PAUL MUTH

Rockets interest in Jimmy Butler makes perfect sense

Jimmy Butler would be a big acquisition for the Rockets. Tim Warner/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Houston Rockets were looking to get back to the Western Conference Finals. Today, they're looking for answers. As the Rockets welcome the return of Chris Paul back into the lineup, they do so in exchange for an injured James Harden and a team that could be staring at a 1-5 record by early next week. The answers are coming, but they might not make it in time.

The multitude of early season tweaks and pulls and twists and strains has become laughable, but their collective effect on the Rockets 1-3 record is anything but. A team with championship aspirations can't afford to be hamstrung (no pun intended) so early in the season.

Enter Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ savant general manager, who clearly sees the writing on the wall:

This is a great team, and this is their window.

Last night word leaked that the Rockets had offered four first round draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for all star guard Jimmy Butler. A Houston team previously content to wait out Butler's high asking price had suddenly become very aggressive.

The move makes sense. The Rockets can survive with one or two guys out, teams do that all season long. When six guys are out though and your starters are forced into 40 minutes of playing time, it's easier to understand why the Jazz were able to run away with the game Tuesday at the end.

Charlie Pallilo said it best earlier this morning on his show: “It's not ok to overreact, but it's ok to react.” The truth is that the Rockets need reinforcements at the moment due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, and there happens to be a power shifting option staring them in the face.

I was neither here nor there when word initially broke that the Rockets were interested in acquiring Butler a few weeks ago. That's because the Rockets are reportedly interested in everyone all the time, and also because I saw a great team that would benefit but not necessarily need a third star to remain competitive. The situation has changed, however. Adding Butler isn't a move to put the Rockets over the top anymore. It's a move to keep them afloat.

Now is it too early to panic? Yes, absolutely. I still contend that, when healthy, this is one of the league's best teams. What these first four games have done, however, is expose the Rockets’depth (or lack thereof). A trade for Butler would address that issue in spades by allowing knicked up players to rest without sacrificing victories.

Whatever the case is, it's clear that the Rockets are all in on getting Butler now. I can't envision a scenario where acquiring such a top tier talent - provided he stays healthy - doesn't ultimately develop into a massive coup for the Rockets. Circumstances have a funny way of playing out, and the irony would not be lost in me if a Butler acquisition and possible title run were sparked by the worst possible way to start a season. A possibly great ending to a terrible beginning. Either way we'll find out sooner than later whether the Rockets will be welcoming Butler into the locker room.

Stay tuned.

 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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