Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good record against bad teams

December has been kind to the Rockets, but mostly because of the schedule. They are 7-2 for the month, but the competition has been less than stellar. True, they beat two good teams - Denver and Atlanta, both at Toyota Center. The rest of the month has been a romp through the Weak Sisters of the Poor of the Western Conference. Road losses to the Clippers and Grizzlies spoiled an otherwise excellent month.

7-2 is a good record, but as I've said before, to ignore the records of the opponents is to stick one's head in the sand. Other than the Nuggets and Hawks, the rest of the teams they faced have a combined record of 73-138, an anemic .346 winning percentage, and the Rockets lost to two of those teams.

One bright spot has been the emergence of Aaron Brooks at the point. He still has a lot to learn, but is as quick as a hiccup, and plays with a lot of grit. Whatever he gives up on defense because of his height he seems to make up for on offense.

Yes, the injury bug still bites, and that sucker can sting. In the road loss to the Clippers, Tracy McGrady was hobbled and Ron Artest missed the game completely. McGrady and Artest both missed the road loss to the Grizzlies. Rafer Alston was injured in a home win against the Clippers and has missed the last three games. Brent Barry, who was slated to be a staple in the rotation, has missed all of December with a torn leg muscle.

I used to play a lot of B-Ball, strictly club stuff and I was never very good, but it did teach me a great deal about injuries, mostly ankle injuries. They take time to heal completely, and not just a little time. Six weeks for a severe sprain is optimistic to return to the court, but the pain may not go away for months at least. Same for the knees. Now that I am beyond my basketball days, the ankle pain is chronic. Basketball is a great game and provides valuable exercise, but it's hell on the wheels.

Again, the report card shows an Incomplete. When everyone gets healthy and the competition improves, we'll see where they stand. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pet peeve

I hope I get my point across with this one. Got that? I HOPE. Not HOPEFULLY. That is the most misused word in sports interviews.

When someone says, "Hopefully, we will win the game," they are actually saying, "We will win the game, and while we are winning, we will be hopeful." It is putting an adverb where a verb should be. What they mean to say is, "I hope we will win the game." Equally correct would be , "I am hopeful that we will win the game." Also correct would be "We are going into the game hopefully." You may substitute the words "full of hope" for hopefully.

I know, the incorrect use of the word is listed in the dictionary as an option, but it is considered non-standard English. A word of advice to all athletes and coaches: Keep it simple. Don't use the word hopefully at all. It is rarely correct and just makes you sound like you never cracked a book in college. Just say "I hope."

Hopefully, you all will get the message. :)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Division Leaders

The Rockets are 12-7 and lead the Southwest Division by 1/2 game over the New Orleans Hornets. Why do I feel like they are a mediocre team? Is it the inconsistency, winning against a good team one day and losing to a bad one the next?

Is it the injuries? T-Mac is out for a few weeks. In the press, everyone that should know says that McGrady's pain must be a booger to keep him off the court. OK. I guess I believe them. Shane Battier is back, but Shane and the coaches are limiting his minutes and games played for safety's sake. We've all seen him limp through games that mattered and ones that didn't. If he can play, Shane will be there. Brent Barry will miss a couple more weeks with a muscle tear in his leg. That won't do anything to help his 30% shooting percentage for the season. Ron Artest is nursing an ankle sprain. There is little doubt that Ron gives his all in every game. The concern is that he has had a reputation of playing offense as he sees fit rather than trying to blend into a system. Coach Adelman has not complained publicly about it, but one has to wonder if that isn't the reason for Artest's 34% shooting to date with the Rockets. In Adelman's system, teamwork counts in getting open shots.

I say we speak kindly of the injured and be glad that the Rockets that are available are on a pace to get good playoff seeding. If everyone gets healthy by mid-season... Well, look out, NBA!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Busy week

The Rockets played four games in six nights this week and won three of them. It started in Oklahoma City where the Rockets handled the Thunder with apparent ease, though ultimately the game proved costly. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady both tweaked old injuries and Ron Artest sprained his ankle. Yao was held out of the Dallas game two days later for precautionary reasons. McGrady and Artest both played, but neither was 100%. Dallas thrashed the undermanned Rockets, with Nowitzki scoring 24 and perennial Rocket-killer Jason Terry hitting 13 of 21 shots for 31 points. All hands were on deck for the back-back games against Washington and Orlando and the Rockets used strong fourth quarters to pull out a pair of road victories.

After the OKC game, McGrady gave lip-service to "shutting it down for a while", obviously frustrated by the nagging injuries that are preventing him from being the T-Mac of old. To his credit, he suited up and gave it his best against Dallas. There was a story before the season began in reference to his sitting out virtually the entire pre-season. An unnamed teammate was quoted as saying that Tracy wanted the fame and accolades of being a superstar, but didn't want to pay the price for it. Those of us who have never been in the Rockets' training room or (obviously) inside Tracy's head cannot judge how bad his pain really is, but it's not the first time it's been said.

At 9-5, the Rockets are tied for second in the Western Conference behind only the Lakers. Obviously that's not bad and if they maintain that rate, 53 wins will probably get them home field advantage for the playoffs. The biggest concern is inconsistency. They've lost a couple they should have won. The probable cause is injuries. The nagging pain experienced by the Rockets' superstars can be worse some nights than others. What they need most is another player that brings all he has to the court every single night.

Shane! Come back Shane!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hills and valleys

The Rockets just completed a long road trip that must have felt like a very tall roller coaster. The longest trip of the season was made necessary because the very prestigious Latin Grammies were being held at the Toyota Center and needed several days before and after to prepare the facilities. I'm not being facetious about the prestige part. The Latin Grammies are huge throughout most of the world. Juanes was dominating, winning five grammies. If you have not heard his music, by all means check it out. He is very talented and his music is contagious. But back to the Rockets.

Following victories in each of their first three games of the season, the Rockets suffered a loss at home to the World Champion Boston Celtics in which they were never really out of the game by the numbers, but the Celtics seemed in command throughout.

The road trip began two days later in Portland with a deflating loss in overtime. Brandon Roy hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer in a hard-fought game the Rockets thought they had won. But to their credit, after a long flight back down the Pacific coast, they bounced back to beat the Clippers the following night. OK, so it was only the Clippers, but that's a lot of traveling and after a tough loss, they could have phoned it in - but didn't. Two days later, the Lakers showed the Rockets why they were in the finals last year by pretty much slapping the Rockets all around Staples Center. Too much R&R time in La-La land?

Following two days rest, the Phoenix Suns posed a lesser challenge, falling to the Rockets by 12 points. Unfortunately, the game was clouded by the loss of Rafer Alston for two games for fighting with Phoenix forward Matt Barnes. Alston rightly felt that Barnes had gone beyond setting a hard pick and - not rightly - retaliated with vigor. Barnes and Alston were both ejected and ultimately suspended for two games. Steve Nash was suspended for one game for joining in the skirmish and Tracy McGrady was fined $25,000. Now here's the part I like. When commenting on the event, McGrady felt that Alston should not have been suspended for as long as Barnes because Barnes started it. Ok, a legitimate argument. Then he said, "About the 25, I don’t care about that." He didn't care about losing $25,000. Let me repeat that. He didn't care about losing $25,000! Sigh.

Finally back in Texas on Friday night, the Spurs staged a last minute comeback from a 14 point fourth quarter deficit to pin another hard-to-take loss on the Rockets, ending a 2-3 trip that was mostly forgettable for their overall mediocre play.

But the bounce-back boys were not finished. They played their second back-to-back game in as many weeks against the Hornets in the Toyota Center and dominated the Hornets throughout. At first glance it seems like the Rockets are either out of shape or lack team depth, based on the fact that they lost two of their games on comebacks in the fourth quarter. But they have played three back-to-back games this year and won all three. The only word I can find for them so far is inconsistent. Let's hope they can find the team chemistry that enabled them to win 22 in a row last year.

So in a tough two weeks when they played seven games in 12 days, mostly on the road, they finished at 3-4. They beat some good teams and lost to both teams that played in the finals last year. Not exactly disheartening, but they definitely have some work to do.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

3 down, 79 to go

I'll take a 3-0 start, even though the Rockets have looked less than perfect in stretches. But to state the obvious, a win is a win.

Granted, the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder (that one still takes some getting used to) are far from elite, but the Rockets also beat the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas on a back-to-back night. By any standards the Mavericks are formidable, especially at home. I hear the rose-colored glasses saying that the quality of the opponents don't matter. They are all professional teams that can win on any given night. That was a common refrain last year during the 22 game win streak in which the Rockets enjoyed a relatively soft schedule. The streak was a great accomplishment, but let's be honest. Should the heavyweight champion receive the same accolades for defeating a tired old club fighter as he would for beating the number one contender? A lucky punch notwithstanding, the champ should win. That's not being negative, just realistic.

Actually, I am an optimist. I think the Rockets are a contender and will only improve as Ron Artest feels his way into the chemistry of the team and Shane Battier comes back from injury. 3-0? I'll take it and love it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's Christmas!

Finally, opening day! Not for the Rockets, but the season has begun - at least for six teams. The Rockets open tomorrow night at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. With Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks both out with bad wheels, let's hope the Rockets have enough in the tank to pull out their first victory of the season. I'm betting they do.

A friend once compared the preseason to going to school. I think it's more like Christmas Eve. Any father who loves his kid enjoys putting the bike together the night before almost as much as seeing the child's eyes when they first behold the finished product. The regular season is Christmas morning. Well, Merry Christmas everyone! I'm looking forward to unwrapping the first win of the season tomorrow night!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You decide

Rafer Alston is out of criminal court and back on the basketball court. Congratulations to him for beating the rap. Did high-profile attorney Rusty Hardin put a legitimate case before the jury or was it a smoke-and-mirrors game often employed by those who can afford the best lawyers? View the arrest video and you decide.

This is a blog. It states opinion - my opinion - so here it is. If I had been on the jury and had to make a decision based on the video herein, I could not have found Alston guilty. Obviously, I couldn't smell his breath or look deeply into his eyes, but I can at least understand why the jury decided as it did. That doesn't change the fact that he had no business driving at 3:00 AM after having "a few drinks," but that is between him and his employer, both of whom have much to lose from an image problem.

So it's back to basketball and let the games begin!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Missing pieces

Well, the hospital ship does not yet seem to have left port. 40% of the starting lineup is still not ready to play. Tracy McGrady's offseason knee surgery has not allowed him to effectively compete. He played a few minutes in Boston before being ejected, but hasn't played since. Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder if he got himself thrown out of that game on purpose? OK, that probably wasn't fair. At least he was showing some spunk.

Shane Battier's foot has kept him off the floor for all of training camp. He is scheduled to have an MRI tomorrow, but he says he will play in the final preseason game Thursday. Both players will take some time to get up to speed and it may cost the Rockets in the short run. The most important physical factor in playing defense is the wheels.

A couple of other Rockets have missed some time this week too because of a head cold going around. Better now than in the regular season, I say.

The good news is that the Rockets are a deep veteran team. They need another training camp like they need a hole in the head. When the bell sounds, they will show up. Frankly, I'm ready for the bell.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Only 9 days, 6 hours, 34 minutes and 20 seconds till opening night!

Friday, October 10, 2008

So Far, So Good

After two wins in the preseason, the Rockets are looking pretty good, especially considering that two of their top starters have yet to take the court.

Ron Artest has filled in nicely for Shane Battier, who is recovering from offseason surgery for a few more weeks. I'm certain there will be much debate in the coming months as to who is the better player and who deserves to start. That's the kind of controversy that's great to have. BTW, Artest has kept his nose clean and said all the right things about enjoying being in Houston. Good for you, Ron. Luther Head has been his usual serviceable self in Tracy McGrady's place.

Yao's foot seems to be healed. He's using the preseason to get in game shape. Good. That's what it's for. Brent Barry seems to have taken to the offense just fine, getting 8 assists in the second game. Rafer seems focused on his on-the-court life rather than his in-court issues, Joey Dorsey is showing flashes of talent, Chuck Hayes, Mike Harris, Luis Scola and Aaron Brooks all seem to be in mid-season form, at least conditioning-wise.

Like I said, so far, so good. I'm starting to get excited.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ike Relief

Kudos to Les Alexander and all the players and staff who showed up to distribute relief supplies to Hurrican Ike's victims. Les opened his heart and wallet and the players and staff spent their time and efforts to help their fellow Houstonians. Thanks to Luther Head, Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks, Chuck Hayes and Mike Harris who were there with bells on.

But to be realistic, there were more photographers and reporters there than Rockets players. The event was well promoted. There's nothing wrong with that, I guess. Capitalism has many wonderful side effects. But it begs the question: Where were Tracy, Yao, Shane, Ron, Luis and the rest of the big name players? The players that were there offered platitudes of "We're all in this together" and "We don't have power either." But when you make a million dollars a year or more, it's a little different, guys. Frankly, with the exception of the Rockets staff members that were there anonymously, the whole event left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Promotions

Gersson Rosas was promoted Wednesday to Rockets director of player personnel, succeeding Dean Cooper, who left the team last month to join the coaching staff of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rosas, a University of Houston graduate and former graduate assistant coach with the Cougars, will be starting his fifth season with the Rockets.
He was elevated to director of scouting last season after three seasons as the team’s personnel video coordinator/personnel scout.

The Rockets also announced the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as director of global scouting and international affairs. Karnisovas, a former European player of the year after his college career at Seton Hall, played professionally in Italy, Greece, Spain and France and was a two-time Olympic bronze medalist for Lithuania.

Houston Chronicle
Sept. 4, 2008


I have no idea if these guys are any good. We'll see soon enough if they can mine a gem for the backup point guard and center spots.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Famous Sons

The Rockets now have two sons of famous fathers on the roster. Joining Patrick Ewing, Jr. is D. J. Strawberry, Jr., son of baseball great Darryl Strawberry. D.J. the younger is a 6-5 swingman with a proclivity for defense. In 33 games with the Phoenix Suns, he shot a lowly .315 from the field and only 24% from beyond the arc. With those numbers, he had better be a defensive stopper if he hopes to make it in the NBA.

Father Darryl Strawberry enjoyed a Hall of Fame quality career in baseball, but his off-the-field troubles overshadowed his accomplishments between the lines. His rap sheet includes arrests and/or convictions for spousal abuse, cocaine posession, alcohol abuse, income tax evasion, solicitation of prostitution, parole violation and filing a false police report in a car theft scam. He also did several stretches in drug and alcohol rehab facilities. This is for information only, as the son can certainly never be held accountable for the sins of the father. D.J. Strawberry, Jr. has never been in trouble and deserves a fair shake.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The team. Stick at 15 or take another card?

OK, here's how the roster looks today:

Rafer Alston G
Aaron Brooks G
Luther Head G
Steve Francis G
Sean Singletary G
Brent Barry G-F
Tracy McGrady G-F
Shane Battier F
Joey Dorsey F
Patrick Ewing F
Ron Artest F
Mike Harris F
Chuck Hayes F
Carl Landry F
Maarty Leunen F
Luis Scola F-C
Dikembe Mutombo C
Yao Ming C

Assuming Sean Singletary and Patrick Ewing Jr. get released as expected and Maarty Leunen plays overseas this year, the Rockets don't need to release anyone else before the regular season. In fact, if Dikembe Mutombo and/or Carl Landry don't sign, the home team will need to add some people just to fill their training camp roster. So here's the big question of the week. Is this a championship team? The answer is, almost.

Even if Deke re-ups, the Rockets need a new quality backup center. As good as Mutombo has been in his career, there's just not much left in the tank. Even if he can turn in one more good season, they will need a new guy next year anyway. A year of tutoring under Mutombo would benefit any young player.

Rafer Alston is facing more legal troubles. Granted, a court of law is not likely to keep him off the basketball court, but it is a distraction at best. Aaron Brooks is still something of a question mark, despite a fair Summer League showing. Steve Francis may or may not be healthy and in the mix. After including Bobby Jackson in the Ron Artest trade, the Rockets need another point guard in camp, at least good enough to compete for the first backup spot.

That's it. Just a couple of good backups away. Keep looking, Daryl.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

DUI: Dumb, Unacceptable, Idiotic

The Rockets had more bad news about Rafer Alston this week. He was arrested for driving drunk at 3:00 in the morning and charged with misdemeanor DUI. Misdemeanor because he has never been convicted of it before. But this is not his first rodeo.

On August 4, 2007, Rafer was charged and later convivted of misdemeanor assault and public intoxication after a confrontation with a parking attendant in which Alston allegedly spit on the attendant. I can only assume that since Rafer was publicly intoxicated and trying to get his car back, had he not been arrested for assault he would have been driving drunk.

Later that month, he was arrested in NYC for allegedly slashing a man's throat with a knife in yet another middle of the night altercation. The charges were dropped in this case because of the conflicting testimony of witnesses, so we have to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. Regardless, he put himself in a situation where something like that could happen. High profile athletes can't afford to do that. With the money comes the risk.

In college at Fresno State, arguably the most corrupt program in the nation under Jerry Tarkanian, Rafer was twice convicted of misdemeanor assault. In 1996, he beat up a neighbor that complained about Alston's loud music. A month later, he punched his former girlfriend, Rachel Henderson, and knocked her to the ground outside the Fresno State weight room. Prior to that, while in Junior College at Ventura, he was kicked off the team for bashing a sleeping teammate, Shannon Taylor, in the groin with a metal weight following an earlier argument.

So here's the big question. How can the Rockets trade for Ron Artest, who has more baggage than a Samsonite store, and not forgive Rafer Alston? At what point does character begin to matter?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Adios, Steve.

The Rockets traded Steve Novak yesterday to the L.A. Clippers for future draft considerations. It had to happen. Novak had not been able to show enough to break into the starting lineup in his two year tenure with the Rockets. A great shooter, Steve just didn't have the D to stop opposing forwards from equalling his scoring.

That still leaves the Rockets' forward corp overcrowded. Seven players - Shane Battier, Ron Artest, Mike Harris, rookie Joey Dorsey (still unsigned), Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry (free agent) and Luis Scola - are trying to fit into no more than 5 slots. Throw unsigned second round draft pick Maarty Leunen and swingmen Tracy McGrady and Brent Barry into the mix and you've got too many forwards.

Steve Novak never had a chance after the trade for Artest.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ron Artest

On August 14, the Rockets and the Sacramento Kings will pull the trigger on a major trade. Since the Rockets' first round draft choice this year, Donte Greene, is included in the trade, it cannot be consummated until one month after he was signed. But according to league sources, the deal is done. The Rockets will get Ron Artest and maybe other minor players as needed to make the numbers match. The Kings will get Greene, backup point guard Bobby Jackson, a first round draft choice next year and a million dollars.

On paper, the trade makes perfect sense for the Rockets. Bobby Jackson is getting long in the tooth. Donte Greene spent only one year in college and would not have been a factor in the Rockets rotation in the near future anyway, if ever. With Ron Artest added to an already good team, the Rockets will be drafting at the very end of the first round next year. Good players are few and far between at that point. And the million dollars? Who cares? That's Les's money, not mine. So on paper, there is very little risk involved for the Rockets.

In the real world, There are numerous risks. Ron Artest has been a felony looking for a place to happen his whole career. He has been suspended 10 times, once for a full season. The odds of him pitching another fit and disrupting an otherwise happy locker room are better than even money. Equally important, this team has in the past given a great deal of weight to character. This is a giant step in the other direction. There will be at least some fan backlash for "selling out" morality for a championship. I've already heard, "If Hitler could play basketball, would you sign him?" I know, stupid analogy. Hitler was too short and terminally white. But when you get down to it, the concept is the same. It's just a matter of degree.

On the plus side, Ron Artest is an outstanding player. He has the talent and determination to succeed on the court. He is a lock-down defender and can score when called upon. He will make the Rockets a much better team - yes, even a championship quality team.

Was it a good trade? If asked beforehand, I would have advised against it. I believe that one should always look at the quality of the complete person, not just the talent on the court. As the old saying goes, adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it.

Now that it's a done deal and my beloved Rockets have another all-star, I am inclined to be a bit more pragmatic. After all, Artest is not a hardened criminal, just a hot-head. As a business owner, if someone with past mistakes on his record applied to me for a job, I would hope I could see beyond those mistakes and at least consider giving that person a second chance. So here it is, Ron. You start with me with a clean slate. If you show respect for the fans coaches and other players and keep your nose clean off the court, I'll root for you and give you all the credit you earn. Good luck.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Summer Leaguers

The NBA Summer League is over and the Rockets contingent played to mixed reviews. To keep it simple, I'll only address the four Rockets participants that stand a good chance of making the team this year (in alphabetical order).

Aaron Brooks (B-): Since the Rockets drafted forwards this year, Brooks' development is more important than ever. He said before the Summer League began that he was going to concentrate on playmaking. In that regard, he did fairly well, averaging 7 assists in his five starts versus 2.8 turnovers. Shooting was another story. He scored 16.8 ppg, but only hit at a 37% clip, including a miserable 20% from beyond the arc. Considering the level of competition, that's not good enough.

Joey Dorsey (Incomplete): Joey only played in two games, spraining his ankle in mid-tournament. In those 2 games, he hit a gaudy 82.4% of his shots and grabbed 27 rebounds. He also had 4 turnovers and 6 fouls per game. At the end of the 3rd game, Dorsey was on the bench in street clothes and harrassed the referee until he drew a technical foul. The Rockets were ahead by three at the time with only a few seconds to play. The Nuggets hit the free throw and tied the game with a two-pointer at the buzzer. Denver went on to win the game in OT. Right now, Dorsey is a young man with a lot of potential - and a lot to learn.

Donte Greene (A-): The second-highest scorer in all of the Summer League, Donte averaged 22.6 ppg, shooting 42.5% from the field and hit 36.8% of his 3-pointers. But at 6' 9", he only grabbed 3.6 rpg and turned the ball over 3 times per game. At this point in his career though, I'll take the scoring and build from there. That is, after all, what he was drafted to do.

Mike Harris (C+): Mike is a known commodity to the Rockets. He joined the team in mid-season last year and added much-needed depth to the bench. In his five games in the Summer League, he averaged 13.4 ppg and hit 59.2% of his shots. At only 6' 6", he pulled down 7.6 rebounds per game, but his play was erratic. He averaged 2.8 TO's, seven in one game against Washington. Based on his height and talent levels, Harris is an over-achiever, but a workaholic player like him can be a real asset in the locker room and on the bench.

Like I said, mixed reviews. But this competition will only weigh a little bit on who gets the last 2 or 3 positions on the bench next season. Mostly it is just good practice for the youngsters and gives the rookies a small taste of what it will be like at the next level.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Will you take this man...?

After a long engagement period, the Rockets finally landed their first choice in the free agent market. Brent Barry, a 36 year-old guard/forward from the San Antonio Spurs, agreed to terms on a two-year contract worth $3.9 Million. Darryl Morey has courted Barry since he was briefly available in February when he was traded to the Sonics, then released. Barry opted to return to San Antonio to finish the season, but Morey didn't give up. On Thursday, Barry finally said "I do."

This was a smart move financially. Morey was able to get the deal done using only their "biannual exception" to sign Barry, keeping their full mid-level exception to match any offer up to that amount that restricted free agent Carl Landry receives (starting at $5.585 million for the 2008-09 season).

It was equally smart basketball-wise. Brent has been consistently productive throughout his career, playing in 84 playoff games and contributing to two world championships. He is Rick Adelman's type of player, hard-nosed and smart. I have heard negative comments that his averages have dropped off in the four years he was with the Spurs, but the truth is that he became a backup with the championship-quality Spurs and his minutes went way down. His per-minute avergages remained consistent with his early years in the league.

It seems likely that Barry will replace Steve Novak on the roster. Novak is a great 3-point shooter, but has been unable to match up defensively with NBA power forwards and is too slow to play small forward. Barry shoots over 40% from beyond the arc (even better in the playoffs) and is a good defensive player with excellent instincts. The other good news on this front is that every team in the league is looking for scoring, so Novak may be tradable, at least for a future draft choice.

The other possibility is that Barry will edge out Luther Head. You've got to love Luther's guts and determination, but he's a little short to defend the larger shooting guards and makes too many bad choices distributing the ball to play the point. Luther is in a similar position to Novak in that he also has trade value. A late first-rounder or high second for either of them would be a feather in the Rockets' cap down the road.

Of course, it is also possible that Head and Novak may both stay, but room has to be made for the two new draft choices too, assuming they can make the team. Certainly Mike Harris and Loren Woods are on the bubble. If the Rockets are not able to resign Dikembe Mutombo nor able to acquire a quality backup center, Woods may have a shot at staying around for a full season.

One last thing: There has been some discussion to the effect that Shane Battier may be on the trading block. Let's keep this simple. Dont' do it! Battier can make a good team great.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Free" Agents?

A greater misnomer never existed. Free agents are remarkably expensive. Can the Rockets afford any? The short answer is yes, within reason.

GM Daryl Morey has a mid-level exception to work with (about $6 mil), but they need to use some of that to re-sign Carl Landry. So let's face it, Gilbert Arenas, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala are out of the question. Corey Maggette is a long-shot, but I am not a fan of signing the best man on a losing team, especially the Clippers. Case in point: Maurice Taylor. It took the Rockets years to dump his over-priced salary.

There are a few players that could contribute that might be persuaded by what the Rockets can offer. Brent Barry is on the top of their list. He is smart, he shoots a high percentage from everywhere and he plays shooting guard/small forward, a position at which the Rockets could use a good backup. Besides, it's an NBA tradition that anybody named Barry must end his career in Houston.

James Posey might fit the bill, too. In a perfect world, the backup players would match the skills of the starters at the same position. That would make Posey a perfect choice to play behind Shane Battier. But that only works in theory. It's hard to tailor a team that perfectly in real life, so a mix of skills is usually preferable. Regardless, Posey is a fine hard-nosed player that knows how to win. I was sorry to see the Rockets lose him after the 2002-03 season.

Mickael Pietrus is available, but his productivity declined significantly last year. Robert Horry might be amenable, but he's over the hill. DeSagana Diop is a young Dikembe at best, one dimensional and probably priced too high for consideration anyway. Bostjan Nachbar... forget I mentioned him.

My choice? Brent Barry. Smart players make everyone around them better.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

But wait! You also get...

Remember that old Ronco infomercial line? Daryl Morey played Ron Popeil and used his Pocket Fisherman to reel in three picks for one in Thursday's NBA draft.

The opening salvo was to take Nicolas Batum with the 25th pick. Batum is a 6' 8" swingman prodigy from France. He is talented and athletic, but at 19 years old, he is a few years away from being an impact player in the NBA. High risk, high reward - down the road. But the Rockets core is in their prime and the future is now. So Daryl got busy.

He traded Batum to Portland for Darrell Arthur, a 6-9 Sophmore Forward from Kansas. Arthur had dropped from a potential lottery pick to the 27th player taken, ostensibly because of rumors circulating around the league about a possible kidney problem. According to Arthur, it was a moot issue, but his people didn't adequately "get the word out." He was initially selected by New Orleans, then traded to Portland for cash, whence he was traded to Houston for Batum.

But the Rockets never wanted Arthur. Their goal was to trade him to Memphis for the rights to Donte Greene and Joey Dorsey, taken 28th and 33rd respectively, plus a second-round draft choice next year from Memphis. Since Memphis is a young rebuilding team, that choice could be like getting a late first-rounder. Three for one.

Donte Greene is an athletic freshman forward from Syracuse listed by some (including the Rockets) at 6' 11'" but most of the draft gurus say it's more like 6' 9". He has a strong upside, especially for a team that needs backup help at the small forward position. If his attitude is right and he has the mental accuity to match his physical skills, he could learn a lot from Shane Battier and blossom into a serious contributor in the next season or two. But for now, he's young and has some holes in his game. Originally slated by insiders to go anywhere from the lottery to the 20th pick, the Rockets believe they got lucky to acquire him when they did. But teams always say that, don't they?

Joey Dorsey is a banger at the power forward position. Again, listed at 6' 9", he was measured at the combine at only 6' 7". That's still a huge man, but in the NBA trenches, that 2" is a liabilty. The positives are that he is a mature senior from Memphis that could contribute right away. he is a good defender and works hard on the offensive glass. The negatives are that he gets most of his points on put-backs and can't hit a free throw for love nor money. Short, good defender, good rebounder, no offense. Can anyone say Chuck Hayes?

Later in the second round, the Rockets selected Maarty Leunen, a 6' 9" forward from Oregon. Maarty will play overseas for the forseeable future.

As I said in previous posts, I would like to have seen a backup center come our way, but the good ones were gone by the time the Rockets got to play. DeAndre Jordan was still there, but let's just assume there was a good reason for that. He is a project at best and the Rockets knew him pretty well. And, according to Les Alexander, they may not be through dealing. They could still make a trade for a backup big man.

All in all, considering they had only a 25th pick to work with in the first round, the Rockets did very well. They ended up with a 28th, 33rd, and a high second-rounder next year. I was once at a fishing camp with some very drunken anglers. When asked if they had any luck that day, one replied, "Sure! We didn't fall out of the boat or anything!" Success is relative, right Daryl? Good fishing, guys.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Draft Consensus (or lack thereof)

A review of 72 mock drafts on the net shows a great diversity among "experts" as to what the Rocket's needs are, who are the best athletes and who might still be available when the 25th selection rolls around. So without editorial, here are the players that the gurus believe would best suit the team and may still be available (with number of votes):

Robin Lopez, C, Stanford (10)
Nicholas Batum, SF, France (9)
Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG/SF, Memphis (7)
Jason Thompson, PF, Rider (6)
Serge Ibaka, PF, Congo (5)
J.J. Hickson, PF, N.C. State (5)
Alexis Ajinca, C, France (4)
Ryan Anderson, F, Cal (3)
Roy Hibbert, C, Georgetown (3)
Mario Chalmers, PG, Kansas (3)
Ty lawson, PG, North Carolina (3)

There were also six players that received two votes and eight more that received one vote. So altogether, 25 players were named as the Rockets' best available option by 72 prognosticators, with no one player receiving more than 10 votes. That's quite a spread. But there does seem to be a consensus on at least one point. The Rockets need a big man. 55 of the mock drafts reviewed selected either a forward or center, while 7 picked a swingman and only 10 thought a true guard was the best choice.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Here's to the D-League!

I don't know about you, but I like the NBA Developmental League. I have long believed that the NBA needed a minor league system to develop talent. It gives the lower draft choices and free agents a place to stay active and get some seasoning and coaching while they wait for their chance to contribute to an NBA team. Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry and Steve Novak all spent time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers last year before finishing the season as important contributors to the Rockets.

Right now, most of the sixteen D-League teams are affiliated with more than one NBA team. I would like to see the D-League expand so that every NBA team has their own farm system. I think it would be good for the league for several reasons.
1. In addition to the drafted players and free agents mentioned above, there are many young players that are just not college material, but have basketball talent. These players have virtually no chance to make the NBA since the new age limits preclude signing with an NBA team until they've been out of high school for a year. The D-League could not only pay these young players a modest salary, but offer them a venue to get noticed by an NBA team - without the risk of having to play with the bigger faster players of the NBA.
2. Assuming the farm team is located near the NBA affiliate city, it would help expand the fan base both for the home team and for the NBA in general.
3. It would serve as a proving ground not only for potentially good players, but also coaches, referees, administrators and any other positions associated with professional sports.
4. If the parent team could keep the young players under contract while assigning them to the minors, there would be a lot more player development going on. Minor league coaches would be true teachers and far less concerned with baby-sitting massive egos and salaries.

Once upon a time, there was the CBA (Continental Basketball Association). They had a long and storied history, having begun in 1946 as the Eastern Pennsylvania Basketball League. Two years later, they were renamed the Eastern Basketball Association and in 1978 became the CBA. For a couple of decades, the CBA was an unofficial version of what the D-League has become, a place to season young players and a source of replacements for when the first line players of an NBA team went down. In 1999, a grand scheme was concocted by Isaah Thomas and a group of investors to buy all of the CBA teams and run the league as a single corporation. Well, it seems as if the New York Knicks are not the only thing Isaah can screw up. The experiment was a dismal failure and the league declared bankruptcy and ceased operations just two years later. Some of the teams merged with the IBL and purchased the assets of the defunct CBA, including the name and logo. So the CBA again exists with eleven teams, some of them in cities I couldn't even find on a map - and I love geography!

So here's my plan. Let the D-League merge with the CBA to create twenty seven teams. Add three more teams and assign one D-League team to each NBA team. Voila! A true farm system.

I tried calling Commissioner Stern to explain my idea. Seems he wasn't taking calls.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Here's the deal with the draft...

It's time for Rockets fans to get realistic. By the 25th pick in the draft, there will be no starters available. Not even any real starter projects. So it seems that the only holes that can be plugged via the draft are with backup players and overall depth.

Fortunately for the Rockets, the biggest hole in their lineup is at backup center and there are a number of college players that could fit that mold. Even if Mutombo can be productive for one more year, they will need one soon anyway. There are a number of "project" centers out there that could back up Yao for several years.

Among the centers that have declared for the draft, only Brook Lopez of Stanford is a consensus top 10 pick. The rest seem to be all over the board on most mock drafts. Most likely, DeAndre Jordan (Texas A&M), Kevin Love (UCLA), Kosta Koufos (Ohio State), Marreese Speights (Florida) and Javale McGee (Nevada) will all be gone by the time the Rockets get to pick, but that still leaves some prospects. The downside is that prospects have holes in their game that may or may not be fixable, bit still require first-round money and guarantees.

Some of the rest of the centers likely to be selected in the draft:

Roy Hibbert (Georgetown)
Robin Lopez (Stanford)
Jason Thompson (Rider)
Devon Hardin (California)
Alexis Ajinka (International - France)
Ante Komic (International - Croatia)

I suggest the Rockets bring Dikembe back for one more year (if he's amenable), take the top center remaining and give him a year of seasoning behind the two veterans. It may pay dividends down the road or even sooner if Yao goes down again.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Future

Congratulations to Luis Scola and Carl Landry, both of whom made the all-rookie team this year. Scola, who became a starter midway through the season and was an important component of the Rockets' streak and late season success, made the first team. As a starter, Scola averaged 13.0 ppg on 53% shooting, and the team enjoyed a 31-8 record. Landry became a key sub at about the same time and was named to the second team.

These awards bode well for the future of the team. It marks the first time in 25 years that two players from the same Rockets team made the squad. Ralph Sampson and Rodney McCray were named to the team in 1983. Aaron Brooks did not make the all-rookie team, but contributed some important minutes late in the season. What all coaches look for is improvement. The leap from college to the NBA is massive. Few players become stars immediately. So next year will be big for these players. Most coaches and GM's look to the second year to see if a player is really going to make it in the league.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Hospital Ward

This week's events prove the last post true. Since then, Tracy McGrady, Rafer Alsion and Shane Battier have all had surgery to repair nagging injuries. Add to that Yao Ming and Steve Francis' season-ending surgeries and the blame for the Rockets' early demise clearly lies in the medical books.

Did the coaches play them too many minutes? Did Yao Ming's year-round basketball schedule take its toll? Are they just injury prone? Honestly, all of those questions are still open to debate. My inclination is to answer no to each one, but I am not a doctor. The Rockets have the finest sports medicos in the world at their beckon call and huge investments in all of the aforementioned players, so we must assume that they would not have risked injury to them if it was foreseeable. Yao and Tracy have a history of getting dinged, but that doesn't mean it will happen again.

So let's all wrap bandages and wish the injured list a quick recovery.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Now what?

Well, for the second year in a row, the Rockets were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Utah Jazz. It is painfully obvious that the Jazz was simply a better team - but only temporarily.

Is it time for the Rockets to break up the team and re-tool? The answer is a resounding no! Regardless of his past history of never winning a playoff series, Tracy McGrady performed admirably against the Jazz. The problem was that injuries depleted the roster at the worst possible time of the year. The loss of Yao Ming alone would have been devastating to a lesser team. Add to that Carl Landry, Steve Francis, Rafer Alston and Tracy's shoulder problems and that is 60% of the starting lineup and some of the best reserves either missing or below par.

The Rockets need only to add a few pieces, mostly for depth. Mutombo is too old to be effective, especially for a team that is geared to get scoring from their center. Get a new back-up center. The point guard position is under control. Rafer will be back at full speed, Bobby Jackson is a capable backup, Steve Francis should recover from surgery better than ever and Aaron Brooks will have a year's experience on which to build. Tracy will be a great shooting guard for a few more years and Francis can help out there too. The small forward position is capably manned by Shane Battier, a consumate pro. They say that defensive specialists cannot carry a team, but all great teams have one. Tracy can also slide over to small forward whenever the need arises. Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry make a fine combo at power forward and should continue to improve.

The Rockets will have a low first-round draft choice and a mid-level exemption available to sign a free agent. Beyond their core players, they have little of value to trade. Mike Harris and Loren Wood were both out of the league when the Rockets came calling. Steve Novak may bring a draft choice just because all GM's love a shooter, but nobody will give up a useful player for a defensive liability.

This part is strictly personal. I don't care if they make a single move. I love these guys. This team was more fun to watch this year than any team they've ever had, even in the championship years. A happier, more over-achieving bunch of guys never took the court. Especially after the first of the year, they never quit trying. Not once. It was a team of courage and effort, and that comes from the top. Coach Rick Adelman and his staff did a magnificent job this year of keeping the team on an even keel - loose and confident. So I say give them all another shot. They have the system down now and I look for a banner year next year. Go Rockets!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Playoff Bound!

Congratulations to the Rockets for securing a playoff berth with their workmanlike dismantling of the LA Clippers. Now the real deal starts!

And speaking of the Real Deal, congratulations to Hakeem Olajuwon on his election to the Hall of Fame. Nobody deserves it more. Dream had it all - offense, defense, rebounding, blocked shots... To quote Bum phillips (referring to Earl campbell), if he ain't in a class of his own, it sure don't take long to count the roll.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

East vs. west Disparity

With 10 games left in the regular season, the Rockets are poised to make the playoffs, but which team they will face in the first round is anybody's guess. That's because there are so many good teams in the Western Conference that 1st place and 8th place are only separated by 5 games. It's conceivable, even probable that a 50 win team will not make the playoffs for the first time ever. Today, that would be Denver, but they are only 1/2 game back of Golden State, who is only 1/2 game back of Dallas, who is... well, you get the point. Its' tough out west.

The East, on the other hand, has the two best records in the NBA and maybe the best team, but the quality dwindles fast after that. In fact, Atlanta at 8 games under .500 will probably make the playoffs. Some would say that Boston, Detroit and Orlando only have gaudy records because they play most of their games in the pitiful Eastern Conference. There may be a grain of truth to that, but having seen Boston play, they are the real deal.

My scale has always been pretty simple. Win half your games, you're mediocre. 45 wins is a good team. 50 wins is a very good team. 55 wins is excellent. 60 wins is a great team. But this year is different. An abundance of lousy teams in the East has made a couple of very good teams look great and an overabundance of excellent teams in the West has made some great teams look mediocre.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

So much for the streak

22 in a row is a tremedous accomplishment, but the Rockets seem to have fallen back to earth. They are about to lose their 3rd game of the last 4. It was obvious to most of us that they were playing over their heads when the last 10 victories in the streak came after Yao Ming went down. I expect them to play well enough to make the playoffs, but unless they draw a team that just doesn't match up well with the Rockets, they won't get out of the first round. Thanks for the fun run guys and keep plugging!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Way to go guys!

They just keep on keeping on! Yao goes dowm, Deke steps in. Landry gets dinged, Mike Harris steps in. Chuck Hayes doesn't fit, Scola takes over the offensive output and Hayes rules on defense. This is fun!

I'm holding my breath...

I can't watch. 21 wins! Fourth quarter, up against the Bobcats, and we're --> <-- this close to taking over the absolute number one spot.

I can't watch, and yet I can't take my eyes away... it's the most awesome train wreck I've ever seen.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Longest winning streak in the NBA!

Twelve straight wins? Did I hear twelve straight? Pardon me, Chicago, while we use you as a stepladder to get a bit higher.

From an Associated Press article posted yesterday:

"The Rockets have won 16 of their last 17, and their current streak is their longest since their championship season of 1993-94. It is also the longest active streak in the NBA."


Did anyone think a year ago we'd be seeing that? It's feeling like a great season for Rockets fans!