HOUSTON Dwight Howard opted to remain in Orlando while the Nets initiated the process of surrounding Deron Williams with legitimate talent as opposed to diving headlong into another rebuilding project.
As the NBA trade deadline approached, the Rockets appeared poised to end the proceedings empty-handed and with a roster epitomizing mediocrity. But then general manager Daryl Morey struck and turned two deals that validated his accumulation of assets from the 2009 draft.
The Rockets on Thursday acquired Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby and Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, doing so without mortgaging any portion of their future. They shipped a second-round pick (via the Timberwolves) along with little-used center Hasheem Thabeet and third point guard Jonny Flynn to Portland, and collected a protected first-round pick (via the Mavericks through the Lamar Odom post-lockout deal) and Fisher in exchange for reserve center Jordan Hill.
Flynn, Hill and Thabeet (along with swingman Terrence Williams who, surprisingly, was not dealt on Thursday) were lottery picks in the '09 draft made by other organizations. Starting with the acquisition of Hill from the Knicks at the trade deadline two years ago, Morey began to bolster his roster with assets that had yet to fulfill untapped potential.
When the Rockets decided not to pick up the fourth-year options on that foursome by Jan 25, it became crystal clear that none had futures with the organization. Thus, the moves made by Morey represented a coup in that Camby is an upgrade over Hill, who also fetched a first-round pick.
Hill had averaged five points and 4.8 rebounds in 14.7 minutes with the Rockets this season. Camby, who turns 38 on March 22, averaged 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 22.4 minutes with the Blazers. His 22.9 total rebound percentage would lead the league if Camby qualified (Howard paces the NBA at 22.4 percent), and Camby ranks seventh in the NBA in block percentage at 4.9. Interestingly, Camby ranks just behind Rockets center Samuel Dalembert in the latter category.
What the Rockets lose in youth (Hill is just 24 years old) they will gain in experience. Camby, the second overall selection from the 1996 draft, will provide the rebounding and defensive presence that Hill only occasionally mustered. In concert with Dalembert, the Rockets have a pair of established rim protectors and able rebounders. Dalembert ranks ninth in the NBA in total rebound percentage at 18.2 percent.
Better still, Camby is in the final year of a contract paying him 9.25 million this season. With the Rockets primed to allow Flynn, who had played in only 11 games this season after being acquired on draft night last summer, and Thabeet, who scored just six points in five games this season, to walk following the season, landing Camby for the stretch drive and a potential playoff push at the cost of a second-round pick qualifies as shrewd. Camby, incidentally, owns a home in Pearland.
Fisher, 37, will serve as insurance until starting point guard Kyle Lowry returns from his bacterial infection. Flynn hadn't played since Jan. 28 before rejoining the rotation last weekend when Lowry was lost. Now Fisher is set to serve as the backup to Goran Dragic for the next two to three weeks. According to published reports, the Rockets will likely offer Fisher a contract buyout. He has a 3.4 million option for 2012-13.
Fisher has been in steady decline, with his scoring average dipping in each of the past four seasons. However, he is fourth among active players in games played with 1,153, has not missed a game in seven seasons, and has accrued five championship rings with the Lakers. Even if his stint with the Rockets is brief, Fisher can offer veteran tutelage and other intangibles that could benefit Lowry and Dragic, both 25 years old.
The acquisitions of Camby and Fisher won't impact the Rockets (24-20) long term, but they could help strengthen their hold on the final playoff position in the Western Conference. Following two consecutive seasons in the lottery, any step forward is a good one, particularly a move that garnered the Rockets a net positive while requiring little in return.
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