Rockets pull trigger on pair of deals
HOUSTON -- The Rockets sent point guard Aaron Brooks to Phoenix and forward Shane Battier to Memphis in separate deals Thursday that brought guard Goran Dragic, forward DeMarre Carroll and center Hasheem Thabeet to Houston.
The Rockets also get first-round draft picks from both teams, although the one from the Suns for this year is lottery protected. Houston also shipped rookie Ish Smith to the Grizzlies.
Memphis owner Michael Heisley told The Associated Press that he swapped potential for a chance to reach the playoffs by dealing away the Grizzlies' top two picks from the 2009 draft.
"It is important to us that we make the playoffs, that we do go to the playoffs," Heisley said. "Quite bluntly, we think that Shane at this point in time would be more productive."
The Grizzlies are 32-27 and eighth in the West. Their last playoff berth came in 2006, when Battier was still on the roster. He played five seasons and helped the Grizzlies to three playoff appearances before being traded to the Rockets in July 2006 for Stromile Swift and the draft rights to Rudy Gay.
The 6-foot-8 Gay, the Grizzlies' second-leading scorer (19.8), is expected to miss about three more weeks after dislocating his left shoulder Feb. 15.
The Grizzlies also tried to swap guard O.J. Mayo to Indiana in a deal that wasn't concluded before Thursday's trade deadline. Heisley said it was bittersweet because Memphis was trying to ease a crowd at guard and add help at the 2-3 position.
"Quite frankly, it might turn out for the better for us," Heisley said.
Houston (28-31) is 11th in the Western Conference, and general manager Daryl Morey had said recently that virtually his entire roster was in play leading to Thursday's trade deadline.
"Our goal is to win a championship," Morey said. "Our goal at this deadline was to make significant upgrades and that's our goal constantly. These moves position us better in the future. The big move that helps us now and in the future did not materialize, but we feel like this positions us better to make that move down the road."
Phoenix entered Thursday night two games behind Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West. Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby hailed the addition of Brooks, saying he is "confident that he will upgrade our backcourt now and in the future."
"He should add scoring to our second unit, which is important to our success," Babby said.
Coach Alvin Gentry, who did not return a phone message, plays a 10-deep rotation.
Dragic, a Slovenian who is fluent in four languages, had been considered the heir apparent to Steve Nash but has struggled in his third NBA season. His average of 7.4 points is similar to a year ago, but he is shooting just 42 percent from the field, 28 percent from 3-point range.
He has been back a week after missing seven games because of a cut on his left foot, the result of an accident at home. The 24-year-old has a contract with a team option for 2011-12.
Nash, in a Twitter post, said he learned of the trade when the team landed in Toronto.
"Just landed in the T Dot and found out we traded my good friend Goran Dragic," Nash wrote. "Great teammate and person. Has a chance to be great."
Brooks and Battier have contracts expiring after this season, coveted commodities for teams looking to create salary-cap space. But in acquiring the 7-foot-3 Thabeet and Dragic, the Rockets are parting with two of the team's most popular players.
Brooks was a first-round draft pick by the Rockets in 2007 and shined in the 2008-09 playoffs, averaging 16.8 points and 3.4 assists and nearly leading Houston to a second-round upset of the Los Angeles Lakers. He was honored as the NBA's most improved player last season, but a sprained ankle limited his production earlier this season and he wound up a reserve.
Unhappy with his playing time, Brooks left the bench during a game against Memphis on Feb. 5, and the team suspended him for a game. He was averaging 11.6 points and 3.8 assists, far below his 2009-10 averages. He was also shooting 28.4 percent from 3-point range, a career-low.
Morey said that when the team decided Kyle Lowry would be the starting point guard, it just wasn't smart to keep Brooks and have to pay both players money that a starter would earn.
Battier, 32, is valued as much for his play and leadership as for his contract.
He's scheduled to make about $7.4 million this season, and has started all 59 games while averaging 8.6 points and 4.8 rebounds. He's also the team's top active shot blocker and its third-best 3-point shooter (39.5 percent).
The 7-foot-3 Thabeet has disappointed since Memphis took the native of Tanzania with the second overall pick in the 2009 draft. He's to make about $4.8 million this year and $5.1 million next season with the Grizzlies having the option for 2012-13. Thabeet, who attended high school in Houston, has averaged only 1.2 points and 1.7 rebounds in 45 games this season.
"When we drafted Hasheem, my guys told me point blank that we needed to play him a lot," Heisley said. "He needed to be on the floor. I don't think we've been able to do our part."
The Rockets have been desperate to add size since Yao Ming went down early in the season with a stress fracture in his left ankle. Chuck Hayes, at 6-6, is the shortest starting center in the NBA, and 7-foot Brad Miller, acquired in the offseason to back up Yao, missed 15 games with a knee injury.
"Obviously we need a center on our team," Morey said. "We lost Yao and we have a chance for Yao to come back in the future, but Thabeet is a player who has the potential to develop into a good center over time."
Morey said he wouldn't have taken a chance on Thabeet if he had struggled in several places, but since he's just had one stop there's a good possibility that he could develop in Houston.
"He was a very effective player in college," Morey said. "You don't go second in the draft if you're just a project. We felt comfortable after researching it that Thabeet was somebody that could realize that potential that he showed in college."
Morey still isn't sure of Yao's future, saying that he's in the middle of his rehabilitation and it's not time for any decisions to be made.
Carroll, a 6-8, 212-pound forward, is averaging 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in 78 games overall. But he has played in only seven games with Memphis this season.
Smith, a 6-foot rookie out of Wake Forest, has bounced between the Rockets and their developmental league affiliate this season. He's averaged 2.6 points and 2.3 assists in 28 games with Houston this season.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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