HOUSTON – Here are three things that we know for sure:
— The Hornets will eventually trade Chris Paul somewhere and move on with a rebuilding plan.
— The Lakers will continue being the Lakers, which means they’ll eventually find their way into the running for Paul or Dwight Howard or another high-profile free agent who’ll vault them back into championship contention.
— The Rockets have been kicked in the teeth.
In war, it is often called “collateral damage,” a euphemistic label that does nothing to lessen the pain.
While commissioner David Stern may have had the best interest of the Hornets (he says) in mind and may have been reacting to an outcry from a faction of owners about allowing the Lakers to reload (he denies), at this point the only party to have tangibly suffered is the Rockets, who were caught in the middle.
The Rockets do not have Pau Gasol as the centerpiece of bold makeover plan. They do not the salary cap room to make a max offer to free agent Nene. They do not have last year’s starting center, Chuck Hayes, who bolted to Sacramento during the confusion. And they go back to work in training camp with two players – Kevin Martin and Luis Scola – who know they were not part of the plan for this season.
First-year coach Kevin McHale is in a difficult situation trying to put it all together on the court. But his task is nothing compared to that of general manager Daryl Morey, who has to try to mend fences in his locker room.
Whether the moves to bolster their front line would have lifted the Rockets into the upper reaches of the Western Conference standings or fallen flat is irrelevant. All that matters is that by jumping into the mud puddle and vetoing the original three-team deal, Stern spattered the Rockets badly, tied their hands through the rest of the free-agent process and might have wrecked their season.
Morey has every reason to feel betrayed by the league and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has every right to go full-Krakatoa on Stern with an eruption that should peel the paint off the walls of the league office.
Call it collateral damage or just a bloody mess in Houston.