HOUSTON Luis Scola spoke with a sincerity that even his coarse Spanish accent could not mask. When he opened his mouth to respond to a question, one could guarantee authenticity from the ensuing words.
When the Rockets honored Scola as a member of their All-Decade Team of the 2000s on April 26, his humility was genuine. He shared that honor with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier and Steve Francis, and as the lone active member of the Rockets, the recognition illuminated his place in franchise lore. On that date, Scola was forever immortalized.
Against the Hornets that same evening, Scola scored zero points and grabbed three rebounds in his final game in a Rockets uniform. The team waived Scola on Friday, using the amnesty clause to clear the remaining 21 million he was guaranteed through 2014-15 from its salary cap.
As part of the one-time provision collectively bargained by the players and the league, the Rockets created additional cap space to induce Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan to trade his disgruntled All-Star center, Dwight Howard. Through a series of savvy and daring maneuvers, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey accumulated assets to pique the interest of Hennigan, but releasing Scola should sweeten the pot for Orlando, which aims to rid itself of several bloated contracts.
"Decisions like this are never easy, especially when it involves a player with the character and work ethic of Luis Scola," Morey said. "Luis is a special player whose winning qualities embodied what it means to be a Houston Rocket. His accomplishments in a Rockets uniform speak for themselves and we wish him all the best in the future."
Morey acquired a conditional lottery pick from the Raptors in exchange for point guard Kyle Lowry plus a pair of second-round picks from the Knicks through the trade of Marcus Camby. Those assets plus the six players drafted over the past two seasons Marcus Morris, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones were incentive enough for the Magic to keep Morey on speed dial as deliberations to find Howard a new home continued in earnest.
But when the Nets, the one team Howard deemed desirable among his suitors, withdrew from the sweepstakes on Wednesday, the Rockets upped the ante. With Scola cleared from their books, the Rockets can absorb the contracts of Jason Richardson (three years, 18.6 million remaining) and Chris Duhon (two years, 7.6 million), plus Glen Davis (three years, 19.4 million) or Hedo Turkoglu (two years, 23.6 million).
The acquisition of Scola, 32, offered, interestingly enough, the earliest indication of what Morey was capable of as a general manager. Two months and two days after he assumed control of Rockets personnel, Morey traded homesick Greek guard Vassilis Spanoulis and a 2009 second-round pick (used to select French guard Nando DeColo) to the Spurs for Scola and Jackie Butler. Spanoulis did not play for San Antonio, instead returning to Greece after the 2006-07 season with the Rockets.
Scola immediately developed into a workhorse, and during his five seasons with the Rockets missed just eight games. He averaged 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds over 386 careers games (343 starts), including career highs for points (18.3 per game) in 2010-11 and rebounds (8.8 per game) in 2008-09. What Scola lacked in athleticism he accounted for with guile, with his unique skills engendering stanch support from fans.
However, three consecutive seasons in the lottery made Scola expendable. With Morey doggedly determined to land a superstar around whom he can build a championship contender, the Rockets initiated the process of jettisoning veterans to either accumulate assets or acquiesce to rebuilding. Scola was the longest-tenured player in the locker room, and even if Morey fails to land Howard, keeping Scola on a team loaded with youth would be a waste of his dwindling prime.
Thus the Rockets cut ties with a fan favorite, an All-2000s stalwart. That Scola played just three seasons in the aughts symbolized what he meant to the franchise, and the difficulty behind the decision to set him free.
"On behalf of the entire organization and Rockets fans around the world, I want to thank Luis for his contributions to our organization and the City of Houston," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said. "Luis is a tremendous player who has been the consummate professional both on and off the court. His dedication to winning and being a team player are unsurpassed."
Also on Friday, the Rockets signed Knicks restricted free agent Jeremy Lin to a three-year, 25.1 million offer sheet. The Knicks have three days to match the offer, which was initially reported as a four-year, 28.8 million contract. The point-guard-starved Rockets guaranteed the third year of the contract as a deterrent to keep the Knicks from matching.
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