The Carroll Dawson-era Rockets were built around two stars and not nearly enough help. When a prime Tracy McGrady and a healthy Yao Ming are flanked only by David Wesley, Scott Padgett and Torraye Braggs, they mean little.
The Daryl Morey-era Rockets have always been the opposite — a team full of “yeah he’s not bad” players with absolutely no foundation of star talent around which to put them. And despite the fact they usually always narrowly win every trade they take part in, this hasn’t gotten them anywhere. In the Morey era, the Rockets have only one playoff series win, only two playoff appearances total, and have finished ninth in the Western Conference for the last three seasons.
Fully cognizant of the need for a super duper star, the Rockets’ plan has always been to stockpile assets in order to get one later. They’re always looking for misfits, rejects, late bloomers and draft steals, pieces spurned or underappreciated by other teams that they can nurture into decent NBA players, thereby building a roster out of maximizing minimal assets rather than ever having bigger ones. It doesn’t always work — trading first round picks for Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams, for example, and inexplicably passing on Nikola Mirotic — yet the Rockets have built an entirely decent roster out of it.
Dwight Howard is the new target man. He’s a super duper star; moreover, he’s a center, a position at which Houston have so badly wanted to find an answer that they even gave Hasheem Thabeet a look. Even if he were to bolt after one year, Houston wants him, because a team with Dwight Howard is a team that won’t come in ninth. With this in mind, today they agreed to trade Chase Budinger, along with the draft rights to 2006 pick Lior Eliyahu, to Minnesota in exchange for the No. 18 pick in Thursday’s draft.
The inclusion of Eliyahu is not insignificant. He has not played in the NBA in the six years since being drafted, but he could have, and despite frustrating inconsistency and well-founded accusations of softness, Yahoo is a truly quirky inside-outside talent. Houston worked him out earlier this week, ostensibly to look into finally bringing him to the NBA next season, knowing him to be on the cusp of making the jump. (Give him a three-point shot, and he could be the next Scott Padgett!) Nevertheless, the deal is mainly about Budinger, who joins a cluttered but decent Timberwolves roster with the hopes of solidifying it.