deadline cut-off we kept seeing Morey was still actively shopping the big man to all interested parties. Seemingly the two clubs most intrigued were the Charlotte Hornets who were said to have offered their own troubled big man Al Jefferson along with Spencer Hawes and Mark Stein noted Milwaukee showed interest, but backed out because of uncertainty over Howard’s likelihood to exercise his opt out this summer (as did most of the teams who showed interest presumably).

ESPN sources say Milwaukee made offer for Dwight Howard but talks broke down in part because Howard wouldn't opt into final year of contract

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2016

Additionally, Stein reported the Hawks, Celtics, Bulls, Mavericks and Heat all made inquiries on Howard. If you ask Morey he’ll likely say the Rockets were just doing their due diligence in gauging interest and if you ask the opposing team GM’s they’ll tell you for Morey to take that many calls he was actively trying to trade Howard. At the end of the day retaining Howard this summer is going to be a difficult task given how aggressively Morey tried to peddle him.

ESPN sources say Houston also talked Dwight Howard with Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami. Looming free agency big obstacle

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2016

Ty Lawson: What appeared to be a second chance for the troubled point guard quickly became a nightmare as his season has been marred by the one person who was the catalyst in bringing him to Houston. James Harden finished the 2014-15 campaign citing the need for another ball handler and an upgrade at the point. At the time this was a logical request given Beverley is a defensive specialist that lacks in ball handling skills. But if you were to ask either Lawson or Beverley how they feel towards the bearded All-Star at this juncture I’m not sure either is enamored with Harden.

Lawson specifically was never given any true time to gel with the starters mostly due to the fact Harden arrived in camp over weight partially from a badly sprained ankle and partially from a summer of hitting the party circuit with Khloe Kardashian and her famous family/entourage and Kanye West. It certainly appeared like Harden was more excited about celebrating his adidas $200 million deal than he was about integrating Lawson into the Rockets system. Now Lawson is posting the worst stat production of his career. Surely he’ll bolt at first opportunity (who can blame him) and he’ll need to sign a deal well below what he could have if he’d played for a team even remotely willing to utilize his assets.

A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on Aug 26, 2015 at 3:46pm PDT

Harden and Kanye
Harden and Kanye /

Patrick Beverley: News Beverley was also on the chopping block was a bit shocking given how loudly and aggressively Lawson had been being shopped. Without a buyer for Lawson perhaps Morey knowing the team still needed a strong ball handling point guard who could work with Harden became a priority. But, with Beverley remaining in Houston now the team has to deal with 2 disgruntled point guards who know how disposable they are to the franchise!

Terrence Jones: All season it was widely reported the Rockets would trade Jones over Donatas Motiejunas due to D-Mo’s versatility. Both power forwards entered their fourth season without a signed rookie extension which meant Houston would end up either in a bidding war or have to spend above their predetermined salary threshold. The fact James Harden spoke glowingly of how critical Motiejunas presence was last season, and how excited he was about the Lithuanian’s impending return gave credence to the belief he’d be a Rocket not just past the deadline, but well into the future.

Jones who is still dealing with post concussion issues will now return to a team with a leader who has never spoken in the manner he did of Motiejunas and also knows he was being shopped.

The Fallout:

The bottom line is Morey made it abundantly clear how little regard he has for the 4 players listed above. If he did then their names wouldn’t have been leaked publicly. Surely tons of players names were discussed over the course of the day, but for some unknown reason Houston, Atlanta and Chicago were the only teams who did nothing to protect their players.

Every trade deadline has players who’ll draw speculation based on circumstance. Chief among them this season was Ryan Anderson and Markieff Morris. Anderson was expected given his 3-point shooting prowess and Pelicans poor record while Morris’ situation left no room for resolution.

As for the Rockets, Hawks and Bulls their absolute disregard for the players feelings will likely result in them losing several if not all of these players upon first opportunity.  Sure, it’s a business first and foremost, but with 27 teams able to keep their efforts silent it only makes this disregard more poignant.  The lack of professionalism of the 3 aforementioned teams may explain why all have struggled to an extent this season and are rumored to have internal chemistry issues.

As an example, Blake Murphy from Raptors Republic points to this fact: Masai Ujiri runs a very tight shop in Toronto which often leads to the Raptors being cited in articles as having interest in players. In 99.9% of the cases these claims are untrue. As Murphy points out agents and GM’s know Ujiri will simply refuse to respond so it’s a safe way to draw attention to a player they want the spotlight on. For the same reason teams like the Spurs and Portland  are never in the news,  Likewise teams who have solid leadership like the Thunder and Warriors also don’t have this issue.

Moving forward:

There can’t help but be hurt feelings as the team attempts to maneuver through the final portion of the schedule. Worse, now the 4 players have to try to make things work on the court for both the team who needs to make a solid run to make the post season, and themselves (especially Howard, Lawson and Jones). They need to put up strong numbers in order to merit strong summer contract offers. The problem is how these players overlook trying to deliver their best for a franchise who didn’t offer them their best.

The other factor which merits mentioning is how much responsibility falls on Harden over the demise of the Rockets. Though Howard certainly has a reputation for being a malcontent, the fact Harden requested Howard’s trade and was cited as the main player lobbying for McHale’s dismissal can’t be overlooked.

More from Space City Scoop

Being in the spotlight is wonderful when it comes with awards, All-Star selections and copious endorsements. But being a leader requires dedication, work ethic, humility and the capacity to gain your teammates respect. During the All-Star weekend Harden said he manages the latter by his on-court effort as well as via direct discussion.

It was this response given during his All-Star interview that I found suspect, since the nights the team plays poor defensively (which is more frequently than not) it’s often Harden who is taking entire quarters off. Defense works best when all 5 players are dialed in to their duties and each is willing to help (and help the helper). When Harden doesn’t do his job defensively he puts his teammates in a bad spot where they end up being the guy who looks bad because Harden is either late coming over to help or the man helping can’t recover fast enough from picking up Harden’s man.

A team has to view each game as a battle, like going to war and put their trust in one another. But, if your captain is only willing to bask in the spotlight where he doesn’t have to get dirty how can he expect his court mates to jump into the mud to continually cover for Harden’s lack of effort?

The other aspect is Harden has skated free and clear so far for his failings while Howard has arguably taken all the heat. Making matters worse – based on him sitting on the chopping block at the deadline he’s keenly aware he is the more expendable of the 2 stars. He knows, if he wants to stay in Houston it has to be on Harden’s terms. And, considering Harden isn’t just the primary scorer he also controls who gets shots, when they get shots and how many shots each player will get per game.  Plus, Howard will be repeatedly tasked with constant pressure from guards in the paint because Harden has elected to take that quarter, half or game off.

And in a loss where Harden has scored 30 points few will point to the fact he didn’t pass the ball to Howard or attempt to play team defense as the reason for the loss. In essence Howard is in a catch 22 all because of his past reputation. It’s a precarious position for the big man to be in. All his life he’s been ‘the man’, but now has altered his game to let Harden be the main recipient of the flashing camera’s. The fact he did step back speaks to his willingness to be a true leader. Alternatively, Harden asked for another ball handler and got it, but did nothing to help integrate Lawson since he wasn’t willing to alter his own game. THAT fact alone should be punctuating the real problem for Clutch City fans. And need I remind everyone what Harden’s role was in the Game 6 come back versus the Clippers last season – – warming the bench!

Hey, some guys just aren’t willing to shoulder blame or give up the glory in order for the team to win. In Harden’s case I truly question if he’s ascended to the point where he will compensate for the betterment of the team. If he was willing he’d have done it at season start, and then perhaps this team wouldn’t be in the state they are currently.

Suffice to say he’s got 26 games left to change my opinion on this matter, and to gain his teammates respect. I wonder what the over – under odds on that happening are! If he errors by taking care of ‘his’ thus ending up on the under side of that equation, Morey may well end up wishing he’d dropped just one name at the deadline!

Next: Peering into the future

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