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.