Monday, October 1, 2007

Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets season preview

Projected Starting line-up
G Rafer Alston
G Tracy McGrady
F Shane Batier
F Luis Scola
C Yao Ming

Luther Head
Bonzi Wells
Steve Francis
Mike James

Last year
While the main question should be "Does this team have a chance at winning a championship?" unfortunetly for the Houston Rockets, going into last season the main question was "Can McGrady and Ming stay healthy for a complete season." With both players missing substantial time the previous seasons, McGrady in particular has yet to play a full 82 games in his 10 years in the league, it was a major concern coming into the year. And if the major question was if they could both stay healthy, then the answer to that question was no, they could not. While McGrady missed 11 games, Ming had the much larger issue with a broken ankle and missed 34 games last season. The Yao injury must have stung even more based on the fact that Ming was having an outstanding season, shooting over 50% from the field and averaging close to 10 boards, 2 blocks and 25 points a game. Luckly for Houston, once Ming did return, he was able to pick up right where he left off. And also luckly for Houston, the record without Ming was 20-12, with McGrady able to deliver some big time performances for his team while Jeff Van Gundy had molded the team into one of the top defensive squads in the league. Even with the major injury to Ming, the team finished the season with a 52-30 record and headed into the playoffs with home court advantage against the Utah Jazz. What the playoffs did expose though was that even with the explosive McGrady and the monster Yao Ming, Houston might have spent too much time working on the defense and not enough on the offense. After grabbing a 2-0 and being in comfortable control of the Utah series, game 3 saw only 4 Houston Rockets record any points and the team finished the game with 67. Utah and Houston would trade a few more victories to even up the series at 3 a piece going into game 7 in Houston. How did it work out? Well let's just say that it was not a tear of joy that ran down McGrady's face in the post game press conference. While last year must have felt like it was a minor victory being able to overcome a major injury to a key player and still have a great season, the bitterness of the Utah series is what will be remembered heading into the new year.

Off Season
Traded a future 2nd pick and cash to Seattle for Carl Landry
Traded Juwan Howard for Mike James and Justin Reed
Traded Vassilis Spanoulis and a 2nd round pick for Jackie Butler and Luis Scola
Signed Steve Francis
Drafted Aaron Brooks

Some interesting moves from a player perspective, but the biggest move of the off-season for Houston was the firing of Van Gundy and the hiring of Rick Adelman. The same Rick Adelman that lead the Sacramento Kings during the Kings vs. Lakers fued in the early 2000's, you know, when the Kings were good. What is really nice for the Rockets about this move is that Adelman is considered to be more of an offensive minded coach, and it's not like the solid defensive teachings of Van Gundy is all of a sudden going to be forgotten. We should be seeing the top defensive team in the league also become a much stronger offensive team. Rafer Alston is a liability on the court, he has his moments but it's hard to picture Rafer Alston being the starting PG of a championship team. Of course, it's equally as hard to imagine Mike James or Steve "Franchise Killer" Francis being that PG of a championship team. Having the 3 players might be motivation for one of them to step up, but regardless of who it is, I don't see the major improvement in this area.

To be honest, I expect big things from this Rockets team next year. Health again will be an issue, it might always be an issue when it comes to McGrady's back and Yao MIng, but if nothing disasterious happens then this Rockets team is set to possible make it a 4 way battle in the West. The offensive minded coaching of Adelman will add a new dimension to this team that was obviously needed. And let's also not forget that Bonzi Wells is still a Rocket, and had his most productive years under Aldeman in Sacramento. If Aldeman reproduces that success with Wells this upcoming year, the depth of this team naturally would become much much stronger. What will hold this team back for at least the next season is lack of playoff experience. McGrady and Yao have yet to see the second round, and while that might not matter as much in the east, playing the Mavs/Suns/Spurs in round 2 is going to be quite the challenge. The west (and the league pretty much overall) is owned by those 3 teams, and no matter what improvements the Rockets have made, it still might take a few more years of getting some second and third round playing time before the Rockets can completely match up against the power of the big three. That being said, if I am correct about the Rockets keeping the defense and adding the offense, then I see no other team in the league as close as Houston right now of changing it from the big three to the big four.

What to watch for
1) Joining the elite - Can they take the next step and join Spurs/Mavs/Suns
2) Stevie Franchise - or Stevie Franchise Killer
3) Heathy season - Will Ming and McGrady play more then 75 games each this season

The moves that Houston made has put them above the Jazz in the NBA power rankings. But not quite ahead of the Suns/Mavs/Spurs. I can see the Rockets challenging those teams for best regular season, although come playoff time, the lack of experience will hurt the Rockets. Still, if they get the experience this season, they might be able to make the big jump next year.

Between 58 and 62 wins this season with a 2nd place overall in the West

No comments: