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Winderman: Battier a big loss for Rockets in playoff race

Mar 28, 2011, 1:47 PM EDT

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors Getty Images

The reasoning might have been right, but perhaps the target was wrong.

Few approaches at the NBA trading deadline are considered as egregious as trading away your team’s chances at a playoff berth.

So when Michael Jordan traded away (although “gave away” would be closer to the truth) Gerald Wallace to the Trail Blazers at the deadline, it came off as little more than continuing the Bob Johnson penny-pinching approach with the Bobcats.

Yet there stands Charlotte, a mere game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. While the Pacers certainly have been accommodating, perhaps Jordan knew more than we suspected.

By contrast, when it comes to front-office intelligence, we’ve long assumed that Daryl Morey was smarter than the rest of us.

Now? Not so sure.

When the Heat was scoring at record paces with all their 30-point performances Sunday night against the Rockets, one couldn’t help but wonder: What would Battier do?

As it turns out, that was the deadline deal that proved most confounding.

In trading Shane Battier, Houston  not only surrendered the type of defensive presence that at least might have slowed LeBron James or Dwyane Wade during their breakout performances Sunday, but they also dealt Battier to their prime competition for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies.

So, to reset:

Without Battier’s defensive presence, the Rockets lost 125-119 to the Heat on Sunday night.

With Battier’s contribution, the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs 111-104 Sunday.

The upshot is a 2 1/2-game Memphis lead over Houston for the final playoff spot in the West.

As for what the Rockets got in return for Battier? That would be Hasheem Thabeet, who currently can be found in the D-League.

Somehow, we never quite viewed the NBA trading deadline as a vehicle to improve the playoff prospects of the Rio Grande Vipers (although Thabeet did have a solid two-point performance in a Sunday loss to the Texas Legends, dominated by former Nets center Sean Williams).

It would be one thing if the Rockets moved Battier to the opposite conference, as the Bobcats did with Wallace.

But the deal with the Grizzlies was one that hardly put Battier out of sight, out of mind.

Instead, he stands front and center as a face who could decide the final playoff berth in the West.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

  1. thekingdave - Mar 28, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    TheKingDave: Putting my name before the headline makes me feel important

    Yep, should’ve hung on to Battier, let him walk after the season, and continue to middle around .500. Who could forget how vital his defense was, especially when the Heat beat us 125-119(same score) in Houston with his world class defense and non-existent offensive game.

    Oh wait. They’re 10-4 since dealing him which is the prime reason they even got back in the race. Also picked up a 1st round pick for a player who had zero chance of returning. Stupid Daryl Morey, what a moron.

    • dmiratsky6969 - Mar 31, 2011 at 8:30 AM

      Nice comeback…

  2. jsprunner - Mar 28, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    Hey, lay off Morey already! When you have a chance to get Hasheem Thabeet for the expiring contract of your best veteran defensive presence, you HAVE to take it!


  3. thekingdave - Mar 28, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    TheKingDave: Winderman full of it

    Let’s see, hang onto Battier, continue to hang below .500, then lose him for nothing.

    Or get a 1st rd pick, open up minutes for Budinger, and watch the team go 10-4 and re-enter the playoff race.

    But Battier’s defense was so vital right? He could slow down Lebron James or Dwayne Wade. December in Houston- Mia 125 Hou 119. Sound eerily familiar? What a moron Daryl Morey is.

    • jsprunner - Mar 29, 2011 at 9:56 AM

      Actually, I was only having fun with the outline of the trade. I’ll never be an NBA GM (and neither will any of the posters here, most likely), but I mostly like the analytical approach Morey seems to take. But it’s hard to make the argument that the team is appreciably closer to contending since he’s arrived. Can’t blame Yao/Tracy injuries on the GM, but don’t blame the team’s record on Battier. If he was holding the Rockets back, there is such a thing as the bench. Nothing was keeping Budinger out of the starting lineup other than the coach, who must have felt Battier’s contributions were valuable. I would have preferred to keep the Battier’s cap room (which is only going to get more scarce whenever there is a new CBA) rather than take on Thabeet’s #2 pick overall salary, and a non-lottery #1.

      And even though the team is now full of good, complementary assets, none of them in any combination has been attractive enough to any other team to reel in a major star via trade (which is clearly the Rockets’ goal). The marketplace (i.e, other NBA GMs) is effectively saying that our players are just not good enough to help them get better, which is the ultimate judge (along with the team’s record) of your franchise. I’m a Rocket fan, but we’ve been average, to slightly above average for a really long time now. Unless we get really lucky in the draft, we won’t get a franchise-changing talent in the middle of the 1st round. We will probably be looking for a new coach as well in the offseason. I’d love to hear how Morey is going to get us into contention any time soon (fingers crossed).

  4. tommvaughan - Mar 30, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    The problem with this theory is that the Rockets defense was just as dreadful before Battier left. In fact, they lost to the Heat by the same score back when Battier was on the team.

    You also forgot to mention the Rockets have won 7 of their last 8 and own one of the best records in the league SINCE they traded away Battier. This data does not support your point and would seem to be a much bigger sample then then the one game you point to.

  5. icu84bs - Apr 4, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    Houston basically traded (a slowing) Battier for a 1st round draft pick (no way they resign Thabeet). Good move.

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