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Rafer is gone

February 19th, 2009
by John

It wasn’t the deal I expected, even with McGrady probably not being part of the Rockets’ future. Rafer Alston was traded at the deadline in a 3-way deal with Memphis and Orlando where the Rockets will get Kyle Lowry and Brian Cook.

I remember games against the Rockets where Lowry lit up the Rockets, and he’s super quick. But he’s only 6 feet tall, not much bigger than Aaron Brooks. And Cook is another power forward that creates more of a logjam with Carl Landry, Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes already there. Cooks is different in that he’s a good 3-point shooter, just under 40% for his career (44% this season), but I don’t expect him to get many minutes. Think Matt Bullard, Steve Novak or Robert Horry — a specialist.

Obviously the Magic thought they had to do something with Jameer Nelson out because of shoulder surgery, so they needed some experience at the helm.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised Rafer was traded since — despite his inconsistency — he had become more reliable over the past few weeks, just like he did last season, and when he was hitting his 3-pointers, was a very surprising weapon. He also seemed to be hitting his stride from an assist perspective, as witnessed in his last game Tuesday against the Nets with 11 and 13 against Sacramento the game before that.

He also became more of a team leader than anyone else. Just last night I was impressed listening to him on the radio doing an interview during the Tux & Tennies event. He always made himself available to the press and called it like he saw it. He even told the interviewer last night that he didn’t mind being interviewed even more, and would make himself available at any time.

My exposure to him in person was always professional. Even though I got on him since he became a Rocket , he had won me over with his grit to pull himself up by the bootstraps and make a contribution considering all the criticism he received from the fans, something that McGrady had a hard time dealing with.

As far as Aaron goes, it’s his baby now. He’s going to have to grow up fast. Developing chemistry with the team like Rafer did over the past few seasons is not an easy feat, and it’s a risky move by the Rockets to fiddle with the position that’s so important to making sure the ball continues to get to the right places. I’ve got to think Brooks has really impressed the coaching staff for them to make this bold of a move.

Personally, I would have loved Baron Davis, who is the ultimate baller. Yeah, I know his contract is expensive for the next few years and he’s had injury issues himself, but that dude is not only a scorer and a threat, he’s got stones and is a leader.

Now I think Ron Artest will become the team’s de facto leader, who’s got his own moxy about him. I loved his response yesterday, when asked about the loss of McGrady, he said he didn’t care who he played with, even if it was his grandmother. I like that.

Unlike last February when the Rockets traded Bonzi Wells (for Bobby Jackson) when they could have used his scoring punch for the upcoming playoffs, I’m not that upset about Rafer being traded. Last year’s Bonzi trade (to a Western Conference playoff foe) seemed more like a salary cap move than anything, contrary to their supposed commitment to making a serious run for the title. That trade ended up haunting the Rockets in the Jazz playoff series because of Yao’s injury

I think the Rockets can get by with Aaron and Lowry without too much risk. Brooks is solid, can get into the lane, has impressed me with his passing, and has tremendous upside. There’s also enough scoring punch around him to make any shooting slump he goes through more tolerable.

So long, Rafer. Although your time in Houston was rocky, you did dig yourself out of a hole to make an appreciated contribution. And you are wanted by the Magic. Good luck in Orlando. We hope you put them over the top in the East to take out Boston and Cleveland.