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NBA Sunday: Did Houston Need A Big Trade?

The Houston Rockets couldn’t get a significant deal done at the deadline, but is that bad? … Danny Granger’s impact on the Pacers will be felt long after he’s gone.

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The Houston Rockets’ Best Deadline Move

Sometimes the best move is not to make a move.

As the last minutes ticked away before the 2014 NBA trade deadline, the Houston Rockets were sitting pretty as one of the hottest teams in the league. Winners of eight straight games after a blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers the night before, the Rockets didn’t look like a team in desperate need of a deal.

After months of speculation regarding potential trades for point guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik, the Rockets essentially sat out the deadline frenzy. They did make one tweak, sending Aaron Brooks to the Denver Nuggets for Jordan Hamilton, but as for a move that would radically change the mix, Houston all but stood pat.

If you’ve been watching the Rockets over the last month, the lack of a trade shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Simply put, they have been playing brilliant basketball, and Lin and Asik have played significant roles in Houston’s rise to the third seed in the brutally tough Western Conference. Lin filled in admirably when James Harden was out with an injury and Asik has been a steady force on the defensive end of the floor playing behind Dwight Howard.

The best move of all might have been the decision not to deal Asik, who gives Houston the best one-two punch at center of any team in the NBA. His presence will no doubt pay huge dividends come playoff time, especially if the Rockets wind up facing a big front line like the one in Memphis in postseason play.

Lin is a far cry from “Linsanity,” but he has been playing some of his best basketball of the season over the last month and that level of play gave the Rockets pause as they worked the phones leading up to the deadline. It may have been Lin’s contract, which pays him $15 million next season, that ultimately kept him in Houston, but it’s clear Lin can help Houston in their quest to make some postseason noise.

The Rockets didn’t completely sit out the deadline, of course. Brooks was lost in the shuffle in Houston, sitting behind Patrick Beverley and Lin in the rotation. The Nuggets were in desperate need of a point guard due to injuries, and Brooks can step right into their lineup and make a difference immediately. Meanwhile, Hamilton is an interesting pick-up for the Rockets. Hamilton earned playing time as a rookie under George Karl, which is an impressive accomplishment. He did not show remarkable improvement under Brian Shaw, but it’s possible be could prove to be a solid addition to the cast of forwards in Houston. The Rockets are in need of length on the defensive end, and Hamilton might get a chance to show if he can contribute with his defense. His solid three-point shot might also get him some playing time.

Rockets fans have come to expect their team to seek out blockbuster trades come deadline time, but this year it looks like a tweak might have been plenty. With Harden and Howard as the franchise cornerstones and Chandler Parsons quickly emerging, as well, Houston seems to have enough star power to compete with the best in the NBA. As long as the incredibly underrated Beverley stays healthy and Terrence Jones continues to improve, the Rockets might just have enough to make a very deep playoff run this season.

End of an Era in Indiana

When the Indiana Pacers drafted Danny Granger with the 17th overall selection of the 2005 NBA Draft, they were looking for more than a top-notch player to rejuvenate their aging core group. They also needed a high-character player to help rebuild the team’s image after a season in which several players served long-term suspensions for their parts in a November 19, 2004 brawl while the team was visiting the Detroit Pistons. Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games and Jermaine O’Neal served a 15-game sentence for their parts in what has come to be called “The Malice in the Palace,” one of the worst spectacles in the history of the NBA.

Fortunately, the Pacers found just the right person to lead the team into a new era and help them eventually win back the fan base.

It didn’t take long for Granger to make his mark on the Pacers. Over his first four seasons with the team he went from 7.5 points per game as a rookie to 25.8 points per game, making him one of the best small forwards in the NBA. During that time, the Pacers began their ascent from the bottom-dwellers of the Eastern Conference to their current position as one of the best teams in the league.

Unfortunately, a nagging knee injury turned into a mixed blessing for the Pacers. Granger’s absence forced Paul George to grow up a little faster and take on more responsibility than he otherwise would have playing behind Granger. On the positive side, however, George accepted the challenge and grew into one of the East’s top players in the span of a year. When Granger did finally return, he wasn’t the same player he had been before the injury. He lost his quickness, his explosiveness and even some of this shooting touch. That’s why, when the Philadelphia 76ers offered Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for the opportunity to acquire Granger’s ending deal, the Pacers jumped at the chance.

“We thank Danny for his eight-and-a-half seasons with us and we appreciate everything he did for us in his time here,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird in a press release. “We felt we needed to make this trade to strengthen the core unit and our bench. In Evan and Lavoy, we think we got two really good players that can help us and we look forward to what they can bring.”

There’s no doubt that Granger’s departure will leave a hole in the Pacers’ lineup, despite the fact that his roster spot will be filled by a younger, up-and-coming talent in Turner. Granger has been the heart of the Pacers, and the players he leaves behind knew him as more than just a teammate.

“This is very emotional for me,” Paul George told the Indianapolis Star. “Danny’s been by my side even before I got drafted here. I understand it’s business. Larry (Bird) is looking forward to the future as well as the present. But it sucks. But I think the additions we made can and will help us moving forward.

“It is tough,” George continued. “I wanted to call Danny and text Danny yesterday but I couldn’t even do it. It was just tough for me to do yesterday. Today seeing him and saying my last goodbyes – I’ll reach out, obviously, after we leave here, I’ll reach out to him again. But it’s tough, I’m going to have to find a way to get through it.”

Head coach Frank Vogel, whose ascent went hand-in-hand with that of Granger and then George, credits the former for his selection as the team’s head coach.

“I’m probably not the coach of this team if not for Danny Granger,” Vogel said. “I want to thank him publicly for being my biggest supporter when (I was) the interim coach here and trying to turn that team around back then and obviously trying to earn a job. To have your best player be your strongest supporter is something I’ll always be grateful for with Danny.”

There’s no question that Granger will long be remembered for his contributions on the court for the Pacers. A truly great player, however, is one who is also remembered for his contributions off the court. At a time when the Pacers were a team in turmoil and even disgrace, Granger stepped in and helped change the entire culture of the team. He might not be in a Pacers uniform when the playoffs start this season, but you can bet that everyone around the Pacers organization will credit him to some degree for whatever success they have. His presence will be felt long after he’s gone.

NBA Chat with Bill Ingram

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Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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