Friday, November 2, 2012


Happy late Halloween from a very lazy blogger...
In honor of Halloween (yes, I know I'm a bit behind), I'm putting out the most horrifying of all blog posts...a terrifying hybrid of basketball and football information! Basically, I wanted to write about James Harden AND do my Power Rankings without taking the time to expand them into full posts. Thus, Franken-post.


Unlike the NFL, the NBA has an active trade market that sees player swaps on a fairly consistent basis. Small fish like Robin Lopez and Dorell Wright are typically the types of players dealt, but deals involving far bigger fish such as Dwight Howard are not uncommon. To that end, it’s not surprising to see a player the caliber of James Harden being dealt. Just another day at the NBA office, basically.

Does that mean the James Harden trade isn’t shocking? Of course not! The timing of the deal and the circumstances surrounding the deal make this one of the most unusual, if not the most unusual, trades in memory. A young, burgeoning star is traded away from the defending Western Conference champions, who, by the way, are a team chock-full of young, burgeoning stars, and this coming just mere days before the start of the new season. The chemistry that group had…tossed out. The determination of this group to take that final step towards conquering the NBA...irrevocably damaged. The formation of a new NBA dynasty…potentially shattered. Make no mistake; this was a monumentally shocking trade, and one that very well could come to define not only the 2012-2013 season, but also the next decade of the NBA.

The reasoning behind OKC’s decision is obvious. A maxed out Harden would give them three max players, plus the two large contracts of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. That would place them well north of the luxury tax line, subjecting them to enormous tax penalties in the short term and even more enormous “repeater tax” penalties in the long term. In short, the small market Thunder felt it a bad business decision to carry a payroll that lofty. Deride them as cheapskate billionaire owners if you must, but one can hardly blame these business owners (that is what they are) for avoiding tens of millions of dollars in punitive tax penalties for the team’s third best player.

Regardless, whether or not you agree with that statement is irrelevant, as is whether you believe OKC should have ponied up the cash and extended Harden. The deal is done. The trade has been consummated. James Harden is a Houston Rocket, Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb are on the Thunder, and all we have left to ponder is the fallout from this trade. To that end, the focus has mostly been on the impact it will have on the Thunder, and rightly so. Again, the Thunder are the defending champs in the West and were, at worst, the co-favorites to make a return trip to the Finals. If this deal has somehow ruined their title chances, then it’s worth rehashing.

What hasn’t been talked about as much is the Rockets end of things. It’s no secret that Darryl Morey has coveted a “star” player since the untimely end of the T-Mac-Yao duo. The Rockets have been in on or have attempted to be in on nearly every high profile transaction of the last few years, from the Carmelo Anthony hostage situation to the vetoed Chris Paul-Pau Gasol trade. Most notably, the team went full bore after Dwight Howard this offseason. Morey and his crew worked tirelessly to acquire as many assets as possible to entice the Orlando Magic, ultimately failing in that quest and winding up with a skeleton crew of young prospects, future draft picks, and cap space.

Given their roster composition, situation, and stated goal of acquiring a star player; the acquisition of a player like James Harden is a major coup. Many teams have tried the “acquire assets” strategy, but few are ever able to successfully flip those assets for something truly worthwhile. For a great example of this, please see the mid-2000’s Chicago Bulls, who despite having a pile of desirable young assets (Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, etc.) were unable/unwilling to pull the trigger on any deals. Eventually, the value of many of those assets waned significantly and the Bulls would fall off, once again earning the #1 overall pick. Thanks to the aggressive management of Morey, the Rockets will not be the Chicago Bulls. The package sent to OKC was indeed an appealing one, but Morey was correct in assessing the value of Harden relative to the value of the prospects and picks he surrendered.  Basically, he got a really, really good deal.

But assessing this trade is about more than the value of what each party gave up, because the arrival of Harden completely changes the Rockets situation in two distinct areas:

1. Cap – Part of the deal in acquiring Harden was giving him a max contract. That was, after all, what eventually drove him and OKC apart. An $80mil pact was signed yesterday, committing Harden to the Rockets long term. He was acquired to be their franchise player and he’s now being paid like their franchise player. Obviously, having such a large contract on the books affects what Houston can do with their roster going forward.

2. Draft Pick – Yes, the Rockets gave up two draft picks to get him, but neither of those picks were Houston’s own first rounder. Given their pre-Harden roster, the Rockets were in line to be one of the league’s worst teams; definitely in contention to land the top overall pick in a draft that will likely feature at least two highly touted big men.  With Harden, there’s almost no chance Houston is that bad.

All of this boils down to one question: Is James Harden a franchise player? Whether or not he is the type of player you can build around and win with is what will ultimately come to define the Rockets end of this trade. I mentioned the mid-2000’s Bulls before and it’s worth mentioning the end of their story. After failing to flip their assets, the Bulls bottomed out and landed the top overall pick. That player…Derrick Rose.

That’s not to imply the Rockets made a poor decision in trading for Harden, but if he ultimately proves to be just a #2 player masquerading (and being payed) as a #1, then yes, the Rockets would be better off having bottomed out.

If I seem evasive in giving my opinion on whether the Rockets have chosen wisely, it’s because I have absolutely no clue. There are great arguments for Harden being a legit max contract type player. His efficiency numbers are fantastic, his ability to create off the pick-and-roll is almost unparalleled, and his ability to score from anywhere on the floor makes him a tough cover. On the other hand, the NBA Finals weren’t that long ago, and the image of Harden wilting in the face of real pressure is very fresh in my mind. Not only that, but Harden has previously stated that he isn’t comfortable being “the man.” That’s not a good thing for a guy being paid as and being trusted as “the man.” To me, it could go either way. I’m not sure.

What is clear is that Darryl Morey has taken a leap of faith with this Rockets roster. He has committed significant monies to a James Harden/Jeremy Lin/Omer Asik foundation, a decision that could either be the smartest thing in the world or the biggest disaster in Rockets history. Clearly the potential for something special is there. Those three, plus young up-and-comers like Royce White, Terrence Jones, Chandler Parsons, and others have the potential to form a deep, dynamic squad that could become a worthy rival of the Thunder. That’s not happening without Harden being the star Morey thinks he got. We’ll see if he hitched his wagon to the right horse.


The Rex Grossman Zone
Any QB with a QB Rating under 39.6
Present Membership: Weeden (5.1), Skelton (6.2), Cutler (28.2), Ponder (35.5), BADGABMAXULTRA (37.7), Cassel (38.1), Wilson (38.7), Tannehill (39.0), Bradford (39.2)

There were any number of guys with subpar QB ratings this past week, but none that would make Redskins and Bears fans curl up in the fetal position. Oh well, maybe next week.

The Vinny Testaverde Zone

Tony Romo – 13 INT’s in 283 attempts (4.6%)
Brandon Weeden – 10 INT’s in 299 attempts (3.3%)
Andy Dalton – 10 INT’s in 243 attempts (4.1%)
Matt Cassel – 9 INT’s in 206 attempts (4.9%)
Philip Rivers – 9 INT’s in 243 attempts (3.7%)
Ryan Fitzpatrick – 9 INT’s in 218 attempts (4.1%)

We’ve got a Romo runaway here. How shocking…

Power Rankings

I am keeping my Power Rankings literally 100% intact. No changes. That having been said, I honestly believe the gap between #1 and #9 is razor thin, much thinner than I thought last week. We could be in store for some serious chaos in the second half of the season.

10. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) – Has a bye week ever been more welcome? Baltimore better have figured some stuff out last week or they’ll quickly fall behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) – Just when you think the Steelers are dead they pop right back up like one of the zombies from Walking Dead. Fat Jonathan Dwyer (his real, legal name) has emerged from the buffet as a legitimate Jerome Bettis clone, giving Pittsburgh the type of offensive balance that helped propel them to two Super Bowls. Injuries are still a big issue, but they look like a legit AFC contender to me.

8. Denver Broncos (4-3) –Number one in total DVOA after smoking the New Orleans, one could make an argument for Denver being top five in these Power Rankings. I might agree with you, except that their three losses have all come against teams ranked immediately higher than them. Other than Pittsburgh in Week 1, Denver hasn’t actually beaten anybody. Then again, with Peyton throwing the ball the way he is, anything’s possible.

7. New England Patriots (5-3) – Did I say something about them hitting their stride ‘late in the season?’ Pretty sure I actually meant Week 8 against the Rams. They get their bye this week, and then they have Buffalo, Indy, the Jets, and Miami in succession, so the Pats should be in a nice groove by the time the playoffs hit.

6. Atlanta Falcons (7-0) – Atlanta does deserve credit for a nice win at Philly. The Eagles are still talented and Philly is still a tough place to play. That having been said, the Falcons still have just one win against a team with a winning record. They won’t face one until Week 15, so I guess we’ll just keep this record on repeat until then.

5. Green Bay Packers (5-3) – Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Sam Shields, B.J. Raji, most of their good LB’s…this team is a mess right now. Thankfully for them, the schedule has been conveniently light during this stretch, with the Rams and Jags being their past two opponents, the free falling Cardinals being their opponent this week, and the bye coming the week after. Still, Aaron Rodgers looks like he has his fastball back, which means they’ll be dangerous once they get healthy.

4. San Francisco 49ers (6-2) – The 49ers did 49ers things to the Cardinals on Monday, shutting down their terrible offense and jamming the ball down the throats of their fraudulent defense. Look, we know the ‘Niners are good. Bring on Chicago in Week 11!

3. Houston Texans (6-1) –Bye week for the Texans, and there’s still no reason to not think they’re the class of the AFC. 

2. New York Giants (6-2) – Pretty much your standard Cowboys-Giants matchup last week. No, seriously, stuff like that happens pretty much every game.

1. Chicago Bears (6-1) –Not impressive on Sunday in a should-have-been loss to the Panthers. On the other hand, the game turning fluke defensive TD sorta goes to my point. This is the weirdest, luckiest team ever! They do this crap every game!

Seriously though, I would have dropped them had the Giants finished off the Cowboys early instead of choking on the chicken bone. Chicago has great offensive pieces but just can’t seem to find any consistency. That has to change because one of these times the defensive TD won’t be there.

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