Creight Expectations

Patrick Creighton: Not likely any tricks up Morey’s sleeve

Daryl Morey will have limited assets to move at the trade deadline. Rockets.com

The Houston Rockets are currently 35-13, good enough for both the second best record in the Western Conference and the NBA.  Led by their pair of superstar guards James Harden and Chris Paul, the team has been able to take next step in the regular season and has shown they can play with the champs, the Golden State Warriors.

It’s a very good team and I hope you like it, because they won’t be making any major roster moves at the deadline.

Feb. 8 is fast approaching.  Rockets GM Daryl Morey usually has a few tricks up his sleeve, and we know he loves to wheel and deal.

Barring one of the greatest displays of Morey Magic that he can even think up, let alone actualize, the Rockets are going to be standing pat at the deadline, and whatever moves they might make will be minor.

The Rockets have no cap space, and they are over the tax threshold.  They don’t really have tradeable commodities on their roster that aren’t considered key rotational pieces.  Trading an Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, or Clint Capela creates a new hole to fill on the team, and none of those guys are making particularly large money (Gordon $13M this year, $13.5M in '18, $14M in '19, Ariza $ 7.5 this year then UFA, Capela $2.3M this year then RFA). They don’t have a first round pick they can deal this year (dealt in the Chris Paul trade).

So while you see other teams making headlines as the Detroit Pistons did Monday by acquiring Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers, understand the Rockets made their moves in the offseason in acquiring Paul & Luc Mbah a Moute, and they are going to battle with the guys they have.

Essentially the only position they need help is at the 4/5, where a big man who can bang and play defense against more physical players would be beneficial, as Joel Blank speculated on yesterday.  Capela has shown he can rebound and protect the rim, but he still gets pushed around some by the larger, more physical guys in the league.  Nene is always an injury waiting to happen and can’t realistically give more than 15 mins on  a consistent basis, and Tarik Black just isn’t a good enough player to go against the better PF & C in the league steadily, especially in the playoffs.

With limited bullets for a trade and no first round pick, even a GM as creative as Daryl Morey will find it extremely challenging to make any kind of move with substance.  Their best bet may be to target a player like Knicks C Kyle O’Quinn, a junkyard dog style player who is tough defensively, rebounds well and is efficient with his limited offensive game.  He could be a defensive presence for the team against larger, more physical bigs.  Of equal importance is he has an affordable contract at $4.25M and he is a free agent at the end of the season, which means no long term commitment for the Rockets and a low asking price as he is a straight rental player.

The Rockets wanted that third star to go with Harden and Paul, and thankfully they didn’t pull the trigger on Carmelo Anthony.  The right fit for them wasn’t available this past offseason.  By not making a significant deal this year, they keep their assets for the offseason, when they will need them to try to unload Ryan Anderson’s contract.  Without losing Anderson’s deal (with two more years at $42M total) there is no chase for a Big 3, so trading him is job 1 this offseason.  They will need every asset they have to pull that off.

For this year, however, what you see is what you’re likely going to get.  It will have to be good enough, because help isn’t on the way.

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Christopher Bell is starting to hit his stride. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The Cup Series makes its second trip to the Badger State this weekend for the Kwik Trip 250 at Road America. This track is one of the most unique road courses in all the world. Opened in 1955, Road America is the largest racetrack on the NASCAR schedule. It has 14 corners and multiple long straightaways. Considering how massive of a track it is, we will see fuel strategy play a big part in the race. The race should be a three-four stop race, so we will more than likely see drivers try to short-pit to cut the race strategy in half, similar to what we saw Matt DiBenedetto do last season.

Last Week at Nashville, Chase Elliott was able to get a good enough restart and hold off Kurt Busch to claim his 15th career win and his second of 2022. On the last restart, there was a bit of controversy after Brad Keselowski crashed with 3 laps to go. Regardless, NASCAR did not throw the caution and the race continued on, allowing Elliott to drive off into the sunset. At first glance, not throwing the yellow flag seemed like it wasn’t the right decision.

Brad was clearly off the pace and possibly laying down debris, that alone seemed like it was worthy of a caution but after a second look, I understand why NASCAR made the decision they did. There had been a long rain delay, and they were ready to get back home. Regardless, the race was won and lost by the decision to pit or not to pit on the final restart. The dominant car of the day was Kyle Busch, his chances of victory were dashed after the team decided to go down pit road and give up their track position. I am sure that decision by crew chief Ben Beshore is one he’d like to have back.

Another team that struggled in pit road was the #23 of Bubba Wallace. All season, this pit crew has continued to let down their driver, and it’s a shame because they have had some really fast cars. No one else in the field passed as many cars as he did, and it was all because he would either have to deal with a loose wheel or a bad pit stop. While he was able to rebound to an acceptable 12th place finish, the results haven’t been indicative of where they should finish. At Kansas, Bubba had the fastest car on the track for the better part of the day but again because of a loose wheel, he would have to come from the back.

Now I can understand that this team is a new team and didn’t have the luxury of buying a whole race team like Trackhouse did, but this is becoming more and more of a habit, and it’s costing them dearly. This week will be even more challenging considering that the cars will enter their pit-stall in the opposite direction. Let's hope for their sake that they get these things figured out, they are running out of time to try and make the playoffs and join their teammate Kurt Busch in the round of 16.

Ryan Blaney was able to complete an incredible comeback last week. Earlier in the race, Blaney would slap the wall in turn four and spin. He would rebound to finish third and appeared to have a car to contend for the win on the last restart. Blaney has really flown under the radar this season. While he hasn’t won a points paying event this season, no one has been more consistent than him. Blaney is having a season similar to Denny Hamlin's from last year, as he scores a lot of stage points and finishes upfront almost weekly. He didn’t have a good race here last year, but these cars are much different, so it will be a completely different racetrack.

My pick to win this weekend is Christopher Bell. To some, this might be a bit of a surprise pick, but he has been running really well. Over the last six races, no one has a higher average finish than he does. It seems like he is starting to hit his stride, and now they are going to a race he nearly won last season. A win would almost be required for Bell to make the chase, right now he is safe. But with the abundance of winners we have seen this season, it will benefit him the most to get a victory and assure his ticket to the playoffs. If he can continue this run of consistency, look out for Bell to take the checkered flag on Sunday.

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