Monday night marked the return of Aaron Brooks to the Toyota Center. It turned out to be a homecoming Brooks will likely want to forget,
losing out Homecoming Queen to Zabian Dowdell scoring an anemic two points on one of nine shooting and committing three turnovers in just 28 minutes of play. This was not entirely out of place in a sloppy game the Rockets repeatedly tried to give away, but it can't have been the return he imagined.
His sole highlight consisted of tripping Chase Budinger after a comical Kevin Martin versus Jared Dudley jump-ball in the waning seconds of the game. Budinger made one of two, extending the Rockets lead to two points, and eventually ensuring the win after Dudley missed a last-second three-point attempt.
The Rockets showed a brief but classy tribute video to Brooks during a timeout in the first half, and he received a warm round of applause from the crowd. Still, the entire encounter had the chilly and uncomfortable air of a chance encounter with an ex-girlfriend, a sentiment seemingly echoed by Brooks after the game.
"That's out of the way," Brooks said. "I'm just glad these Houston games are over, and we can go about the season."
Indeed they are and so we shall. Though they sit on the outside looking in at the eight seed, the Rockets continue to show more spark and fluidity (last night notwithstanding) than they have for much of the season. How much of that can be directly attributed to the departure of Brooks is impossible to say, but his loss has not been the crippling blow some foresaw. Lets consider this after the jump.
The Rockets dealt Brooks on deadline day, receiving PG Goran Dragic and a lottery-protected 2011 pick from the Suns. The Rockets receive the Orlando Magic pick should Phoenix fail to make the playoffs. Rockets fans may want to start rooting for an early exit by Orlando.
It's unfair to pass final judgment on the Phoenix incarnation of Brooks - and by extension the trade that sent him packing - based on a single game. Especially an emotionally tough return to the arena where he played the first two-and-a-half seasons of his career. Still a few stat-line truths permeated the proceedings and they echo many of the larger truths about the trade's consequences.
Brooks continues to see fewer minutes (18 mpg with Phoenix, down from 23.9 in Houston), even in the absence of Nash, and his play is often frenetic and disjointed. Monday night saw him log 20 minutes, but only five in the second half after an abysmal first. He appears uncomfortable in the Phoenix offense and has yet to find a rhythm with his teammates. His FG% is up to 40%, but he contributes only 8.2 ppg. Considering his contract expires at the end of the season, it's difficult to see what the Suns gained from this deal unless they plan to trade Nash in the offseason or can convince Brooks to assume the role of heir-apparent. So far, he's not making a good case for either scenario.
By contrast Dragic continues to bring energy and pace off the bench, and supplies a healthy dose of points to go with it (6.9 ppg in 13.5 mpg since joining the Rockets). Coupled with an additional year on his contract at a modest $2 million, it's easy to realize the value Morey saw in Dragic. The first round pick is just icing on the cake and another piece for a future move.
On this deal, it seems clear Morey won again.