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Rockets Snag League's Craziest Third Banana

A Daily Babble Production

Not only does it look as though the Ron Artest sweepstakes is over, but there may actually be a winner here aside from the team that was looking to achieve some good old-fashioned addition by subtraction.

As was reported by the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen on Tuesday, the Kings are expected to send the disgruntled Artest to the Houston Rockets in exchange for the Rockets' 2009 first round draft pick, Bobby Jackson, the rights to draftee Donte Greene and possibly one more player whose name will be released in the days to come.

Given the expectation that the player to be named isn't going to be some sort of deal-breaker, congratulations are in order for Houston general manager Daryl Morey.  Morey earns plenty of credit here for both having the stones to make a big-time move with a Rockets team that was already very good and for being able to nab Artest at a low price.

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As we've discussed in the past and likely need not rehash at this point, there is a certain amount of risk incurred by trading for the league's craziest player.  He could completely erupt and short-circuit any team for any stretch of time without warning at all, or he could be a season-long distraction.

But he could also be the player who finally vaults the McGrady-Yao Rockets up a level in the Western Conference, and at the price it took to get him, he is more than worth the risk for Houston.

Though there have been some rumors of possible T-Mac blockbusters this off-season, it had still largely appeared (and certainly does now) as though the Rockets were continuing to push forward with the belief that they could build a championship team around Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.  Whether that can actually be done remains to be seen, but what had been shown over the last few seasons has been that while the Rockets have made strides in their regular season performance, they have yet to reach the true upper tier of the Western Conference.  The Rockets have clearly been hanging outside the upper echelon group of the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs and Jazz, and while their group of role players had done a largely admirable job, it likely wasn't going to be enough without another more talented piece being added to the roster.

Enter Artest.  The Rockets were already the second best team in the league in defensive efficiency a year ago.  While the team played excellent defense as a unit, a large part of their success came from the blossoming of Shane Battier into one of the league's premier perimeter defenders.  With Artest in the fold, the Rockets suddenly have a defender who may be better than Battier (and even tougher against bigger players).  Suddenly, the Rockets will have the luxury of using either Battier's defense and three-point shooting or young power forward Luis Scola's all-around play off the bench in the front-court.  The best defensive team in the West from a year ago now has two of the league's best stoppers, and this will only further take pressure off of McGrady on the defensive end.

Speaking of taking the pressure off the stars, the same will be true when the Rockets have the ball.  A season ago, McGrady and Yao averaged nearly 22 points apiece, but the Rockets' only other double-figure scorers were Rafer Alston at Luis Scola at 13.1 and 10.3 points per game respectively.  Artest averages 16 per for his career, and he put up better than 20 per game a season ago.  While he isn't the world's most efficient scorer, he can put up points in bunches, and if he is willing to do the right things and play within the system (a big if, no doubt about that), he could provide a major shot in the arm for the Houston offense as well.

Meanwhile, the cost for the Rockets is about as reasonable as it gets for a big-time player, no matter how much of a nut he is.  Bobby Jackson is a nice energy spark off the bench, but the team will live without him.  The Rockets are likely to be very good this year, thus devaluing the first-rounder that they gave up, which will probably be a mid-to-late-twenties pick.  Donte Greene certainly has the potential to become a very nice player, but he is as of yet unproven.  At present, his value to this Rockets team no doubt falls well short of what Artest will bring to the table.

Another stopper (can't have too many of those), a mean streak, big-time scoring ability and an expiring contract (great to have with a known lunatic): Daryl Morey and the Rockets have clearly made a gutsy move that has as little risk as possible for a Ron Artest acquisition, and it is one that could pay huge dividends.

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