The Extra Pass: Analyzing the Kings-Rockets Trade

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The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we examine the trade between the Kings and the Rockets.

How often does a team save money and improve on the court in a trade?

That’s essentially what the Sacramento Kings did when they acquired Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and cash from the Houston Rockets for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia, Tyler Honeycutt and a second round pick on the eve of the trade deadline.

And if the world were to end sometime in June, this would be a good trade — maybe even a great trade — for Sacramento. The Kings shed about 3.7 million of salary this year (that’s prorated, mind you), pick up a million in cash, and get the best player in the deal right now in Patterson, a 23-year-old power forward who can fly up the court and stretch the floor.

Of course, the world isn’t ending in June — unless your last name is Maloof or Petrie. If all goes according to plan, longtime GM Geoff Petrie will be on a beach somewhere with his cellphone off, while the owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, will finally (thankfully) be removed of basketball decision making power — something that would have happened long ago in a more just world. These are the final days for their basketball lives, and Rockets GM Daryl Morey just happened to stroll by their garage sale at sunset.

Of course, Morey is really good at this sort of thing, and so he walked right past all the junk Sacramento wanted to get rid of and instead went inside and found the newest, shiniest thing he could. And that shiny thing was this year’s 5th pick in the NBA Draft, Thomas Robinson.

The reason this trade stunned people around the league so much was because it was assumed the Kings bumbling management group wouldn’t have the cohesiveness or the power to muck things up, but somehow (unfortunately, we don’t get to hear about the side deals) they were able to convince the Seattle group that this was something that would be beneficial for everyone.

For the Maloofs, this move is nothing more than a self-serving cash grab that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched the relocation drama unfold. Even beginning to dissect the “basketball reasons” for Sacramento making this deal is a useless exercise — there is only one real motivation here.

Houston’s motivations aren’t entirely different. As Zach Lowe of Grantland notes, the Rockets will save 1.6 million in 2013-14, which could make all the difference in being able to offer a max contract. Of course it goes beyond that for Houston — Robinson is by far the best asset in the trade, even if you don’t think he’s capable of playing up to his draft slot. I’d be hesitant to label Robinson a bust despite his shaky play so far this year, as Sacramento isn’t exactly a breeding ground for young promising talent. There’s no “royal jelly” going on there, as David Thorpe would like to say.

Robinson could of course use more time (he’s played 809 career minutes), but even with below average early season numbers like 42 percent shooting and a PER of 10.8, Robinson already does one thing great, and that’s hitting the offensive glass. Robinson averages 4.1 offensive rebounds per36 minutes –a number that would lead you to believe he can be a valuable role player as an energy guy off the bench, if nothing else.

That’s where the deal makes sense for Houston. They had three years and 3,500 minutes to evaluate Patterson, and though I’m sure they appreciated the solid production he provided (15.6 PER, 16 points per36), they likely weren’t sold enough to pay him a real contract once his rookie deal expired next season. But in Robinson, Houston gets to reset the clock and enjoy three and a half seasons of production on a rookie deal, or alternatively, they’ll have a more valuable asset to flip at some point due to Robinson’s potential — something Sacramento’s management has no time or use for.

Although trading Patterson and moving Marcus Morris to Phoenix for a second round draft pick makes the Rockets a little less stretchy, it does make them more flexible with playing time. Fellow rookies Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Motiejunas will eventually need playing time, and moving Aldrich clears up some PT for promising young big man Greg Smith. In Garcia, the Rockets also get some wing depth and a veteran 3 and D guy in the mold of Carlos Delfino without having to commit any future salary. Losing a player and clearing a roster spot is actually a great thing for Houston.

While the move might not be popular with the team right now or Kevin McHale, who I’m sure enjoyed having “veterans” like Patterson and Douglas to call on, it’s a great asset acquisition at a steep discount. Would the Kings have ever traded the 5th pick  for a package of Patterson, Aldrich and Douglas before the draft? Of course not. They would have laughed at that offer.

But now? Selling Robinson’s potential, something that’s not tangible to Sacramento’s management but is to Houston, sadly makes dollars and sense.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.