HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets not only got rid of Tracy McGrady on Thursday, they also nabbed a high-scoring guard they've long coveted and set themselves up for big drafts in 2011 and 2012.
The Rockets sent McGrady and his massive expiring contract to the New York Knicks in a three-team, nine-player swap that brought Sacramento shooter Kevin Martin to Houston.
The Rockets also got Hilton Armstrong from Sacramento and Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries from New York, in addition to the Knicks' first-round draft picks in 2011 and 2012.
"This deal is about putting a team together, players who can help us now and in the future," general manager Daryl Morey said. "We're excited about how this sets us up for now and especially in the next year."
The Rockets acquired McGrady in June 2004, hoping that he and Yao Ming would return the franchise to prominence. He averaged 22.4 points and 5.7 assists in five seasons in Houston before this one, but he was always blamed – sometimes unfairly – for the team's string of playoff busts.
In December, when it became clear he was no longer part of the team's plans, McGrady's representatives asked the Rockets to look for trade options and Houston agreed. McGrady offered no ill will in a statement posted on his personal Web site on Thursday.
"I have tremendous respect for (owner) Leslie Alexander and have enjoyed playing for the Rockets over the last six years," McGrady wrote. "It has definitely been the most profound part of my career. I've learned a lot about myself from various situations, both good and bad that have occurred here. It was my hope when I came to Houston that I wouldn't leave, but I do understand this is the business side of basketball."
The Rockets have been talking to Sacramento about Martin for several years, Morey said. Once they decided to deal McGrady, acquiring the high-scoring Martin became a need more than a want.
Martin is the Kings' second-leading scorer (19.8 points per game) despite missing two months of the early part of the season with a broken left wrist. He will be reunited with Houston coach Rick Adelman, for whom he played two seasons in Sacramento from 2004-06, and he adds some much needed perimeter shooting to the Rockets' lineup.
"If you just look at that one ability to put the ball in the basket without using a lot of time shooting at the hoop, he's been in the top 10 in the league pretty consistently," Morey said. "He's a unique scorer and that allows the team to function a little bit with all the roles becoming a little bit more defined."
The Kings will get New York guard Larry Hughes and Houston forwards Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey. Hughes has a much-valued expiring contract and Landry is Houston's second-leading scorer (16.1 points) and third-leading rebounder (5.5 per game).
The Knicks will also get guard Sergio Rodriguez from the Kings, though the lure of the deal was McGrady and his expiring $23 million contract. New York is eager to drop its payroll and become a major player in this summer's free-agent sweepstakes.
The 6-foot-10 Hill, the eighth overall pick in last summer's draft, will bring rebounding and energy off the bench, a role Landry filled, although Morey said they're very different players.
The downside for Houston is absorbing Jeffries' contract, which will pay him about $6.9 million next season. The Knicks wanted to trade Jeffries mainly for financial reasons, and Morey said the Rockets will evaluate him closely to see if he fits in to their future plans.
"Even though that was the piece they wanted to move, when he's played, he's been effective," Morey said. "We're not afraid to put him out there. We think he can be a player who helps us."
The most uncertain part of the deal is McGrady, who will turn 31 in May and has played in only 107 games over the last three seasons because of injuries.
McGrady's health started becoming a persistent issue in 2005-06, when he missed 34 games with back injuries that lingered into the following season. He hurt his elbow and his knee early in the 2007-08 season and missed 16 games. He was in and out of the lineup during the 2008-09 season and finally opted for season-ending microfracture surgery on the knee around the All-Star break.
McGrady, a two-time scoring champion when he played for Orlando, couldn't convince the Rockets this year that he could return to his old form after the surgery. He played a total of 46 minutes in only six games before becoming dissatisfied with his role.
The Knicks have been interested in McGrady – and his contract – almost since the Rockets announced he was on the market. Morey wanted to include high draft picks in the asking price and didn't waver as the trade deadline approached.
"More importantly, we're pretty focused on the short term," Morey said. "Those picks might help complete something that finalizes the team, add maybe the last piece to a championship-quality roster."