In 2005, citizens of the city of Houston and surrounding areas fled the city in anticipation of Hurricane Rita's arrival. Today, sports fans in the city of Houston, who just recently endured the NFL draft in which the Houston Texans passed on heralded star Reggie Bush, may be ready to flee again after watching the Houston Rockets draft and then apparently trade away potential star Rudy Gay.
It should be noted that, coincidentally, Hurricane Rita missed a direct hit on the city of Houston. That seems apropos for Houston sports fans today.
With the eighth pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets knew they would get the opportunity to pick a very talented young player. But because of the volatility of the picks before them, they were in the dark as to exactly which player would still be available for them.
Fans in Houston were certainly rejoicing when the 6-9, 220 lb small forward slipped to the eighth pick. Rudy Gay would seem to be a near perfect fit for the Rockets rotation and a potential star in the league. His long arms and defensive ability would seem to fit well in the defensive minded scheme Jeff Van Gundy preaches. And his offensive potential would fit in nicely next to superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
With two established stars and scoring options in front of him, Gay would have an opportunity to develop his offensive game to the NBA level while still contributing regular minutes to the rotation. Tracy McGrady would be able to slide back to the shooting guard spot, which is reportedly where he would prefer to play, and the Rockets would have significantly increased their ability to put 4 or 5 quality players on the court at one time.
But apparently, that is not to be. The Rockets have reportedly traded the draft rights of Rudy Gay and the contract of last year's free agent acquisition Stromile Swift to division rival Memphis for Shane Battier. The deal can not become official until at least July 12th due to league salary rules. So neither team is able to officially discuss the deal. But an agreement has clearly been made and thus far nobody has disputed the principle players in the trade.
Houston Rockets fans are probably feeling like they were just stiff-armed by Reggie Bush on his way to the end zone. Certainly, Shane Battier is a very good pickup for the Rockets. He is a legitimate starter in the league though he is not regarded as a star.
In many ways, Battier provides all of the features Rudy Gay appears to have. He is just about the same size, 6-8 and 220 lbs, although his arms may not be quite as long. He is a hustle player known for his defense and tenacity. He is clearly a Jeff Van Gundy kind of player as well. And to his credit, he is a proven NBA player having played 5 seasons for Memphis while averaging 10.5 points, 1.7 assists, 45% shooting, 38% 3-point shooting and about one turnover, block and steal a game.
He also comes with a 5 year contract starting at over $5 million next season. Which is considerably more than Rudy Gay's rookie contract will pay over the next five years. In comparison, Channing Frye was drafted 8th last year and made just over $2 million in his rookie season.
Apparently also going over to Memphis in the deal is Stromile Swift. He was a huge disappointment for the Rockets last season after signing as a free agent in 2006. Jeff Van Gundy was clearly not pleased with his play and attitude. But he is still young and considered to have good potential if a coach can ever get it out of him. Swift's contract is for almost exactly the same amount of money as Battier next season, but Swift's deal only has three seasons remaining.
Over the next five years, the salaries of Swift and Gay will likely combine for about the same total, around $32 million, as Battier will make during those 5 years. That is assuming Swift is not resigned in the fourth year.
The trade probably isn't a terrible trade as trades go, but it has the potential to turn out to be very lopsided in favor of Memphis. They got two players for one and got the player with the greatest potential all while coming out about even on total salary.
Jeff Van Gundy's tenure in Houston has seen a continual parade of veteran players arriving to try to fill in the gaps. Previous experiments with players near the end of their career like Charlie Ward, Bob Sura, and Derrick Anderson failed miserably last season. Shane Battier is a nice improvement over those previous and still a young player in comparison to some of his predecessors. Clearly the Rockets believe they are in a "win now" situation and have little patience for young and unproven players to develop.
Meanwhile, if the details of the rumored trade are accurate then the Rockets lost an opportunity to get younger, establish a deeper bench and lost a potential star in the league. Fans in Houston will be crossing their fingers that Trace McGrady stays healthy this next season and Shane Battier excels in the starting lineup. Or else their gaze may often wander to another channel so they can watch the exploits of Reggie Bush in New Orleans and Rudy Gay in Memphis while they wonder what could have been.