Every year I have the highest of expectations for the Rockets heading in to the draft. Every year, they find a way to crush those hopes.
Not this year. Not by a long shot.
Somehow, someway, the Houston Rockets turned three average first round picks in to the player many thought should have gone #1 overall in the entire draft.
Seton Hall freshman sensation Eddie Griffin is a Houston Rocket.
After the Rockets took Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong with picks 13, 18 and 23 respectively, they packaged them all to New Jersey for Griffin, selected 7th overall. It's real. Griffin will take alleyoops from Steve Francis. He will run cuts with Cuttino Mobley. He will block shots from the weak side on Maurice Taylor's matchup. A Rocket will actually rebound. 19-year old Eddie Griffin is wearing the pinstripes.
It's that annual Rocket draft disappointment that is missing. It's not here. It's gone.
The Rockets would later trade a future first-round pick to Atlanta for the rights to Terence Morris, making the draft that much more sweeter for those of us in Clutch City.
Rudy T and Carroll Dawson deserve tremendous accolades for this move. With the 3 first rounders threatening to dip in to the Rockets' free cap room this summer and take up precious roster spots, they got the job done and turned it all in to a versatile, talented and potential All-Star forward. However it wasn't just that move that deserves praise. It was the Jason Collier trade last year, giving us the extra draft pick this season. It was dealing that pick (#22) for one lower (#23) in order to get #18. Without any of these moves, Eddie Griffin is not in Houston.
"I felt kind of prophetic. I mentioned all the things we needed. We needed a shooter. We needed shot blocking. We needed rebounding. We thought we would need all 3 picks to get those things," said Tomjanovich. "But we feel we covered them all in Eddie Griffin."
They did, and Griffin is happy to be in Houston.
"I talked to Eddie and he's very excited," said Rudy T. "I also talked to Steve and Cuttino and they are very excited. [Griffin] is explosive, he's versatile, he can play a lot of positions... we couldn't be happier."
Said Griffin, "Houston is on the verge of being a great team. I'm in a better situation (than New Jersey)"
After the Warriors took Jason Richardson at #5, that opened things up for the Rockets and Nets to talk deal. Though they did not have a deal in place, the Nets knew the Rockets wanted Griffin and took him. 10 minutes later, when the Celtics were on the board at pick #10, they finalized the deal. From there the Nets told the Rockets who to select at 13, 18 and 23.
That didn't help us fans... 240 of us (that's right, 240, obliterating the Draft Chat record of 137) watched and listened in anticipation as the Rockets' pick came up at #13, not knowing a deal had been made. When Joe Johnson went #10 to Boston and Vladimir Radmanovic went to Seattle at #12, there were groans and jeers. Because Troy Murphy had not gone in the top 12 as many projected, it seemed the Rockets lost out on one of the more highly coveted small forwards (Johnson or RadMan)
The Rockets took Arizona's high-flying Jefferson at #13, and the fans seemed to appreciate the pick. However, when their next selection came up... "With the 18th pick, the Houston Rockets select Jason Col..."
No, Stanford's 6'11" 250+ pound forward/center Jason Collins, a surprising pick ahead of centers Brendan Haywood and Loren Woods. The crowd started to get restless... until after pick #21, the trade was revealed and the place absolutely exploded.
The Rockets had pulled off a coup.
|7. Eddie Griffin, Seton Hall|
|Eddie Griffin will be an anchor on the Rockets' frontline for many, many years|
With all due respect to our man Eddie Johnson, the chants of "Eddie, Eddie!" will be returning to the Compaq Center in 2001-2002.
Eddie Griffin is not going to come in right away and dominate for the Rockets, after all he's only 19 and one year removed from high school, but this is a kid who has a tremendous future laid out before him. He averaged 17.8 points and 10.8 rebounds as a freshman at Seton Hall, but possibly even more impressive is his shotblocking -- he swatted 4.5 a contest, leading the nation in rejections. He was named the Big East Rookie of the Year.
He can really get up off the floor, has a strong game in the paint and can take his sweet jumper out to three-point range. He's not a player that displays any kind of Vince Carter-flair, in fact it's the opposite. Doesn't show much emotion and the game almost looks easy or effortless to him. Very smooth and versatile player.
Fundamentally he is very sound. Many feel he is a poor man's Tim Duncan with his style of play (high on substance, low on flash). He finds a way to score and his shot blocking presence is amazing for a 6'9" player.
Griffin also has faced some hardship lately. His older half brother, Marvin Powell, recently passed away. Eddie has stated he intends to give financial assistance to his brother's wife and three children.
The knock on Griffin is clear -- is he a character problem? The only two places Griffin has played serious organized ball (high school and one year college), he has been involved in fights. Last year he punched teammate Ty Shine in the locker room and was suspended by the coaches as a result. The team went south from there. You would think to a team like the Rockets, which prides itself on its chemistry, this would be a red flag, but Rudy T says after researching Griffin's background, they aren't concerned.
He also will have to bulk up, but when you consider again his age, it's mind-boggling that this guy has possibly more physical developing to do. Griffin's agent is Arn Tellem.
The trade means that while the Rockets view Shandon Anderson as important to re-sign, he is not a long-term starter by any means in Houston. His positions are taken by Griffin and Mobley and that could be the writing on the wall that Shandon and his agent Dan Fegan will pick up on come signing day. With Terence Morris also on the squad, Walt Williams or Dan Langhi could be moved also.
|34. Terence Morris, Maryland|
I was still in a cloud from the Eddie Griffin acquisition. Bombarded by emails and phone calls while trying to get information up on the site, I heard the announcement -- the Hawks, with the 5th pick of the second round, had selected Terence Morris.
|Morris' best season in college was 1998-99 when a point guard named Steve Francis was running the show in Maryland|
I thought, "Damn... what a shame we couldn't get him as planned."
Not but a few minutes later, the Rockets announced a deal with the Hawks, sending the first round pick the Pistons owe Houston (from the Mirsad Turkcan deal) to Atlanta for Morris. One source told ClutchCity.net the Rockets fully planned to take Morris with pick #23, before the Griffin deal materialized.
This could prove to be a brilliant pick-up. A year and a half ago we passed along that Morris was very high on Rudy T's list as Terence was expected to be a lottery pick that season (instead he opted to stay in school).
Said scouting director for the Rockets Dennis Lindsey, "We've been very, very interested in Terence. Obviously, we had to make the Eddie Griffin trade. As soon as we consummated that, we were back on the phones trying to get Terence. We felt he was a first-round pick."
Morris has exceptional talent. He has a very nice stroke from the outside and possesses the kind of size/height (though perhaps not yet the bulk) to play the three effectively in the pros. He also is very quick and a strong defender, especially in the shotblocking area. His sophomore campaign, playing alongside Steve Francis, he averaged 15.3 points and over 7 boards a game while hitting over 55% of his shots.
Problem is, as a senior he hit just 43% from the field, averaging 12 points. What fans have found frustrating about Morris, nicknamed T-Rock, is that he is not a stand-up leader. He's not selfish and seems content to play more of the supporting role when the talent shows he can do so much more.
In Houston, Morris isn't the #1 option, or even the #2 for that matter, and could thrive in that type of role. Regardless, you know Franchise is thrilled with the pick which makes his friend his teammate in Houston -- Stevie was pushing for the Rockets to draft Morris a few months ago. They also share the same agent, Jeff Fried.
Will a return to play alongside Francis bring out the best again in Terence Morris? We shall see.
|What's in store for the Rockets this summer?|
The Chris Webber chase may be over before it even begins. By adding a sensational young player like Griffin, who also needs the ball in the paint to thrive, the Rockets may feel a big-time scorer at the four isn't what they need the most, especially when he would tap dry the Rockets' cap room. Don't get me wrong -- the Rockets no doubt are still interested in Webber (who it is looking more and more likely will go to an East Coast team), but I expect Plan B to be getting a lot more attention these days.
I expect the team to waste little time trying to ink pacts with Maurice Taylor, first and foremost, and try to bring back Shandon Anderson, without any underlying promises of starting positions. That ball is most likely in Shandon's court. Also high on the list is Moochie Norris. Keep in mind, if the Rockets do bring Mo and Shandon back, this is one of the youngest and more talented teams in the league. Houston and the Clippers (who amazingly turned the 2nd pick in the draft in to a trade with the Bulls for Elton Brand) are serious players to crack in to the playoffs in 2001-2002.
The problem is the five -- the Rockets don't have one, unless you count Kelvin Cato (and no one in their right mind does). Not-So-Special K could be an ideal center in Houston for his defense, but he's lazy and an all-around pain in the ass. It will be interesting to see if the Rockets still look to deal him. Either way this could be good news for those who want to see the Dream, Hakeem Olajuwon, return.
A few like to say I'm overly critical of the Rockets at times, especially when it comes to the draft. There's nothing negative about this draft. The Rockets had the unenviable task of trying to turn 3 first rounders in to a top 5 talent and a non-guaranteed second rounder.
They passed with flying colors.
Morris could be a second round steal, and isn't a salary commitment since he was selected in the second round.
Griffin meanwhile definitely was a steal. 3 rookies on the Rockets squad was not an attractive thing, and they took that awkward situation and turned it in to a major roster acquisition. The talented forward will join Francis and Mobley to form one of the best young trios in the league, and he's only 19 years old. This is purely win-win as the Rockets pick up a dynamite talent and don't jeopardize their pursuit of free agents this summer.
The future is bright in Houston.
Clutch Grade: A++