Rockets ‘10-11 Preview
30 teams in 30 days.
by Maurice Bobb / @reesereport
Everything’s big in Texas, including expectations. It’s been 15 years since former Houston Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich jubilantly proclaimed, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion,” after his sixth-seeded team won back-to-back NBA titles in ’95 on the heels of a 47-35 regular season record, but Rockets’ fans continue to faithfully support their squad in its quest to regain that championship glare.
Yeah, about that…
Since that historically blissful parade down Main Street, the Rockets failed to reclaim the O’Brien trophy with the “Big Three” of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley and missed the playoffs from 1999–2003. Houston eventually got back to the big dance after drafting Yao Ming first overall in 2002 but did not advance past the first round of the postseason until 2009.
Things started to look up for the proud franchise, but things went sour on May 8, 2009 when the Rockets suffered their biggest L to date—the loss of Yao Ming. The 7’6, 310-pound All Star suffered a hairline fracture of the tarsal navicular bone of his left foot and sat out the entire ’09-10 season. Not surprisingly, Houston missed the postseason last year.
The silver lining?
Coach Rick Adelman’s bunch still managed to finish the season over .500 (42-40), enough for ninth place in a stacked Wild Wild West. Based on record alone, the Rockets would’ve made the Playoffs…in the East. Aaron Brooks took the reins as the starting floor general, earned his stripes behind a swollen stat line of 19.6 ppg and 5.3 apg and took home the Most-Improved Player of the Year Award for his trouble. Daryl Morey masterminded a trade for Kevin Martin, who brought his “eff your perfect shooting form” J and efficient scoring to the party. Luis Scola continued to keep it muy caliente at the power forward spot and rookie Chase Budinger provided highlight reel dunks and much-needed scoring off the bench. Somehow, without his best player clogging up the middle, Adelman kept his team of overachievers from going too far off the rails.
Now that the ’10-11 season is officially underway, the Yao Ming/Houston Rockets marriage can be summed up by taking creative license with Forrest Gump’s famous catchphrase, “Yao is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get.”
Can he stay healthy? Will his foot fail him and keep him from being effective on the court? Can the team count on him? Will he disrupt the chemistry with the doctor imposed 24-minute limit on playing time? All these questions most assuredly have the Rockets brass wading in quicksand about the direction of the team. Ultimately, though, Yao is too much of an unstoppable force down low when he’s on top of his game and Houston, however doubtful of what kind of impact the Great Wall of China will make, has to go all in on their investment.
Doesn’t mean they can’t have a backup plan though. Morey signed free agent Brad Miller (career averages of 9.8 ppg and 5.6 rpg) and drafted Kentucky standout Patrick Patterson over the summer to be the stabilizing forces in the middle. The training staff made sure Jordan Hill ate his Wheaties and force-fed him new post moves to ensure the 6-10 PF lives up to the 2009 Pre-Draft hype and does more than look like “The Predator” out on the hardwood. And Luis Scola? He just went out and murked all comers during the FIBA World Championships, leading all players with 27.1 ppg while shooting 57 percent from the field. There’s no reason to doubt that Scola’s dominance across the pond won’t build his confidence and lead to more success as an NBA player. It might sound like hyperbole to say he’s as good as Amar’e Stoudemire, but Scola could graduate to All Star status if he’s able to increase his ’09-10 averages of 16.2 ppg and 8.2 rpg by at least 20%.
Then there’s Courtney Lee. No one’s talking about him, but Lee is a young and electrifying player who should flourish in Adelman’s system. He can create his own shot and get to the rim. The bench production shouldn’t be too shabby either. Jermaine Taylor, Kyle Lowry, Jared Jeffries, Chuck Hayes and Budinger round out the Rockets’ arsenal on the pine and can be counted on to keep things running offensively when the first team needs a breather. And while Shane Battier has been the defensive soul of the team for the last few years, he’s slowing down and needs to acquiesce his minutes to the youngsters to further their development. A good move would be to have Lee and Martin on the court together for long stretches to spark things on O.
Injuries seems to hang around this team like unwanted house mold, but if Yao, Miller, Budinger and Lowry can bounce back from injuries, look for this squad to at least land the No. 7 or No. 8 spot in the playoffs.
Should Houston find a way to make all of their shiny new pieces gel, they have a legitimate shot at reinvigorating Rudy’s rallying call and returning to the Western Conference elite.
First off the bench: Courtney Lee
Projected record: 50-32
Playoff run: With a productive Yao, out of the second round. With a less than productive Yao, out of the first round on a wing and a prayer