The Blazers have given up on the season, having now traded two starters in the span of a few hours for precisely zero players who will provide much help this season. In their latest move, Portland traded Marcus Camby to the Rockets for Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn and a future second-round pick.
This is all fine, Portland jokes aside. Camby and his $11 million expiring deal weren’t part of the long-term plan — a plan that got a boost Thursday, when the Blazers acquired a 2012 first-round pick from the Nets that will be theirs unless it falls within the top three of the draft. With Portland clearly surrendering, it’s possible the Blazers will now have two 2012 lottery picks to add to a decent collection of assets going forward: a franchise big in LaMarcus Aldridge, two solid wings in Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum (a restricted free agent this summer), an intriguing young guard in Elliot Williams and near max-level cap space to use this summer or beyond.
Thabeet and Flynn will be unrestricted free agents after this season, and so the most likely outcome is Portland dumping both after getting a free 20-game look at two unfortunate lottery busts. Perhaps one of them will show some spunk over those 20 games; the Blazers certainly have openings at center and point guard, where Raymond Felton remains, despite Portland’s best efforts to dump him after a miserable 40-plus games in the PDX.
As for Houston, this is a sound move, if not the splashy one the Rockets have been dying to make for years. Thabeet and Flynn have very little value around the league at this point, and the Rockets have managed to turn them into a second legitimate center to use when Samuel Dalembert is on the bench.
Dalembert averages just short of 25 minutes per game, and during those 25 minutes, the Rockets grab about 52 percent of available rebounds and defend at the level of about the ninth- or 10th-best defense in the league. For the other 23 minutes, Houston grabs only 48 percent of available rebounds, defends at a bottom-10 level and actually scores less efficiently on offense, per NBA.com‘s stats database.
Jordan Hill was Houston’s nominal backup center, but he was often on the fringes of Kevin McHale’s rotation, and the Rockets just traded him to the Lakers in exchange for Derek Fisher (!) and the first-round pick Dallas sent the Lakers in the Lamar Odom deal. That pick is top-20 protected in the next six drafts, so Houston’s chances of turning it into much are pretty slim, though this team does its work and has gotten production from late draft picks such as Chase Budinger and Chandler Parsons.
That deal reflects Houston’s feelings for Hill, a New York lottery pick and once part of Houston’s motley crew of other teams’ lottery busts. Adding Camby gives the Rockets a true center to play when opposing matchups make it problematic for the Rockets to go small. The Rockets have been able to survive, and even thrive at times, using Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson at center in very small lineups, but there are big boy teams in the Western Conference playoff race that would eat those lineups for lunch in extended minutes. Defense and rebounding — and defensive rebounding, to be precise — have been Houston’s biggest vulnerabilities over the last couple of seasons, and Camby addresses those directly. He’s not an elite defender away from the rim anymore, and he has trouble making multiple hard cuts on the same defensive possession, but Camby remains a top rebounder and solid rim protector. He’s a nifty passer on offense, too.
It’s hard to see what use the Rockets have for Fisher outside of the next couple of weeks, when Kyle Lowry, their starting point guard, will be recovering from a bacterial infection. When Lowry returns, Goran Dragic will shift into a back-up role, and Fisher would seem to be without a rotation spot. That has to be a brutal outcome for Fisher, a Laker favorite and key component of several championship teams.
For all his flaws — Fisher would be a forgettable player if not for landing on a couple of loaded playoff teams — he is a smart, unselfish player who worked well in the triangle and shot 40 percent from three-point range during his prime. Stick any player in dozens of high-pressure moments, and he will play the hero at least a few times. Fisher did that, having hit one of the most famous shots in league history (google “0.4″), nailed several outside shots in Orlando to help the Lakers’ clinch the pivotal Game 4 of the 2009 Finals and scored 11 points in the fouth quarter to preserve a crucial Los Angeles victory in Game 3 of the 2010 Finals in Boston. Those 11 points included an And-1 that stands as one of the most demoralizing moments in the storied history of the Celtics.
Now he’s off to a decent playoff team in Houston that is not going to contend for the title. Fisher has a $3.4 million player option for next season, and should he exercise it, he’ll eat a little into Houston’s potential cap space. The Rockets can still carve out max-level cap space, depending on what they do on a few fronts, including Courtney Lee’s impending restricted free agency and Dalembert’s partially guaranteed deal for next season. For now, this deal should help Houston cinch a playoff spot amid some surprisingly fierce competition from below. And if they reach the postseason, the Rockets will make you earn it four times in seven tries.
We’ll get to the Lakers later, because they have been active Thursday, and they are clearly going all-in for the 2012 NBA title.