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!