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Breaking Down the Rockets Blockbuster
Analysis of the deal that swapped McGrady, Landry for Martin, Hill, picks
By Clutch
Copyright 2010
By now you know the particulars.

On Thursday's trade deadline, the Rockets said goodbye to Tracy McGrady, Joey Dorsey and (surprisingly) Carl Landry while at the same time saying hello to guard Kevin Martin, center Hilton Armstrong Houston Rockets'>Hilton Armstrong, rookie lottery pick Jordan Hill, forward Jared Jeffries and significant draft pick considerations - the right to flip draft picks with the New York Knicks in 2011 (top 1 protected) and the Knicks 2012 pick (Top 5 protected) outright (See: Fine print on the protection on those picks).

By now you've also read enough fans and writers tripping over themselves to find the right hyperbole to describe Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Make room for one more as this was a fantastic move by the Houston Rockets.

"I found out at halftime," said Martin. "My first question was, 'What team?' When he said Houston I started smiling for the first time in three weeks."

The Big Fish

Kevin Martin as a Houston Rocket
Kevin Martin in a Rockets jersey (Photoshop: Clutch)
The Rockets desperately needed a two-guard. Publicly the Rockets have said that in Adelman's offense the positions don't really matter, but after 50+ games of watching small forwards Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza together in the starting lineup, I think it's safe to say -- it mattered.

Consider this: When the Rockets starting two guard (Ariza) shoots 40% or better in a game this season, the Rockets are 17-5. Granted that's now skewed since it was with Landry in the lineup, but Houston sorely needed an efficient scorer at this position.

They got it.

Martin gives the Rockets a high-scoring, high-efficiency two who can score in a variety of ways. He has terrific range (career 38.4% three-point shooter) but also works beautifully off cuts and attacks the basket -- and he gets to the line. I can't stress enough how important that is. In fact, Martin got to the charity stripe 10.3 times a game last season, meaning he found himself at the line more times per game than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Put Martin, a career 85% free throw shooter, together with Yao Ming (career 84.5%) and the Rockets are going to be lethal next year when they find themselves in the bonus in the fourth quarter.

The 6-foot-7 guard comes with concerns, namely defense and durability, and his thin build usually gets blamed for both. Still, Martin says not to worry.

"Don't let that frame fool you," said Martin. "I love playing with contact."

Losing Landry
Seeing Carl Landry put on another uniform is going to hurt. He endeared himself to Houston by playing with a ferocious style and doing it through injuries and pain. Who can forget that game-winning block in Game 3 of the 2008 NBA playoffs? Or taking that teeth-smashing hit from Dirk Nowitzki and coming back to play the next game?

That's Carl Landry, and he was blossoming this season as one of the best post scorers in the league.

However, at some point the Rockets had to make a change at the four. Carl, while a force offensively, does need work defensively to be a starting, big-minute four in this league. The pairing of Luis Scola and Landry, while effective, didn't have long-term marriage potential. With Yao Ming's injury history, the Rockets need more size at the four (especially defensively) and hope to acquire someone here who can slide to the five as necessary.

I'll always be a Carl Landry fan. I expect him to excel in Sacramento. With his minutes sure to rise, this is his moment to shine.

McGrady Gets His Wish
There were some great times for McGrady in Houston and we'll talk about those, but the overriding memory for me right now is ... this.

I don't believe T-Mac's done - he could have a Vince Carter-like resurgence.

But he was done here.

Morey Magic
A few weeks ago we heard that Morey really wanted Kevin Martin and was willing to offer Scola in a package for him (2/9 podcast with John & Lance on 1560)

I bring this up because when you consider that information, and all the "leaked" info in the 48 hours before the deadline, you'll realize how masterfully Morey played this poker game.

With Morey and Knicks president Donnie Walsh both needing to make a deal and both holding firm on their positions, the Rockets leaked to the press that if they didn't get everything that they wanted from New York, they would take a deal from Chicago. Even the Rockets beat writer was selling the Bulls option.

Only one problem: Chicago was a bluff.

Walsh didn't buy it and New York in turn gave the media "anonymous source" quotes that the Rockets were asking way too much and the Knicks weren't going to give in.

That's when Morey changed the game. With the Kings suddenly more open on a deal in the final 24 hours, Morey upped the ante by offering Landry instead of Scola. His tremendous contract value kept the Rockets from taking back any long-term salary deadweight from the Kings (which kept the Jared Jeffries option alive) and it put overwhelming pressure on the Knicks. Morey could now call Walsh and say, "We have a done deal with the Kings."

And at that point, Walsh folded. He had to get McGrady and the cap room that came with dumping Jeffries. As a result, Morey got everything he wanted -- three very young assets (Hill, flip pick rights in '11, 1st round pick in '12) that are going to be extremely attractive in trades this summer.

Net result: Martin, Hill, incredibly good draft considerations. Un-be-lievable.

With this Herschel Walker-esque haul, Daryl Morey has upped his reputation as the new Jerry West. If you're running one of the lesser 29 NBA teams and Daryl Morey calls you, why would you even think about picking up at this point? Sure, you could just hear what he has to say, but it would be like going to one of those timeshare sales pitches just to get the free gift. A few hours later you realize you've dropped $50K on an outhouse in Idaho.

Luxury Tax
The Rockets GM may be unpredictable, but the Rockets owner sure isn't. As fully expected, the Rockets leveraged McGrady's contract to take back less annual salary, getting under the luxury tax line by about $700K. By making this move, the Rockets ultimately save millions of dollars ($10 million ballpark). They cut salary ($3 million annual) and receive a share of the tax ($5 million) instead of paying it ($3 million).

Again, switching back to Morey and staff, that is what is amazing about what they accomplish - they are handcuffed by the requirement of having to stay under the luxury tax. The Lakers aren't restricted in that way. Neither are the Cavs. Dallas? Mark Cuban laughs at such things.

Houston is, and Daryl Morey doesn't let it stop him. He finds a way to get under the tax every single year, saving his owner millions, while still improving the roster in some fashion.

I would not be surprised at all if Morey is an owner or part-owner of an NBA franchise in the not-too-distant future.

Final Thoughts
I really like Martin for this team as he fills a gaping hole in the roster. Hill has been labeled a "bust" by some, but the kid has great size and athleticism, is only 22 and is 8 months removed from being the #8 pick in the draft. Whether real or perceived, he has value. I'm not expecting a great amount from Armstrong or Jeffries, but both are very good defenders in the paint (Jeffries is actually a solid player, he's just significantly overpaid).

However, the brilliance of this move will be illustrated down the line -- not just in the play of Martin and Hill, but in the trade or trades yet to come. The Rockets are stockpiling assets that will be very attractive to rebuilding teams and, as a result, will be a real player in this summer's free agent bonanza.

If the Knicks somehow lure LeBron straight up, then all bets are off, but if they don't, it's going to get interesting around here.

Let's use Toronto power forward Chris Bosh as a hypothetical example (but Amar'e Stoudemire or any star player that would leave their team in a rebuilding state by bolting would work just as well).

While max free agents generally stay with their teams since they can get the most money, let's say Bosh is serious about leaving the Raptors and signing outright with the Knicks. Toronto, faced with the prospect of losing Bosh to the Knicks for nothing, is now serious about a sign-and-trade. Assuming Bosh wants the most money and considers Houston an attractive situation (as most free agents do), he plays ball.

Well, the Rockets can actually offer a package that includes their 2011 draft pick (which comes with the option of switching with the Knicks pick) to the team that is about to lose a star player to ... wait for it... the Knicks.

Think that's not attractive to them?

The Raptors look at that trade, knowing full well that if they do it, it keeps their player from the Knicks, thus potentially hurting the Knicks, thus increasing the value of the Knicks pick they just acquired in the process.

"We're not out of [the free agent sweepstakes]. In our opinion, we're actually more in it," said Morey. "For those players to just sign with a team, they have to choose to give up 30 million dollars. I haven't seen many players who do that. Now, they might, but I think most of those players are going to go in a sign-and-trade. We like the players we have, but we'll have an opportunity there."

The fun is just getting started.

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