I imagine that Carlos Delfino has not often had nights in the NBA go as well as Wednesday night did for him, ribbons of three-pointers falling through the net at the most opportune moments for a fanbase with which he was getting a completely blank slate. And for all of his showmanship in this short period of tabula rasa, the Rockets’ following will likely embrace this new Argentinian, hoping for more of the same in terms of shooting and poise, traits likely at a premium on this young team. This very young, inexperienced team that sports Delfino, at 30, as its elder statesman, and which desperately needs to get those other kids, the ones the Rockets’ future is predicated on, some run.
Last year, Kevin McHale buried Marcus Morris. The reasons given for such were endless and common among rookies (lack of conditioning, inexperience, attitude reasons), especially those starting their first season in the midst of a shortened season, but the complete blackballing of the team’s most recent lottery pick seemed strange, making the most incredulous onlookers wonder about McHale’s willingness to develop young talent. If Morris’ rookie “campaign” laid the seeds for such thoughts, Wednesday’s glaring absence of rookies certainly shed some light on them again.
Why, on a team so organizationally committed to its youth, one whose three contract committals worthy of any note are to players ages 23, 24 and 26, would said team’s head coach find himself forcing minutes on guys like Toney Douglas and Delfino? Guaranteed contracts? A lousy win in October in some effort to gin up morale among the haphazardly-if-brilliantly set of kids on the roster?
Yes, the Pistons victory, and the way James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik played therein, provided about as much enthusiasm for the base (forgive the political speak; tis the season) as any regular season win could, but the presence of a player of Harden’s stature likely would have done so, admittedly to a lesser extent, anyway. No matter what happens with the team this year record-wise, time has to be committed, time in actual NBA games, to developing the three rookies at the power forward; the one seemingly with the most natural ability, Royce White, has already found a comfortable soft patch of land in McHale’s doghouse, a development the Rockets’ youth movement cannot afford. Whether these players will legitimately be rounding out the Rockets’ rotation in three years or will be polished up and shopped for better players once they can be used as assets makes little difference because regardless, they have to play. The presence of two playmakers in the starting backcourt should only make their transition to the big stage that much easier, affording guys like Terrance Jones and Greg Smith opportunities that their (as-of-yet) limited skillsets would not otherwise get.
Apologists might make the point that McHale gave a year’s worth of starting minutes to a rookie in Chandler Parsons, a young wing stopper who the coach has still committed to developing, but one would be wise to remember that Parsons’ rise came pretty organically, in the way that the player in front of him, Chase Budinger, was undersized and incapable of stopping inanimate objects from scoring. The only other player McHale could have played at the three last year? Morris. Essentially, Parsons’ skill and Budinger’s lack thereof forced the coach’s hand.
Perhaps I’m just a bit antsy and anxious to complain about something, anything, after Wednesday’s revelation of a superstar; perhaps tonight’s game against the Hawks will feature a rookie starting at the four and heavy minutes for White and/or Donatas Motiejunas and a quadruple-double from Harden and twenty bucks I find in my basketball shorts fresh out of the dryer. And we can all be thankful that Daryl Morey’s team building doesn’t really allow Mchale to play anyone who isn’t young because, well, we really don’t have any of those. If this trend of burying the rookies continues, though, Rockets fans might find themselves wondering what the hell a developmental coach who doesn’t develop anyone is good for.