Before beginning my annual process of circling three Rockets games from the future to which I’m most looking forward to viewing, a few roadblocks had to be broken down. And by a few, I really mean one gigantic brick wall of uncertainty standing in the way of a clear opinion: the roster.
Thus far, Houston’s offseason has been one of personnel fluidity—rumors, hopes, disappointment, and excitement, all wrapped in about a two month span. However, this past week a lot of the day dreams changed when Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, and Terrence Jones signed their first NBA contracts. As far as I know, players signed to rookie deals aren’t allowed to be traded for 30 days upon putting ink to paper on their first contracts, meaning those three are now off the table in any Dwight Howard/Superstar X trade possibility for the time being, giving Houston’s 2012-13 roster a clearer outline. (Once again, for the time being.) Taking this into account then including the team’s two major free agent acquisitions—Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik—a temporarily suitable roster can now be made.
Jeremy Lin, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, and Omer Asik are the five best players at their position, and unless there’s another move to be made before Halloween, they will likely comprise Houston’s starting lineup on opening day. Being that there are roughly 76 other players currently listed on Houston’s roster, identifying a bench unit is where things get a bit more hazy. Donatas Motiejunas, Marcus Morris, Lamb, White, and Jones all appear to be shoe-ins for the final team, though it’s too early to say who will be playing where, and with whom else on the court.
Looking elsewhere, JaJuan Johnson is tall, able to spread the floor, and only one year into a cheap rookie contract; Toney Douglas was accustomed to backing up point guards in New York, even though he was never all that good at it, but he’s athletic and as much of a veteran as anybody else; and Gary Forbes is on an expiring contract at $1.5 million, but he’s a 27-year-old, two-year veteran with little room to grow from the 6.6 points per game he averaged in Toronto last season. Then there’s Shaun Livingston, Courtney Fortson, Josh Harrellson, Sean Williams, and Greg Smith. The latter four’s deals are either non-guaranteed or cheap and capable of being bought out. None are game-changing talents, but one or two might find a role.
Some of this is set in stone, but knowing Daryl Morey it should all be viewed as wet cement.
Now onto the schedule.
3) December 25 @ Chicago. When I first had a look at Houston’s schedule, the brightest line that jumped out was the fact that the Rockets are playing a primetime, nationally televised game on Christmas. It’s arguably the most meaningful day of the regular season, and even though I’m sure the players might not be overly joyful traveling on a day they’d rather spend with their families, putting a young group of guys on the spotlight like this might do them some good.
Getting into more specific details, Omer Asik makes his triumphant return to Chicago. Hopefully he has an offensive move or two to throw some salt in their wound.
2) April 15 @ Phoenix. The second to last game of the regular season comes against a team that could be neck and neck with the Rockets for the Western Conference’s 8th playoff seed. Houston may very well be lottery bound, but if x-factors like Motiejunas and White turn out to be golden berries (plus several other hundred different variables falling in Houston’s favor) who knows what this young team could be capable of doing.
On top of all that, even though this specific matchup won’t be the first time these two teams meet, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola should both spice this game up just a bit.
1) December 17 @ New York. This should be self-explanatory. Jeremy Lin in a Rockets uniform + Madison Square Garden = Quite the basketball environment. Taking a look at this one makes me wish the season started tomorrow.