Summer Mailbag

Tuesday July 21, 2009 11:03 AM Summer Mailbag

You've got questions, we've got answers

Jason Friedman Staff Writer

Houston - The term “offseason” is so very misleading. At first glance, it would appear to imply a period of slow, peaceful relaxation. The reality, of course, is that it’s been anything but – at least here in Houston. Between the NBA draft, the free agent frenzy, the trade rumor mill, and myriad injury updates, it sometimes seems as if the ’08-09 season never actually ended.

But now that summer league has come and gone maybe, just maybe, a brief period of peace and quiet will descend upon the Rockets’ organization. Or not. You just never know. Either way, this appears to be the perfect time to do a little housecleaning and address the steady stream of emails which have found their way into my inbox this month.

I always do my best to answer each and every electronic missive personally, but with players like China’s Yao Ming, Argentina’s Luis Scola – and now Australia’s David Andersen – the Rockets are truly an international team, which means that it’s often impossible to respond to them all. So in an effort to make up for my own shortcomings, I’ve decided to cull together a handful of queries which touch on the most frequently asked about topics, while answering them in far more detail than I’m typically able to provide.

And if I fail to tackle your question, then feel free to shoot me an email (link provided below) and hopefully we'll be able to find a place for it in the next mailbag.

Q: Hey Jason! John here, i wanted to ask you a question about the Rockets upcoming season and offseason. What is the timetable on Mcgrady's return next season? Will Houston still have Wafer? Do you think the Rockets will try to sign another free agent to make up for the loss of Yao or are they depending on Anderson?

John Rivera

JCF: As you’d expect, I receive tons of email every day about McGrady’s status. And while I can certainly understand the rabid interest in his return, the fact of the matter is that there’s not much new to say on the subject right now. As General Manager Daryl Morey has stated repeatedly, T-Mac is working hard in his rehab from microfracture surgery but there’s still no timeline for his return. It could be December. It could be March. There’s even a chance he might not make it back until the 2010-2011 season, though I think everyone involved is optimistic that won’t be the case. But all of those scenarios serve to highlight the fact that it’s still too early to pinpoint when McGrady will be able to return.

As for Wafer, his status remains up in the air right now as well. Von is currently in the process of exploring all his options and finding out what the market will bear; which is to say, he’s doing what every unrestricted free agent should do. Similarly, the Rockets are performing their due diligence as well. They would certainly like to see Wafer back in Rockets’ red, but it has to be at the right price. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative for teams to make smart decisions when it comes to spending their money. With the salary cap and luxury tax threshold dropping this year – and projected to fall even more in 2010 – teams that ignore financial prudence are destined for disaster.

And while we’re on the subject of spending money…

Q: what does the rockets payroll look like? im asking because im curious to see how the rockets can match up with other teams offers. the rockets in the past have not been big spenders and im wondering if they are willing or able to dich out the cash this year.


Ethan Monahan - huge rocket fan

JCF: The Rockets haven’t been big spenders in the past?!? I couldn’t disagree more with that statement. We’re talking about a franchise that just spent $6 million simply for the opportunity to purchase three second-round picks, and then followed that up by dropping another $2 million in the deal to acquire David Andersen. And let’s not forget that the Rockets spent similarly in order to acquire Carl Landry and Luis Scola two years ago as well. Has Houston spent lavishly like the New York Knicks did during the Isiah Thomas era? No (Thank goodness). But the club has certainly shown a willingness to dole out the cash whenever it feels as if it can acquire a piece to put it in title contention.

And for anyone interested in getting a general idea of where the Rockets (and any other NBA team) stand from a salary perspective, I highly recommend checking out Hoopshype’s website which does a good job of painting a fairly accurate picture of how much money teams have committed to player personnel.

Q: do you guys really think ariza is going to boost your chances of winning?  i mean...come on...this guy was good in la because kobe drew the defense and ariza was left wide open.  he scored because of playmaking skills by kobe.  ariza cant create his own shot or take lead of the team… i will say it one last time, ariza is a role no big upgrade there.  please feel free to write back.  im just pointing out what analysts and critics are pointing out.
good day,

JCF: I got deluged by emails similar to this one in the days following Houston’s signing of Trevor Ariza. I suppose it’s understandable, and I don’t think you’ll find anyone who will deny that Ariza certainly benefited from playing on the same team as Kobe Bryant. However, I think the vast majority of this email – and those of its ilk – misses the point completely.

The Rockets didn’t bring Trevor Ariza to Houston so he could be some sort of savior. Nobody claimed he is suddenly going to morph into the team’s go-to guy and average 25 points per game. What he will do, however, is bring elite defense, added athleticism, three-point shooting and a slashing presence to a team that values and needs all of those things. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that Ariza is only 24-years old, meaning he still has plenty of room to grow and develop as a player. And, call me crazy, but if Rick Adelman says he believes he can make the most of Trevor’s skills within the framework of his offensive system, I’m inclined to believe him.

Look, I get that we live in an instant gratification society that has little use for patience and wants everything NOW. I also understand how that sensation might be heightened given the circumstances surrounding McGrady and Yao. But there are two things to keep in mind here:

1.) It’s only July 21 and, last I checked, the start of the season is still more than three months away, meaning there’s still plenty of time for additional wheeling and dealing. Morey himself has even said multiple times that the Rockets have more moves to make and will continue to be active via signings and trades.

2.) Sometimes the best deals are the one you don’t make. A GM’s job is to keep one eye on the present and another on the future, and that typically means instant gratification gets sacrificed in favor of discretion and prudence. The good news is that Morey has demonstrated plenty of those latter qualities and it’s resulted in a club which possesses flexibility with regard to roster and payroll. He has some very desirable assets at his disposal right now which give him the option to strike when the right deal comes along.

All of this is really just a long-winded way of reinforcing the notion that building a championship team does not take place overnight. It truly is a step-by-step process. Signing a player like Ariza is one such step. Trading for David Andersen is another. Rest assured they won’t be the last.

Q: did you guys sign buck johnson to a one year deal?

G. Witherspoon

JCF: Just had to throw this in to make sure you’re paying attention. Yes, this is an actual email I received from a fan on July 4th. Let’s just hope it stemmed from a little too much Independence Day celebrating and not from some firework-related head trauma.

Q: I can't get a read on what the game plan is for the upcoming season. Do you think we tank the season and play the lottery? or do you think there is any chance we actually make the playoffs with our current roster? I can't see it happening with this team. we have a great group of role players but we still need some star power.

Aby Abraham, Houston

JCF: First of all, let’s clear this up right away: The idea of a team deciding to tank the upcoming season in July is absolutely absurd; especially for a club which went 2-2 against the eventual champion Lakers without the services of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Sure, the Rockets are a couple pieces away from true title contention at the moment, but they have too many solid players and too good of a coaching staff to completely fall into disarray. Besides, I’d love to see what happens to the person who volunteers to tell guys like Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Aaron Brooks that they’re supposed to lay down and let opponents walk all over them this season. I’m guessing that poor unfortunate soul would leave that discussion looking worse than Frank Mir after his grudge match against Brock Lesnar.

Then there’s this: Tanking doesn’t guarantee you anything since there’s no way to ensure you come away with a top-3 pick (just ask Sacramento). Actually, check that. Tanking does guarantee you something: bad box office, lost jobs and miserable morale. Who in their right mind would willingly sign off on that course of action? In July no less?!? Something else to consider: A joyless, listless, lifeless season doesn’t exactly add to a team’s attractiveness when it comes time to court free agents. And given the bumper crop of potentially available players in the summer of 2010, it would be an egregious mistake to intentionally do anything that might adversely affect one’s ability to woo a player from that class.

Again, let’s keep in mind how well the Rockets have performed in years past without their big guns and the fact that we’re not even in August yet, meaning there’s still plenty of time for this roster to be massaged and manipulated between now and the February 2010 trade deadline. Then take a hard, honest look at the Western Conference. Right this second, you’d have to say the top-6 looks something like this (in no particular order, and with the usual caveat that injuries or some other form of bad luck will probably strike at least one of these teams): Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets, Mavs, Jazz and Blazers. That would leave the Rockets fighting with squads like Phoenix, New Orleans, the Clippers and Thunder for one of the last two spots. Do any of those clubs strike you as being head-and-shoulders above Houston right now? They don’t to me, and I’m not exactly known as Mr. Optimism around these parts.

To repeat: This is an admittedly pointless exercise to conduct on July 21st. But if nothing else, it should serve as a sharp rebuke to the idea of tanking, and a clear signal that it’s far too early to abandon all hope for a postseason appearance in 2010.

Q: Is there any chance the Rockets are looking at free agent guard Allen Iverson. I know he's getting older, but he can still score, and without McGrady for some time next year the Rockets need some help scoring on the wing. They have plenty of defenders out there now with Ariza and Shane. Hopefully Iverson would want to prove to everyone that he still has it, i'd love him in Rocket red, and he'd sell tickets!!!

Cody Grubbs

JCF: I’d like to address your last point first. I know AI is a fan favorite, but does he really still sell tickets? I’m legitimately curious. If published reports are to be believed, Iverson’s box office appeal is the primary reason behind the Clippers’ and Grizzlies’ interest in him. But I have to admit, I have a hard time believing AI can provoke much more than a short-term spike in ticket sales at this point – especially in Memphis. But I’m more than happy for someone to prove me wrong.

As far as the Rockets are concerned, I just don’t see it as a good fit. First of all, an Iverson-Brooks backcourt would rank as the league’s smallest – by far – which could cause major problems on the defensive end, especially since AI possesses little more than a passing interesting in that aspect of the game. Also, Iverson is proven to be most effective when he has the ball in his hands and it doesn’t make much sense to me to stunt the growth of Brooks by taking the rock from him and instead giving it to your stopgap solution. I think AI could prove to be extremely useful as an instant offense guy off the bench, but he never embraced that role with Detroit so I fail to see why he would suddenly do so in Houston. Then there’s the issue of money: Would you offer AI your full midlevel at this point if you were Daryl Morey? I know I wouldn’t. And I’m guessing the real Daryl Morey wouldn’t, either.

Q: David Andersen is POO.


Clint Dogg, Australia

JCF: I was at first taken aback after reading this email. I mean, who would expect something so seemingly harsh from someone who goes by a genteel name like “Clint Dogg?” But that’s when it hit me: I realized that “POO” is obviously Down Under speak for “Pretty Outstanding Offensively.” Oh, those crazy Aussies and their wacky lingo.

Look, in all seriousness, I understand that Andersen is primarily an unknown commodity on this side of the ocean and that many fans might find themselves underwhelmed upon first blush. However, it’s also important to note Houston acquired the Aussie center for a song and will be paying him a bargain basement salary based on the going rate for quality bigs. I concede that there’s no guarantee he’ll rank as “quality” – we’ll have to wait until we see him on the floor against his NBA counterparts before making that judgment call – but if he does then the Rockets got themselves a steal and, quite frankly, I think Daryl Morey and his crack scouting crew have done enough over the last two years to engender a certain amount of trust and faith from the Rockets’ fan base.

In other words, if they think Andersen is POO, then I'm inclined to believe them.

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