While the Houston Rockets have seen moderate success over the past ten seasons, you would be hard pressed to find many teams more snake bitten by bad luck. Between numerous injury problems for superstar players Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, basketball reasons robbing them of the opportunity to acquire Pau Gasol and being in a perpetual state of basketball hell, it has been tough to be a fan of the Rockets lately.
Daryl Morey for being an incredibly active and creative general manager has not been able to find that superstar piece to play in Houston. He has assembled a nice collection of assets in hopes of acquiring a franchise player but has been unsuccessful, most recently failing to get Dwight Howard though they had perhaps the best package to offer the Orlando Magic. It is quite difficult to compete with teams like the champion Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers who are all superstar heavy squads without matching their star power. Morey realizes that in this current NBA landscape and though the Rockets project to be a worse team in 2012-2013, building a championship team from the bottom is easier to deal with than being not bad enough to hit the lottery or good enough to be a serious contender.
The Rockets finished 34-32 last season and missed the 8th seed of the Western Conference by 2 games under first year coach Kevin McHale. While Houston remained competitive, they missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season and change was severely needed. Gone from last years team are Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert, Goran Dragic and the criminally underrated Kyle Lowry who had an irreparable rift with coach McHale.
Scola was amnestied and later picked up by the Phoenix Suns. Dragic and Camby left as free agents, with Dragic joining Scola in Phoenix and Camby returning to the New York Knicks. Budinger, Dalembert and Lowry were all traded in separate deals in order to gain more assets for a bigger move which STILL hasn’t happened.
Obviously the major acquisition for the Rockets this past off-season was signing restricted free agent Jeremy Lin to a 3-year, 25 million dollar offer sheet that was not matched by the New York Knicks. Lin is one of the more polarizing players in the NBA right now, opinions of him vary from guy that has no left hand and had a lucky stretch to a guy who some believe can be a very good starting point guard. Either way it is important to keep perspective on Lin. The fact of the matter is the man came out of nowhere to have one of the truly great runs the NBA has ever seen. Whether you love or hate Linsanity, the Knicks very likely would have missed the playoffs without him in 2011-2012.
The thing that makes me a believer in Lin is watching the effect he has on teammates. When Lin was running the point under then Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, his infectious energy and team oriented play was at the time a welcome contrast from the hero ball they were accustomed to with Carmelo Anthony. Though 26 games is a small sample size, Lin averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists as a starter and the Rockets are hoping he can have similar success. Its a given Linsanity will be a huge hit in Houston from a marketing standpoint and Morey clearly knows this.
The other notable acquisition the Rockets made was signing restricted free agent Omer Asik to a 3-year, 25 million dollar deal offer sheet which the Chicago Bulls elected not to match. This was a questionable signing to say the least for the Houston Rockets, any time a guy who averages 3.1 points and 5.3 rebounds a game gets signed to a 25 million dollar contract eyebrows will be raised.
It is important to note that Morey has had a hard on for Omer Asik for years and it is not unheard of to overpay for an athletic center who is a very strong defender. Because the Bulls are in luxury tax territory, it would have been tough to justify keeping Asik to this contract considering he only played 14.7 minutes a night in Chicago last season. In fairness, Asik is only 26 years old and will surely be an anchor for the Rockets defense. He also should be able to learn a post move or two from McHale who is one of the all time great post scorers the NBA has ever seen. Omer has hands of stone but expect him to have some opportunities for easy baskets running pick and roll with Jeremy Lin.
The Rockets also made some noise with in the NBA Draft having the 12th, 16th and 18th overall picks. Jeremy Lamb is a capable scorer with nice athleticism at the shooting guard position. He averaged 17.7 points and 4.9 rebounds as a sophomore at UConn. He will immediately provide depth at the 2-guard position and may possibly end up the starter at some point if the Rockets elect to trade Kevin Martin to a contender. Though Lamb looks like he’s half asleep much of the time, if you aren’t careful as a defender you might become a poster.
Royce White was selected with the 16th pick and is a do-it-all small forward. He averaged 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5 assists for the Minnesota Gophers and is also a beast physically, weighing in at close to 260 pounds at 6’8”. He could have very well gone higher in the draft given his talent but teams were scared off by his diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder explaining his being available at 16.
With the 18th pick, the Houston Rockets selected Terrence Jones. His stats naturally suffered during his sophomore season at Kentucky playing alongside elite freshman Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but he has an NBA body and is a very well rounded player. Jones could have a Lamar Odom type impact on games, handling the ball, scoring and playing solid defense.
Projected Starting Lineup for the Houston Rockets:
PG – Jeremy Lin
SG – Kevin Martin
SF – Chandler Parsons
PF – Patrick Patterson
C – Omer Asik/Donatas Motiejunas
On paper, this is a clear downgrade from last season’s roster. Having said that, sometimes you have to build from the bottom up in order to build a championship caliber squad in the NBA. I think that Daryl Morey is doing the right thing by accumulating young assets while still maintaining cap flexibility to be a player in a LOADED 2013 Free Agency class. Kevin Martin’s contract will come off the books and though he is a very efficient scorer at the shooting guard position, he is very limited in other aspects of his game. He and Jeremy Lin form a nice starting back court and should be entertaining to watch at the very least, even if they struggle greatly on defense.
Chandler Parsons had a solid rookie season, averaging 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 28.6 minutes a night and displayed a well-rounded game at the 3. While he should have the starting small forward position to start the season, it would not shock me at all to see Royce White starting before long. Carlos Delfino was also recently signed by the Rockets and should be in line for minutes. Delfino can play the 2 or 3 and should benefit greatly from Jeremy Lin’s drive and kick style with his solid outside shooting.
Patrick Patterson like Terrence Jones is a fellow Kentucky alum who has solid offensive skills and is projected to be the starting power forward in Houston. He is not particularly good on defense or on the boards and could also lose his starting position if Terrence Jones plays well. Donatas Motiejunas could also see some time at the 4.
It is unclear whether Omer Asik or Donatas Motiejunas will be the starting center in Houston. Motiejunas is a relative unknown being that he has played in the Euroleague and is of Lithuanian descent. However, he is a skilled big man who has nice ball handling skills and can score inside and out. The Rockets have high hopes for him and he could prove to be a very important piece for them down the line. Asik probably should be the starter at the 5 given his defensive abilities, he will be expected to cover up a lot of the mistakes Lin and Martin make and will be asked to be a strong rebounding presence.
Shaun Livingston and Toney Douglas will provide the depth at the point guard position. While injuries robbed Livingston of possibly becoming a superstar at the point guard position he has made himself into a decent role player in the NBA, averaging 5.5. points and 2.1 assists in 18 minutes off the bench for the Bucks last season. Douglas is a streaky shooter and aggressive defender who drew the ire of Knicks fans everywhere last season. Perhaps in Houston he can rebound from the subpar season he had in 2011-2012.
Overall I expect the Rockets to be near the bottom of the Western Conference in 2012-2013. Kevin McHale is a great teacher of the game and I think we will see some progress from Houston’s younger players but this is not a team that will likely contend for a playoff position. Part of that is by design too so all isn’t bad in Houston in regards to this season. They could end up with potentially two high picks, their own and Toronto’s which they acquired in the Kyle Lowry deal and will have money to spend in free agency.
With possible free agents including Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and James Harden, Houston SHOULD be able to sign someone. No state tax, nice weather year round and an active night life are factors that could make Houston an appealing city to play in. Then again this has been the plan for a while now so I completely understand if Rockets fans aren’t trying to hear that.