Offseason to-do list: Rockets

People can talk all they want about how T-mac hasn't gotten past the first round in his career. The failures of the Rockets are not enough for them to ship Tracy McGrady out of Houston. Face it people, he is not going anywhere. Not to Detroit, not to Denver, not to anywhere. His failure to get his team to the playoffs when he played in Toronto, Orlando, or Houston has been well documented and very public. Is it really T-macs fault? No. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that if Yao Ming was healthy during the playoffs this year, it would have been a much different story. I also don't think anyone in Houston is blaming McGrady for the offseason failure again this year. It is understood that with Yao on the floor, it becomes a different story. With that said, the Rockets need to make a few tweaks and they will be right up there with the elite teams in the West.

The cornerstone of the Rockets are obviously T-Mac and Yao Ming. When the Rockets drafted Yao and made the trade for McGrady, it was said to be the next coming of Kobe and Shaq. As many of us know, this didn't work out as expected, yet. Yao Ming had an injury that was accumulated over time and forced him out for the rest of the season. He will be playing in the Beijing Olympic games next month which should scare the Rockets a bit. His injury was functionally a stress fracture that occurred because of the immense pressure put on it day after day. Of course, Yao will have medical clearance from doctors to play, but it has to worry Adelman and the rest of the Rocket organization. If his condition does not improve and he further injures himself in Beijing, the Rockets could be staring into a long dark tunnel. In Beijing, Yao is not only playing for China, he is in a sense, playing for the Rockets. Obviously the Rockets don't benefit off of this, but lets say he gets hurt, that puts the Rockets in a very tough position. They have put all of their eggs in the T-mac and Yao basket and the fans of Houston have been waiting patiently for years to see it manifest itself. To see Yao go down, or have recurring problems with this injury, would send the Rockets into another 5 year rebuilding plan and force them to pay out his contract of $15 mil, $16.3 mil, and $17.6 mil over the next three years. This obviously means they are tied up financially and would be limited in their free agent power, and only have trade possibilities as a real option. Of course, you can't tell a guy to not play for his country, it is the greatest honor an athlete can have. It is just something the Rockets have to bite their tongue on, cross their fingers and hope for the best. Now, one might say, any of the players who play for their respective international teams have the same potential to hurt themselves just like Yao does. Yes, that is true, however, this is the first time Yao has come off of injury and is testing it with little practice and rehabilitation time. It will be one of the story lines for NBA fans watching the Olympics to keep their eyes on.

Tracy McGrady has had some off court problems this offseason, but no one even dares to count McGrady out of next year's playoff hunt. Expect him to be the superstar we have always known him to be. I predict that this will be one of his best years, if not the best, of his career. The previous years he has struggled with injury or team chemistry, but the Rockets have put together the pieces and have proven themselves a dangerous team in the West. When Yao went down and they were about 7 or 8 games into their historic streak I predicted that they would not make the playoffs. They demolished that prediction and proved to me that you cannot bet against a player like T-Mac, the superstar who leads this team, and a great coach in Rick Adelman. T-Mac averaged 21.6 ppg and 5.9 assts, but those numbers don't reflect his impact on the court. We have all seen him literally put his team on his shoulders and carry them to the finish. He is so good that there are some games where he only scores a point or two in a quarter and plays lock down defense on the opposing team's best player. He can do it all and if Yao can come back healthy and produce like he did last year, T-Mac will finally get to that elusive second round of the playoffs and he will not longer be referred to as the superstar who almost won. You can't help but feel for the guy even if you aren't a Houston fan. It is hard to see a guy putting everything he has into the game against all odds and still coming up short.

For whatever reason, Luis Scola doesn't get the press he deserves. He was obviously in the ROY discussion this year, but that didn't do his impact justice. Unlike the vast majorities of rookies, Scola is in his prime upon entering the NBA at 27 years old. He was a major reason the Rockets went on their 22 game win streak last season. He is an absolute steal because he is still bound by his rookie contract that paid him $2.9 million and will pay him $3.1 million and $3.3 million through the end of the 2010 season. He is 6'9 and 230lbs which gives him the size to go up against some of the bigger forwards in the league. No one is calling him a great defender when he averages .23 blocks a game and .73 steals, and he probably will never be, but he will learn. He is naturally gifted and can improve to make himself as good a defender as he wants to be. His real value is on offense. It is up to debate about whether Rafer Alston or Scola is the third option, but I think Rick Adelman can live with that problem. Alston averages 13.1 ppg while Scola averages 10.3 ppg. The difference is, Alston shoots only 39.4% from the field while Scola shoots a solid 51.5% from the field. It also doesn't hurt that Scola grabs 6.4 rebs a game to go along with those numbers. This was only his first year. Expect him to be one of Houston's coveted assets in the coming years. If he continues to improve, he will be one of the best forwards in the NBA without a doubt.

Scola is Houston's first, and arguably most important role player. The next player that Houston likes is the former And-1 star, Rafer Alston. Alston has always confused me because I can't decide whether he can be considered one of the best point guards in the league or he was a beneficiary of a team riding emotion and momentum during the season. I do know he is extremely talented, but whether he is translating that into wins in the NBA is suspect. He is more of a streaky type player. If he is on, his box score is gonna be high, but if it is an off night, he doesn't shoot himself out of it very easily. He averages 34.1 minutes a game but only averages, as previously stated, 13.1 points. The amount of time and his average supports the argument that he is a streaky shooter. He has games where he is scoring 25-30, but he also has games where he is scoring under 10 points. He was the main catalyst in Houston's 22 game run this year. At one point he was clearly one of the top 5 point guards in the Western Conference, but the playoffs proved that he could not hang with the best of them when it counted. He does make about what he should for a player with his skill set. He is set to make $4.9 million next year and $5.2 million in in the 09'-10' season which is not unreasonable at all. The backup for Alston, Luther Head, plays almost the exact same game as Alston but at what a backup should produce. Head averages 7.6ppg and 1.9 assts playing an average of 18.9 minutes a game and getting paid $1.9 and $2.8 million, respectively, through the next two seasons. Not much more you can ask for with a guy getting paid that much.

The Rockets have a deeper bench than most people think. Dikembe Mutumbo is not under contract for next season, but the 42 year old might have a year left in him. He led the Rockets in blocks this year at 1.23 a game and played 15.4 minutes a game. The Rockets do have one of the top defenders in the league in Shane Battier. Everyone knew he was an amazing defender, but no one knew just how good this guy was until the Rockets played the Lakers this season and beat them to extend their win streak to 21 games. Battier locked down Kobe on national television and made everyone believe that Kobe could at least be slowed down if played correctly. He earned a lot of respect that day and he deserves all of his $6.3 million dollar contract next year and lasts till the end of the 2011 season. The other two players that are commonly overlooked are Bonzi Wells and Bobby Jackson. Both of these players bring instant offense, energy, and toughness the second they hit the floor. Wells was lost in Sacramento and New Orleans, but has really shown he can be a solid role player on Houston's club. He averaged 9.2ppg and 5.1 rebs, the exact numbers as Shane Battier, a starter, except Battier averaged .1 ppg than Wells did. That is about as good as a team can ask for in a guy off the bench (unless you are the Spurs who consider Manu Ginobli a bench player). Wells is not under contract next year, but any team that signs him will pay top dollar for his service. Bobby Jackson is set to earn $6 million next year and no one questions his game play. He is consistently one of the last guys to leave practice and shoots 300 jump shots a day after practice. That is the kind of dedication an owner and GM love to see when they are cutting a $6 million check. His averages don't tell the whole story for him and he is worth more than his 8.8 ppgs and 2.4 assts would suggest. His contribution off the bench shows why teams are willing to pay him as much as they do without putting so much emphasis on his stats.

The Rockets have a loaded back court now with the addition of Brent Barry who will probably be playing more SF than SG. Barry's value skyrocketed when he had an amazing Game 4 against the Lakers in the playoffs and was involved in one of the most controversial plays of the year. The Rockets have 4 players under contract who can play point guard. Alston, Head, Steve Francis, and Aaron Brooks. There will not be enough minutes to go around for all four players and Aaron Brooks, the for Oregon star, is too good of a prospect to let go even if he is a little undersized to play in the NBA. He showed a lot or promise and played a bigger role than many would have expected the second round pick player to play. He logged 12 minutes a game and had 5.2 ppg during that time. Steve Francis is back with the team he started his career with and the player Houston used in a trade to get McGrady, but his disappointing career has shown teams that he is a backup point guard at best in the league. Expect him to be a possible trade chip for the Rockets as he is due to make $2.6 million dollars this coming year that can come off the books.

The Rockets will be an elite team for years to come as long as their core of T-Mac, Yao, Battier and Scola can be kept together. If the back court of the Rockets improves and consistently produces what we have seen they can produce when it counts, they will be a tough team to beat. Houston has built a contender in the West and that is saying a lot with the current arms race going on in the stacked Western Conference. I think this is the year they get over the hump and at least make the second round. If they don't, it is going to be time to think about a new approach to this whole playoff thing.



You may not have heard of James Felton, but getting dunked on by a little-known player by the name of Tracy McGrady never quite healed. This is a very sad and tragic story of a prep star who didn't like to be in the spotlight and spilled over to problems off the court that led to his death.

What is it with Duke and NBA contracts? I don't get it either...

Brad Miller's recent suspension for marijuana hasn't caused that much rustle in the media these days, and The Sporting Blog asks the question of whether it is a racial thing. It is an interesting question posed to a situation that many people might not immediately think it applies to.

Great read: rufusonfire.com, the Charlotte Bobcat blog writes about the worst NBA all-stars of the last two decades.

What would an offseason without Lamar for Artest trade rumors be? Well, here is what the Lakers are dealing with financially. You can make your own prediction of what will happen. You can see if the numbers work out in the long run for yourself. The beginning of the article is for all you economics nuts out there and breaks down the Lakers business side from an economic perspective.

The next big NBA market is...India?

If you haven't read Marc Stein's ESPN report about free agents this offseason...you should.

Picture Sources: nba.com (top), espn.com (second), chinadaily.com (third), nbaloud.com (fourth) espn.com (fifth), nba.com (sixth), daylife.com (seventh), espn.com (eighth), nba.com (ninth), nba.com (tenth)

1 comment:

Greg said...

Donte Greene, who was an absolute steal at the 28th pick, is worth a mention, especially after this...