It wasn't exactly the ideal trade deadline for Daryl Morey and the Rockets. The superstar they need has never looked further away, the top draft picks they were hoping to find instead became lottery-protected, and they dealt away two pretty popular players in Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks. It's easy to look at the returns, look at the lack of a big move, and come up with the idea that the Rockets are no less stuck than they were before.
Every little bit will help when it comes to trading for a superstar. The Rockets have two more first round picks than they did last Wednesday, and even though they're not likely to be premium picks, volume can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Granted, they're not much closer, but they're closer than they were. But that brings me to the more important point.
Look past Battier's lockdown defense, look past Brooks' playoff heroics: is this team really worse than it was on Wednesday?
Battier was 32, and will be 33 before the start of his next season. He's still a technically sound defender, but he no longer has the tireless energy he did four or five years ago. Moreover, in Courtney Lee, the Rockets have a player with the exact same skillset minus some basketball intelligence and seven years. The minutes that the Rockets have opened up by dealing Battier would be a big deal on another team, but Houston has been accumulating assets for years that have deserved more of a chance than they got. I'm not a huge Chase Budinger guy, but going off for 27 points in his first game as a starter was eye-opening. That's a week for Battier. Terrence Williams' upside needed minutes to flourish as well, and even if Lee, Budinger, and Kevin Martin are the main rotation guys on the wings, at least he's getting a chance to impact his value positively.
As for the Brooks-Goran Dragic trade, I'm not sure that's a downgrade. Dragic has the size to bother opposing guards that Brooks really didn't on defense, and they look like pretty similar players offensively. Both rely on their speed, both can shoot the three, and both turn it over a little more than they should. The only difference between the two of them are their ages (26 for Brooks, 24 for Dragic) and their contracts (Brooks would've been a free agent, Dragic has a cap-friendly team option for next season). Throw out the fact that Dragic is a better asset for the Rockets because they still get another year from him and got a first rounder to make the deal: is he even worse than Brooks? I think you can make the case that he is, but I'm not sure it's by enough to actively hurt the team in limited minutes. I also think you can make the case that Dragic is a better player and not be wrong.
Now, you can say that the Rockets negatively impacted their slim playoff chances by improving a pair of the teams they're competing with for those last few seeds in the West with, but did they really improve them much? Memphis was already getting surprisingly good play from their wings like Sam Young and Tony Allen behind Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. Battier can solidify things for them while Gay is hurt, but he's hardly replacing negative value on the court. Likewise, if you follow the dots on the Brooks-Dragic trade, Brooks could be a slight upgrade for the Suns, but not by enough to really matter in the few games that the two teams have left this season.
It's easy to look at the direction of the Rockets two deadline trades and think that they're just spinning their wheels. I would have much rather seen a big move, and I think most Rockets fans would say the same thing, but given that the assets just weren't good enough for Morey to pull it off this season, I think he did a fine job under the circumstances. The Rockets picked up two first round draft picks and didn't really gain or lose any ground on the competition. What's not to like?