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Did Rockets trade of Bonzi for Bobby backfire?

May 4th, 2008
by John

I watched Game 1 of the New Orleans – San Antonio game earlier tonight, and former Rocket Bonzi Wells played very well (no pun intended), scoring 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 18 minutes and getting significant time in the always important fourth quarter.

That made me start wondering if the Rockets could have used Bonzi more than Bobby Jackson. As much as I like Bobby Jack, my answer is…”absolutely.” After all, what was the main problem we heard about the Rockets during the Utah series? It was that Tracy McGrady had to take on so much of the scoring load and he didn’t have much helped. That’s because their backup shooting guard — Luther Head — played so poorly (not that big of a surprise), he probably won’t be with the team next year, and they really didn’t get much from anyone else other than Luis Scola. Jackson did have a nice Game 2 with 18 points, and Game 5 with 9 points. But that was about it.

When the trade happened on February 20th, I wasn’t that big of a fan of it, and I wrote this:

I’m actually surprised Houston would trade Bonzi for a 34-year old point guard who is definitely on his last legs. I would have preferred Sam Cassell, who is older, but can still hit the big shot in the clutch. Maybe BJ can, too.

Bonzi was a bargain to the Rockets at $2.284 million per year. Sure, he was likely going to opt-out of his contract after this season, but the Rockets could have certainly used him for this season’s playoff run. He was always a streaky shooter, but he seemed to bring an intangible to the Rockets when they were struggling offensively. Insert Bonzi into the lineup when they can’t make a shot, and he was able to right the ship more often than not.

I also think his rebounds and assists will be missed. The fact that he gave the Spurs fits in the playoffs a couple of years ago might also be missed in this year’s playoffs.

Since they had made so many wise moves in acquiring players in 2007, I trusted Rockets management on this one. But when you look at how it turned out, I think they were playing with matches by trading away a player who could score while McGrady was either struggling or getting a rest. So I think they should have either kept Bonzi, or if Jackson struggled with his shooting, you play Steve Novak more, which the Rockets didn’t do. I believe there was a miscommunication there in the strategy for what to do just in case Jackson’s shooting woes continued to struggle. And it wasn’t like it was a big surprise that Jackson wasn’t shooting well when they acquired him.

Of course, the reasoning for acquiring Jackson at the time was that they needed an experienced backup point guard. But then we heard in these playoffs how Jackson really isn’t a point guard, but more of a scorer. Huh?

I also think the acquisition of Jackson stunted the wonderful evolution of Aaron Brooks we had seen during the 22-game winning streak. Cutting into Brooks’ minutes like that with Jackson needing minutes hurt the Rockets late in the season and in the playoffs.

The Rockets also said they needed a better defender to go up against larger point guard in the league. Not that Jackson’s defense is terrible, but we all saw what Deron Williams did to the Rockets when Rafer wasn’t in the game in Games 1 & 2, and the second half of Game 6.

And if they knew Brooks was too much of a defensive liability because of his size, WHY DRAFT HIM? I love speed as much as the next guy, but if you’re not going to exploit that to your advantage by keeping him out of there because of the size problem, then what’s the point of getting him?

The big thing that happened 5 days after the Bonzi-Bobby trade was that the Rockets found out on February 25th that Yao would miss the rest of the season. It became known that Yao was actually complaining of pain in his foot and ankle before the Bonzi trade, and it took several days for them to conduct all the tests to find the problem, which was right after the NBA trade deadline on 2/21.

I wonder to this day why all those tests weren’t administered before the trade deadline so they could determine exactly what their needs might be if the worst scenario every happened — Yao having a significant injury — which ended up being the case.

I give total props to the front office for getting Luis Scola and Carl Landry in the off-season, and even doing a low-risk deal to get Steve Francis cheap. But the drafting of Brooks (who I love but is a defensive liability) is still a question mark, trading Bonzi (a scorer) for a declining Bobby Jackson is another, and not getting all the testing done with Yao before the trade deadline is another.

Add it all up, and it worked out okay in the regular season, but in the crucible of the playoffs, it was a completely different story.

8 Responses to “Did Rockets trade of Bonzi for Bobby backfire?”

  1. DWC Says:

    yes, the trade definitely stunted brooks’ growth. at the time i totally did not get the trade. mike james is basically bobby jackson, but younger and maybe quicker. i did at the time of the trade read in an article that part of the reason was to dump james contract. and i thought, maybe management has their reasons.

    about the backup center, i feel deke could play the 10 minutes a nite and landry could shift over to center occasionally while gettin all the backup pf minutes. i think he can have a bigger role with 25-30 min a nite. we all remember how well deke did when he was first inserted into the lineup. maybe he ran outta gas and the rest of the leauge also knew not to challenge him too much. or maybe a younger deke (a guy like desagna diop) could help. we don’t really need a scoring center with yao back, and scola is a crafty scorer as well.

    I remember when Daryl Morey (GM) said that the Bonzi-for-Bobby trade which also included Mike James had nothing to do with dumping contracts or preparing for the future, but to win now. He responded to that when asked by a caller on a radio talk show if the deal was in line with the Rockets’ marketing mantra, “It’s time” and winning for today. He said absolutely it was to win in the 2007-08 season. So if that was the case (which it should have been) then they probably made a bad move. I say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think the Rockets got a little cute in doing this deal, and it backfired. — John

  2. JT in MD Says:

    Hindsight is 20/20, of course. I think the heart of the matter comes down to Yao’s injury. The stress fracture is a consequence of repetitive trauma and overuse, NOT a single freak accident like last year. Yao and the rockets need to look closely at his off-season, non-NBA commitments. They need to monitor his minutes closely and limit them during the regular season.
    All of the role player trades are insignificant compared to Yao’s presence or absence on the court at playoff time.
    As tough as the loss was, I enjoyed watching the games and the effort the team put forth. Tracy played like an all-star and I loved his play in game 6.
    To put the loss in perspective…..imagine a Utah team without Boozer and Williams AND Houston with Yao and Rafer. Utah would have been counted out, but the rockets showed toughness and hung in there and very few people were assuming the series was over before it started.

    For next year:
    1. Tracy: keep him. absolutely.
    2. Scola: Yes…duh
    3. Yao: limit minutes during regular season. Rox will need a new solid backup center assuming Deke retires.
    4. Battier: keep him.
    5. Rafer: keep him.

    I think the starting core is terrific. I don’t think you could trade for an all-star point gaurd (like nash or paul) without giving up scola and battier. All of the other moves are important too, but not mission-critical.

    6. luther: trade
    7. Brooks: trade
    8. Landry: keep him
    9. Hayes ; trade if you can get value back (sorry chuckster – you are the man, but can’t shoot!)
    10. jackson: trade
    11. novak: keep him

    my 2 cents…

    Although hindsight is 20/20, I think management of all teams should get credit for the good deals they make (Scola, Landry, maybe Brooks), and be held accountable for the bad deals (trading Bonzi for Bobby), similar to how the Dallas front office will be held accountable for the Jason Kidd trade and Phoenix for trading away Shawn Marion for Shaq.

    I would agree with your assessments on next year’s roster, except for Brooks where they should give him lots of playing time in 2008-09 to see what he can do. — John

  3. Pat Says:

    Many were surprised when Brooks, who was projected a second-rounder, was drafted as high as he did. The Houston Chronicle and others reported that Rick Adelman saw him play in college and was enamored with his speed and deadly three-point accuracy. So in my opinion Adelman’s input on the draft definitely played a factor into drafting him. I don’t think the Rox would have drafted Brooks.

    I wasn’t irked by the Bonzi Wells trade as others. People forgot the fact that the Rox got rid of Mike James’ huge contract in this trade. I think Adelman also wanted Bobby Jackson badly. Most coaches have a tendency of falling in love with their old players, sometimes oblivious to their declining skills . When they are hired in a new market, they always try to bring in his favorite player(s) from an old team they used to coach. NBA coaches do it; NFL coaches do it. Jeff Van Gundy did it with Marc Jackson who obviously couldn’t play anymore. In Adelman’s mind, Bobby Jackson might not be the same Bobby Jackson that played for him in Sacramento, but still could contribute – more than Bonzi Wells – under his coaching and in his system. In cases like this, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Bobby Jackson lost his legs but would you rather have Mike James for the next few years? Wells is a free agent this off-season, and if the Rox like him, they can always can go after him. To me, freeing the cap by trading away Mike James helps the team more than it hurts the team.

  4. Daniel Says:

    We need to look at the fundamental reasons why this trade turned out so poorly. It all really comes back to Yao’s ridiculous commitments to the CNT every summer and Rafer missed 2 and a half games. Playing in pointless tournament, practicing when he should be working on his own game, etc have worn on Yao. Jackson also is not a starting pg. He did his best work in Sacto when he came in with the 2nd unit and got to spend a lot of time on the opposing teams’ backup guards. Now he’s nowhere near as good as he was back then and he was starting. I’ll be honest, I hated this trade from the beginning, but it’s also painfully obvious that keeping Bonzi would have made little difference against Utah since Yao and Rafer were not able to play. We were able to get rid of Mike James’ contract so essentially it was Bonzi, who wasn’t planning on re-signing anyway, for an expiring contract who can be used to upgrade. So if they can somehow get Mike Miller or Kirk Hinrich next season for BJax’s expiring and stay healthy next year I will say the trade worked. The Rockets window hasn’t closed yet.

  5. Kaolin Says:

    It is definitely debatable whether the deal was a good one, however for me it feels like Aaron Brooks was not yet good enough to play big minutes, not due to his defense, but how he runs the team. You see a big difference in ball movement when Rafer is the point guard vs Brooks. Bobby Jackson was not much better, but I feel still better than Brooks. Also when the deal was made, the Rockets was trying to get Brent Barry, it became impossible when Yao got injured, but that was not foreseeable. Assume that Yao was not injured and they landed Barry they would not miss Bonzi.

  6. DWC Says:

    mike miller would be a great fit. but then again, we said the same about bonzi and stromile.

  7. Tom Says:

    The rockets lost the series because they lost the 1st 2 games at home. Missing Yao surly made things tough for them, but the man they missed is Rafer. Consider the games that Rafer had finished, they were 2-1. He is not a great player, but he fits in the rotation. Of particular, I believe he really made TMac’s life much easier by sharing the load of ball handling.

    For a team with almost every starter injured (Yao, TMac, Rafer, Battier) and still made the playoff and had a good fight in the playoff, isn’t it amazing?

    And for anyone who have the idea of Yao being hurt due to offseason committments… Well, I have the same idea. However, maybe because I’m Chinese, I look at it from a different perspective. Could the NBA season be shorter instead? How many games does Yao play in offseason? How many does he play in a NBA season? I don’t know, I suspect if Yao’s minutes in regular season could be limited (same thing to TMac), he maybe healthier at the end of a long NBA season.

    Anyway, just wish the Rockets have good health, not just for Yao and TMac but for everyone. Ok, let’s be realistics, let wish everyone without major/season-ending/career-ending injuries in coming season!

  8. David Says:

    Hey John, do you know if any chinese player will join the nba draft this year???
    Yi-jianglian obviously was not ready for the NBA

    David, no there is no Chinese player who will be drafted this year. — John

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