HOUSTON — Birds fly. Fish swim.
Daryl Morey trades.
Underneath all the talk of the Rockets adding a wing shooter and perimeter defender at the deadline — they landed Jordan Hamilton from the Nuggets – was a huge, hard-wired part of Morey’s DNA that said: Do something. Something big.
Surely, Morey would have leaped at the chance to, say, reel in Rajon Rondo from his old Boston stomping grounds, if Danny Ainge had been so inclined. But the truth was the Rockets never really had the chips to the put onto the table — a premium first round draft choice or two — to even get the Celtics thinking seriously.
There was the one rumor that Boston would have very much been interested in Chandler Parsons. But who wouldn’t be? Parsons is young, athletic, talented and still plays on a rookie, second-round pick contract. That’s the kind of real value that is very much at a premium in today’s NBA.
Morey’s jumping-the-checkers-all-over-the-board approach has been on display for more than a half-decade now. He landed the All-Star pair of James Harden and Dwight Howard with it. So, if he couldn’t wallop another another home run this time around, it surely wasn’t because he didn’t wear out his beloved Blackberry trying. You can’t hit the pitches you don’t swing at.
Yet for the first time since he began calling the shots in the front office in 2007, the Rockets’ general manager didn’t feel the same sense of urgency.
“We feel like as a team as we are coming together at the right time,” Morey said. “We had a lot of opportunities to mix things up. But we feel like we have a core with stars in Dwight and James and we have a good group around them that we feel good about, and we feel like when you have that core you want to keep the guys around them.”
A seemingly endless of string of nagging injuries since the start of the season had prevented the Rockets from developing any cohesion or consistency. Even with Howard back close to his pre-back surgery, pre-shoulder injury level of fitness, there was also the matter of trying to blend his low post game with Harden’s one-on-one skills.
While the two of them can sometimes look like would-be dancers with no sense of rhythm, there is a feeling that the pieces are growing together. And the Rockets’ record is showing it.
As they close out a five-game road trip with a back-to-back at the Kings and Clippers that starts Tuesday night, the Rockets are now an NBA-best 17-5 since Jan. 1. They have climbed solidly into the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference and now set their sights on the No. 2 Spurs, whom they have already whipped three times this season.
It is a wholly different attitude for Morey, to let the pot he’s filled come to a slow boil rather than just keep grabbing for new ingredients. Inside he believes his team still needs that third All-Star level player to stand toe-to-toe with Miami, Indiana and Oklahoma City. But with Howard and Harden contented in their roles on the team, their place in Houston and locked into max-level contracts, patience is probably the most prudent path.
The Rockets were able to trade veteran guard Aaron Brooks, a fan favorite, to Denver because they feel they have enough talent in the pipeline. Last year’s draft pick, Isaiah Canaan, plucked in the second round, has been simmering in the NBA D-League and earned his chance to contribute significant minutes with the Rockets. Hamilton is another below-the-radar talent that the Rockets believe can flourish if give the opportunity to play. And it is that cycling through of young players that has kept the Rockets both moving forward steadily in terms of overall progress and flexible enough with their payroll to remain open and available to make that next big deal. As sure as summer follows spring, they’ll be standing on the high dive looking to make another big splash in the talent pool in July.
The Rockets would likely be a tough out in any best-of-seven playoff series in the rugged Western Conference, the Thunder included. But with an offense that relies so heavily on the 3-point shot, the question is whether they can perform consistently enough over eight weeks of the playoffs — or even two rounds — to be taken seriously yet.
We’ll find out. Sometimes, the answers do come when you sit and wait.