Western Conference Preview: The Houston Rockets–Rebuilding (Again)


Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

What with all of the player movement during the off-season you’d expect a lot of teams to have a new look or a new outlook. Houston is flat-out starting over, and starting over can be therapeutic. It can also give you high draft picks until you get better, something the Rockets apparently crave as early as next season because they’ve gone out of their way to make sure their cupboard was hella bare for the upcoming 2012-13 season.

The Rockets have had some bad luck, notably the premature retirement of Yao Ming but, as I said before, Houston’s biggest problem is the city of Houston itself. Generally speaking, the great ones don’t want to play there. I wonder if the Rockets’ think-tank even knows that, or believes it. Were they really trying to clear cap space (which weakened their roster) and stockpile questionable draft picks (12, 16 and 18) so they would have a shot at making a sign-and-trade with the Magic for Dwight Howard? If GM Daryl Morey, coach Kevin McHale et al thought for a second that Howard would ever consider signing a free agent contract with Houston, possibly the last contract of his career, then they are certifiable. I mean how wrong can you be and still live?

Or was it all a tactic to go cheap, lower payroll and lower expectations. Now the Rockets can say we put ourselves in a hole so we could get Dwight Howard but just couldn’t land the big guy. The question is, why? Why go cheap in an era of fat TV contracts? I might be missing something here.

Only SG Kevin Martin remains from last year’s starting lineup. PF Luis Scola, their most valuable player, was amnestied. You don’t see that too often—and for good reason. And they did it to save money for…Dwight Howard!  Scola signed with the Suns, as did last year’s point guard and free agent Goren Dragic.  Kyle Lowry signed with the Raptors and Courtney Lee with the Celtics. They also traded Marcus Camby and Samuel Dalembert for cheaper players.

The team did make one great move by signing restricted free agent Jeremy Lin to a fairly fat 3-year, $25.1 million contract, one that the Knicks could’ve matched to retain him but chose not to. So this is what the Rockets have going for them—a backcourt.

Kevin Martin is a pure scorer, fearless, bombs from anywhere. Lin showed what he could do last year, however briefly. Dude’s a playmaker. His problem is that he doesn’t have many guys on the front line with whom he can make plays, plays like the pick-and-roll and alley oop.

Backing up Martin will be the 12th pick, Jeremy Lamb, and behind Lin–Courtney Fortson, Toney Douglas, Shaun Livingston (set to play for the 7th team in his 8-year NBA career) and probably Earl Boykins, all trying to make the 12-man roster.

Outside of pursuing Lin, the Rockets’ other big move in the offseason was to sign former Bulls backup center and free agent Omer Asik to the exact same deal as Lin’s. It will be a challenge for a backup to become a starter and a productive one. He won’t score much but he should help as a rock in the middle. He might even become a pick-and-roll partner for Lin.

PF Patrick Patterson will probably take over in Scola’s wake, and Terrence Jones (from Kentucky and one of the Rockets’ three 1st-round picks) and Jon Brockman will probably back him up.

SF Chandler Parsons had a nice rookie season, and looks like he’s won the job. If so, he’ll need to pick up the offense from 9.5 points a game in 28 minutes. He might start with his 55% foul shooting. Other swingmen who will get minutes are Gary Forbes and Carlos Delfino. Then there are forwards JuJuan Johnson and Marcus Morris, who should also contribute.

The Rockets have some pieces but not nearly enough firepower to succeed. Kevin Martin is the only reliable scoring option. Their challenge this year is to finish ahead of the Kings and the Hornets. Thoughts of the playoffs would be your basic delusions of grandeur. The fans are gonna have a rough ride this season waiting for their high pick in next year’s draft.

Camp opens in two days.