Court Vision: Surveying the Rockets’ offseason options

James Harden drivers on the Thunder
James Harden drivers on the Thunder

The Rockets have the cap room needed to give James Harden (right) some help this summer. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Rob Mahoney

• The Rockets’ impending offseason is discussed often as an either-or proposition between Dwight Howard or Josh Smith — the two available candidates that would make best use of Houston’s cap room. But Rahat Huq of Red94 sees Daryl Morey’s offseason decision as anything but binary:

Rather than signing Josh Smith, I think Plan B should be to pursue a 1 year placeholder.  Something like trading for Pau Gasol or targeting Andrew Bynum on a massive, 1 year contract.  That would let the team improve but keep its flexibility.  They could then target Lebron the next summer or whoever else may become available via trade.  The point is, it is better to hold onto your chips – even if it takes time – rather than splurge on the option which you know has a limited ceiling (Smith.)

Regarding Gasol, some would argue, “[W]hy bother?  He’s too old for this nucleus.”  That’s missing the point.  He wouldn’t be brought in as a long term solution.  His purpose would be to complement this set foundation of James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Omer Asik, helping them improve by helping them gain experience.  How?  Because if the team is better, then the team goes deeper in the playoffs.  Those extra reps and failures mean everything in the long-run.

That’s the beauty of having a nucleus.  Remember last year when, after the team blew away its chances at the postseason – but still held onto mathematical hope – Matt Bullard remarked on every broadcast that making the postseason was essential because of the experience it would give our players?  I took exception to that logic.  We didn’t even know if any of those players would be back, so ‘experience’ was meaningless.  It’s like hoping to buy new rims for a car you plan on trashing.  Lo and behold, no one from that team – save Parsons – is back.

• The future of U.S.-North Korean relations is in the hands of Dennis Rodman.

• Tom Sunnergren, of the newly launched Sixers-themed blog Hoop76, reflects on Philly’s unfortunate lack of top-tier production and talent.

• More good stuff from Sunnergren in ESPN.com’s 5-on-5: “I’m not sure there has ever been another athlete like LeBron [James]; he somehow complements his blunt, brutish force with a discordant grace. It’s like watching a grizzly bear play the piano.”

• Thunder head coach Scott Brooks remarked on Tuesday that newly signed guard Derek Fisher will “definitely” play. That in itself is a bit odd given Fisher’s play in the last few seasons, and even more curious in that Brooks went on to suggest that backup guard Reggie Jackson — and potentially some other Thunder players — will be forfeiting playing time as a result. Royce Young of Daily Thunder weighed in on that possibility with an appropriate skepticism:

Is Fisher going to usurp Jackson again? We’ll learn more over the next week or so, but the fact any minutes are going Fisher’s way and not directed to the likes of Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Nick Collison, Thabo or whoever, is a bad thing. Fisher can still hit a corner 3 and was fairly productive for OKC last season, but his defense is awful and even six minutes on the floor for him means six minutes less for someone else. I don’t get that. Seems to me it flies in the face of the Thunder developmental philosophy too. Instead of giving spot minutes to a young player to get him adapted and comfortable, a 38-year-old on a three-month rental is going to get that time.

Again, I think bringing Fisher back is a very sensible, smart move. It makes a ton of sense. And even playing him in spots isn’t the worst thing ever, much in the same way Royal Ivey sometimes saw time, or even Daequan Cook. But we all know what happened last season with Fisher’s playing time growing to the point where he was seeing upwards of 30 minutes in the NBA Finals. And if he’s set to “definitely” play, it’s natural to feel that he’s going to play a lot. Like at the expense of Jackson.

• Tonight, Brook Lopez will play through pangs of remorse as he goes head-to-head against his twin brother Robin and his good pal Ryan Anderson, who are having a grand ol’ time in New Orleans without him.

• The Nuggets have a relentless commitment to pushing the pace, and the Lakers may be the worst team in the league when it comes to transition defense. Click through to see the violence that results when those two forces converge in a single game. Viewer discretion is advised.

• How many coaches in the NBA would rock a T-shirt with their own mug on it?

• A fun ditty on one of the most versatile bigs in the league, courtesy of Grantland’s Zach Lowe:

It’s easy to forget what a wonderful, multi-skilled player Nene is, with so much focus on his contract and his health. But, holy cow, is this guy good at just about everything — passing, cutting, screening, guarding in space, hitting open midrange jumpers, explosive post-up moves, boxing out, etc. My new favorite wrinkle: Washington has been using Nene as a ball handler in surprise pick-and-rolls it springs on defenses from unpredictable places. Watch out when a Wiz point guard enters the ball to Nene at the left elbow and cuts toward the foul line as if he’s going to continue toward the baseline — a standard NBA action. Just when the defense assumes the normal NBA stuff is coming, that point guard will veer right into Nene’s man, setting a pick for Nene to use on a dribble drive toward the hoop. He got a monster jam against the Raptors over the weekend out of this action.

• Will Bynum, on his tiff with Tyler Hansbrough, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: ”There’s nothing but love between me and Tyler Hansbrough. There’s some love going on. That’s all.” (via PistonPowered)

• Key and Peele make the work of future Slam Dunk contestants a breeze by offering up dozens of never-seen-before dunks (via TrueHoop):

• Worthy praise for Anderson Varejao, workman.

• Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie tracks back the many complications that have arisen during the pro coaching career of Scott Skiles, who is a fine strategist but a problematic personality:

The same pattern seems to show up for every team. The hard-working players you expect to play on the edge — Luc Mbah a Moute, Andres Nocioni, Shawn Marion or Bo Outlaw — always seem to go all out. Still, even awful coaches can make hard workers out of those whose motor seems permanently stuck at ten thousand revs.

It’s the high potential players that Skiles has failed with. Witness Brandon Jennings’ stagnation since his rookie year. Look at the way [Tyrus] Thomas, who worked his tail off during his rookie and second season only to be jerked in and out of the rotation and contests, seemed to give up on the game by his third year. Look at [Tyson] Chandler, who needed to get out of Chicago to stop looking over his shoulder and finally flourish.

And look at how it ended in Milwaukee, with Skiles basically daring the Bucks to either fire him in 2012, or give him a buyout. Even with a hard working team that was on a playoff pace in 2012-13, Skiles relived his final year in Chicago all over again — agreeing to part ways, watching as Jim Boylan works up a Skiles-lite finish to the season.

Scott Skiles has a deep and legitimate understanding of the pro game. To slough him off as some NCAA-type that only comes to the pros for the money and nicer hotels is not fair — he wants to coach men, and his profound abilities as a coach deserve to be in the NBA. At his best, he squeezes some fantastic performances from players working to the hilt. The question is, after watching teams in Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee that were loaded with players working to that capacity no matter the head coach, how much of that all-out play was a result of Skiles’ work?

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