Friday, July 25, 2008

Summer Leaguers

The NBA Summer League is over and the Rockets contingent played to mixed reviews. To keep it simple, I'll only address the four Rockets participants that stand a good chance of making the team this year (in alphabetical order).

Aaron Brooks (B-): Since the Rockets drafted forwards this year, Brooks' development is more important than ever. He said before the Summer League began that he was going to concentrate on playmaking. In that regard, he did fairly well, averaging 7 assists in his five starts versus 2.8 turnovers. Shooting was another story. He scored 16.8 ppg, but only hit at a 37% clip, including a miserable 20% from beyond the arc. Considering the level of competition, that's not good enough.

Joey Dorsey (Incomplete): Joey only played in two games, spraining his ankle in mid-tournament. In those 2 games, he hit a gaudy 82.4% of his shots and grabbed 27 rebounds. He also had 4 turnovers and 6 fouls per game. At the end of the 3rd game, Dorsey was on the bench in street clothes and harrassed the referee until he drew a technical foul. The Rockets were ahead by three at the time with only a few seconds to play. The Nuggets hit the free throw and tied the game with a two-pointer at the buzzer. Denver went on to win the game in OT. Right now, Dorsey is a young man with a lot of potential - and a lot to learn.

Donte Greene (A-): The second-highest scorer in all of the Summer League, Donte averaged 22.6 ppg, shooting 42.5% from the field and hit 36.8% of his 3-pointers. But at 6' 9", he only grabbed 3.6 rpg and turned the ball over 3 times per game. At this point in his career though, I'll take the scoring and build from there. That is, after all, what he was drafted to do.

Mike Harris (C+): Mike is a known commodity to the Rockets. He joined the team in mid-season last year and added much-needed depth to the bench. In his five games in the Summer League, he averaged 13.4 ppg and hit 59.2% of his shots. At only 6' 6", he pulled down 7.6 rebounds per game, but his play was erratic. He averaged 2.8 TO's, seven in one game against Washington. Based on his height and talent levels, Harris is an over-achiever, but a workaholic player like him can be a real asset in the locker room and on the bench.

Like I said, mixed reviews. But this competition will only weigh a little bit on who gets the last 2 or 3 positions on the bench next season. Mostly it is just good practice for the youngsters and gives the rookies a small taste of what it will be like at the next level.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Will you take this man...?

After a long engagement period, the Rockets finally landed their first choice in the free agent market. Brent Barry, a 36 year-old guard/forward from the San Antonio Spurs, agreed to terms on a two-year contract worth $3.9 Million. Darryl Morey has courted Barry since he was briefly available in February when he was traded to the Sonics, then released. Barry opted to return to San Antonio to finish the season, but Morey didn't give up. On Thursday, Barry finally said "I do."

This was a smart move financially. Morey was able to get the deal done using only their "biannual exception" to sign Barry, keeping their full mid-level exception to match any offer up to that amount that restricted free agent Carl Landry receives (starting at $5.585 million for the 2008-09 season).

It was equally smart basketball-wise. Brent has been consistently productive throughout his career, playing in 84 playoff games and contributing to two world championships. He is Rick Adelman's type of player, hard-nosed and smart. I have heard negative comments that his averages have dropped off in the four years he was with the Spurs, but the truth is that he became a backup with the championship-quality Spurs and his minutes went way down. His per-minute avergages remained consistent with his early years in the league.

It seems likely that Barry will replace Steve Novak on the roster. Novak is a great 3-point shooter, but has been unable to match up defensively with NBA power forwards and is too slow to play small forward. Barry shoots over 40% from beyond the arc (even better in the playoffs) and is a good defensive player with excellent instincts. The other good news on this front is that every team in the league is looking for scoring, so Novak may be tradable, at least for a future draft choice.

The other possibility is that Barry will edge out Luther Head. You've got to love Luther's guts and determination, but he's a little short to defend the larger shooting guards and makes too many bad choices distributing the ball to play the point. Luther is in a similar position to Novak in that he also has trade value. A late first-rounder or high second for either of them would be a feather in the Rockets' cap down the road.

Of course, it is also possible that Head and Novak may both stay, but room has to be made for the two new draft choices too, assuming they can make the team. Certainly Mike Harris and Loren Woods are on the bubble. If the Rockets are not able to resign Dikembe Mutombo nor able to acquire a quality backup center, Woods may have a shot at staying around for a full season.

One last thing: There has been some discussion to the effect that Shane Battier may be on the trading block. Let's keep this simple. Dont' do it! Battier can make a good team great.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Free" Agents?

A greater misnomer never existed. Free agents are remarkably expensive. Can the Rockets afford any? The short answer is yes, within reason.

GM Daryl Morey has a mid-level exception to work with (about $6 mil), but they need to use some of that to re-sign Carl Landry. So let's face it, Gilbert Arenas, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala are out of the question. Corey Maggette is a long-shot, but I am not a fan of signing the best man on a losing team, especially the Clippers. Case in point: Maurice Taylor. It took the Rockets years to dump his over-priced salary.

There are a few players that could contribute that might be persuaded by what the Rockets can offer. Brent Barry is on the top of their list. He is smart, he shoots a high percentage from everywhere and he plays shooting guard/small forward, a position at which the Rockets could use a good backup. Besides, it's an NBA tradition that anybody named Barry must end his career in Houston.

James Posey might fit the bill, too. In a perfect world, the backup players would match the skills of the starters at the same position. That would make Posey a perfect choice to play behind Shane Battier. But that only works in theory. It's hard to tailor a team that perfectly in real life, so a mix of skills is usually preferable. Regardless, Posey is a fine hard-nosed player that knows how to win. I was sorry to see the Rockets lose him after the 2002-03 season.

Mickael Pietrus is available, but his productivity declined significantly last year. Robert Horry might be amenable, but he's over the hill. DeSagana Diop is a young Dikembe at best, one dimensional and probably priced too high for consideration anyway. Bostjan Nachbar... forget I mentioned him.

My choice? Brent Barry. Smart players make everyone around them better.