Yao/McGrady – Year Six: Part 2

If you had not yet read my season preview for last year, please do so, not to gain any particular insight, but rather for the simple fact that it was composed prior to the TrueHoop inception and has been seen by very few eyes.

I felt it necessary to review that earlier post before delving into our projections for this upcoming year.

Some key points:

This current season epitomizes the sports equivalent of ‘Limbo.’ We’re essentially awaiting some later triggering event, whether it be a blockbuster trade, or the return of Yao, and we have no real room for tangible collective improvement. So I must ask myself, “what exactly am I looking for this season?” Wins and losses are not a proper measuring stick for this team, and depending upon your perspective, the former could even be detrimental in the grand scheme (though I do not necessarily feel that way.)

To that end, we got our ‘triggering event’ in the form of the deadline deal for Kevin Martin.

Most of you seem to care primarily about Aaron’s playmaking and point guard skills. That is not what I will be observing at all. If he finally learns to run the offense, that will be gravy, but the most important aspect to this season is Aaron Brooks’ improvement as a scorer. Simply put, he has to become a legitimate 18-20 point scorer. If that doesn’t happen, there will probably have to be some sort of further transaction down the line.

Here’s why: When Yao Ming returns, and if Tracy McGrady is retained, this team will still be in need of additional firepower. They have been in search of the elusive ‘third star’ for 6 years now, and that need will be even more greatly heightened in Yao and McGrady’s declined physical conditions. If the plan is to bring back McGrady, then Aaron Brooks needs to make the jump to consistent scoring option for this team to realistically contend in 2010-2011. At an ideal, best case scenario, you will see McGrady recovering to his 2007 form and compensating for Aaron’s weaknesses with his superior playmaking skills. In turn, Brooks can thrive off the defensive attention thrown at McGrady and the relinquishment of actual point guard duties. In theory, I think these two players’ skillsets complement each other beautifully while their strengths compensate for their respective weaknesses. They could really flourish together in the backcourt, but they each have to take the next step. That means staying healthy and staying focused for McGrady and developing as a pure scorer for Aaron Brooks.

It’s interesting to look back at my thought process here in hindsight.  My assumption at the time (and I would recommend reading the accompanying paragraphs for context) was that McGrady would return long-term, for no other reason than that it was unlikely we could find a favorable trade.  Given his passing prowess, it was critical that Aaron make the jump as a legitimate scorer.

I should add that in retrospect, I’m embarrassed by my use of the primitive ppg metric as something of any value.

In any event, what I am watching for with T-Mac is just getting something out of his salary slot, whether that be production from him or new pieces through a trade. The goal should be to have full confidence in the backcourt heading into 2010-2011 on the basis of what was done/observed this year. If Yao Ming is back, we can’t waste the precious few years he has remaining.

Mission accomplished.

If we are fortunate enough to find a good deal for McGrady, then that obviously will set off a domino effect the nature of which, due to its unpredictability, there is no point in discussing at this time.

I concluded in that post that the development of Aaron Brooks was the central concern for that season.  I sporadically made mention of a possible McGrady trade, deeming it so improbable so as to not be worthy of discussion.  It really speaks volumes about what Daryl Morey was able to accomplish with that deadline deal and lends support to the faith held by so many in his ability to strike gold once more before this February.

Reviewing that post, from all angles, it’s simple to see that for the Houston Rockets, last season was a complete success.  If assessing through my original lens of a McGrady rejuvenation, Aaron Brooks’ emergence satisfied the test.  If applying the grander test of a franchise-saving McGrady swap, management exceeded all expectations.

Through the trade, Morey did push the ‘triggering event’ which I spoke of, pushing his team back into the right direction.  What we now await is the final domino in the chain in our quest for contention.

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