There has been a lot of discussion about how the lockout/now shortened season will affect the NBA landscape. Who will play the role of Shaun Kemp and eat his way out of professional sports? Which veteran team will be this year’s asterisk champion (Spurs again?)? How much will James Harden’s beard interfere with his ability to see the ball?
But for the Rockets, I think the more significant question might be how all this mess could affect the team next year. This season for the men in red was supposed to be about evaluating its young talent. Since it’s been clear numbers 1 and 11 regrettably have bones made of glass, the team has been steadily accumulating assets. But now with Yao and T-Mac officially/unofficially retired and there only being 3 players on the roster older than 26, this was supposed to be the year to evaluate these assets, to parse this pirate’s booty into genuine treasures and costume jewelry.
Other than Chuck Hayes and the two rookies, who still have to sign before games begin, only Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Kyle Lowry have contracts that are guaranteed beyond this season. If math doesn’t work for you, that means everyone else is in a potential contract year. In a further stroke of brilliance by the eminent Professor Morey, among that group only Dragic (unrestricted) and Lee (restricted) will definitely be a free agents at the end of the season. The four 2009 lottery refugees plus Patterson and Budinger all have team options for next year, which means the team, at its discretion, could keep all of them or none or any combination in between. If the Rockets decide to dump them all, it will be shedding nearly $24 million in salary commitments just in time for a free agency class that could include Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard.
So while this season was not slated to be one in which many of us expected the Rockets to be title contenders, it would nonetheless serve a valuable purpose moving forward.
But what now? The longer the lockout stretches, the more difficult these looming personnel decisions will later become. Every game that’s missed means fewer minutes to appraise these 8 players whose NBA futures, as well as that of the Rockets, depend on that fair and accurate assessment.