Lost in the wreckage of this past Season is what could have been.
Yao was back,and in all the fuss about his minutes was reality of the season was about shaking rust off Yao and getting him ready for the Play-Offs.
The Rockets finally had height again in Yao,Miller and Hill.
They could throw waves of bigs at the Lakers-Yao,Miller,Hill,Scola,Hayes,Jeffries and Patterson.
W/the roster balancing trade of Ariza for Lee the team was two deep everywhere.
Martin's ability to keep the scoreboard moving would ensure the team would stay in games and not have to rely on Yao until crunch time.
Hill was going to be a PF,giving the Rockets the height to match Bynum,Gasol.
The First and Second units were balanced w defensive players in Shane and Lee and shooters in Kevin and Bud. Jeffries was a utility type who could be used against the bigger SFs(Carmelo,Durant).
Ish Smith was a pleasant surprise and looked to be the emergency 3rd PG in case Lowry went out for his now customary week or two w/a small injury.
The West was supposed to go thru the Lakers,as Dallas was going to be Dallas-50+ wins,early Play-Off flameout,Spurs were old,OKC too young,Portland injured,Denver in turmoil,Phoenix fading and Utah not a contender. And the Rockets had good match-ups against the Lakers in Yao and Brooks and a better looking bench.
Having broken the First Rd jinx a couple seasons previous,the Rockets were ready for a strong Play-Off run.
Then it all fell apart.
First was Aaron Brooks' obvious unhappiness w/not getting an extension. There were the constant management references to Lee's ability to guard PGs,which was rather odd as Lowry was capable of doing same and if Lee is guarding PGs,who was the PG supposed to be guarding? Were the Rockets already thinking of the possibility of moving Brooks,promoting Lowry and having Lee the back-up PG?(Pure speculation on my part,but was there a Brooks for Rudy Fernandez trade envisioned?) For a team planning on Yao being back and having strong Play-Off runs,there was a strong undercurrent of ambivalence about Brooks.
Lowry came into camp injured which was a huge setback to the Rockets. Any chance of a training camp battle w/Brooks for starting job was gone. Developing chemistry w/the Second unit vanished. It turned out Bud has great chemistry w/Lowry and struggles w/other PGs. And instead of concentrating on learning the SG position,Lee spent his camp working at the PG position. With Lowry hobbled the bench went from a strength to a liability.
The team went into the Season w/some concerns but expected by mid-Season to be healthy and rolling.
Then disaster struck and Yao and Brooks went down w/injuries in first half-dozen games.
The team was left w/one healthy PG-an undrafted rookie. Brad Miller had seemingly aged overnight and Hill was shuffled back to C and was floundering. Without a defender able to protect the rim the Rockets defense collapsed.
Bud looked lost and Lee proved he wasn't a PG.
As the season threatened to spiral out of control,Houston GM Morey had a couple of trades to ponder. Orlando called offering Gortat for Martin(and likely involving Carter,a First and Jeffries) and NJ was offering Terrance Williams. Orlando's offer would fill one hole,but open another in steady scoring. NJ's offer would add potential playmaking/scoring/defense and not cost anyone playing rotation minutes. Unfortunately Williams and Adelman never saw eye to eye and for the season it was a horrible trade.(If Brooks and Lowry had been healthy,I doubt the trade would have been made. Assuming Bud still struggled w/a healthy Lowry,Adelman prob would have shrunk his rotation like he did at end of yr and played Lee/Martin together in 3 man rotation of Shane,Kevin and Courtney w/Bud and Taylor getting spot minutes and a lot of Lowry/Brooks.)
Brooks came back and was given a 4 game stretch to win back his starting job and couldn't do it. He went into a funk that lasted the season.
After trying to make several other deals,Morey settled on moving Brooks for Dragic and a pick and returned Shane to Memphis for a pick and the to date Draft bust Thabeet.
By March First,three of the Rockets' Opening Day starters were no longer w/the team-Brooks,Battier traded,Yao done w/injuries. Lowry had emerged as the heart of the team and had locked himself in as the starting PG. Bud had shown he could start at SF and not embarrass the team on defense and some ability to be a point forward in an Adelman offense. Lee had emerged as a solid defender who could be relied upon in crunch time and as season progressed shown a previously missing ability to beat his man on perimeter and finish inside.
On Draft Day Morey was extremely active,but was not able to move up. He drafted a tweener in Morris whom the team hopes to convert into a strong power SF and in a late trade drafted a tall,young,outside shooting Motiejunas and swapped Miller for injured,disappointing PG Flynn.
The Rockets entered the off-season a team in transition.
They parted ways w/their Head Coach. For the first time in a decade they will be w/out a star to build around,no Francis,McGrady,Yao.
They have a roster stuffed w/Draft disappointments they hope can turn it around in Williams,Hill,Thabeet,Flynn.
Their draft picks of 2011 are a player they hope cn turn into a SF and a big w/a reputation for not playing hard.
Their starting C was 6'6"(maybe!) and is a FA,and is just the kind of player top teams would love to sign,esp as he will come w/a reasonable salary.
They have two back-up PGs whose confidence is shot.
Yet the team has a solid core w/six players they know can be starters/key rotation players in Lowry,Martin,Lee,Bud,Scola and Patterson. Hill flashed potential and in the brief team workouts before the lock-out was drawing praise from everyone for his play.(Part of why I'm on the Thabeet bust bandwagon-Hill and Thabeet started playing basketball at the same late age and Hill is waay further along than Thabeet.)
Under any reasonable new CBA scenario,the Rockets will have cap room.
They have two vet players w/both name recognition and still valuable skills in Martin and Scola who will be sought by other teams.(Altho I doubt they get traded before next year's Draft.) Then there are young players still w/potential and several Firsts that can be moved and/or packaged for a blockbuster deal.
The team has an Owner willing to spend to improve the team and a GM who's not afraid to pull the trigger on trades.
If a couple of the Rocket gambles pays off(Morris,Motie,Williams,Dragic,Flynn,Thabeet),the team can sign a solid C,(or Hill,Motie and/or Thabeet makes it his)and McHale succeeds as a coach,the team can be a Play-Off team. They'll still be a star away from contending status,but that's for next yr.
The season that wasn't...and picking up the pieces
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