Over the next month, CBSSports.com’s Eye On Basketball will take a team-by-team look at the 2012 offseason. Next up: the Houston Rockets. You can .
The Houston Rockets, under new head coach Kevin McHale, finished the 2011-12 season in the same spot as the previous two campaigns: just barely over .500 and just outside the Western Conference playoff picture. How they crash-landed to their 34-32 record — losing seven of their final nine games — was particularly gruesome. It was all the more demoralizing because GM Daryl Morey traded for veteran center Marcus Camby at the deadline to help with the playoff push.
Over the last 15 seasons, the Rockets have won just a single playoff series (a first-round triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers in 2009), a prime motivating factor as Morey constantly swings for the fences when it comes to trading for a star. Being stuck in the middle is getting really, really, really old.
An outsider would have looked at the Rockets’ roster and come to conclusions like, “They need to make a decision between Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry as their long-term solution at point guard” or “they need to get younger and better in the middle.” The Rockets looked at their roster and decided instead that it was time to blow up the entire thing in order to accumulate as many minor assets as possible to facilitate a run at trading for the team’s first franchise player of the post-Yao Ming era.
After failing to land Los Angeles Lakers All-Star big man Pau Gasol in a three-team trade thatrom Chelsea after Wednesday’s Europa League triumph over Arsenal.The Belgium international scored twice as the Blues won 4-1 over their London rivals.The French midfielder is happy for Hazard, who is expected to join Real Madrid, to leave Stamford Br was nixed for “basketball reasons” back in December, the Rockets plotted a course to land Orlando Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard. Howard, who never seemed particularly interested in playing for the Rockets, wound up with the Lakers instead, leaving Houston a smorgasbord of young talent and draft picks that fit together a lot better as a potential trade package rather than as a 2012-13 lineup.
Say this about the Rockets: they know how to put together an incredible Las Vegas Summer League team. With three picks among the first 18 during June’s Draft, Morey landed a trio of intriguing talents who boast significant upside: Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones. All three represented good value for where they were picked, all three should have lengthy pro careers and all three showed promise in Vegas: Lamb played his smooth scoring game, White impressed with his great vision and energy, and Jones showed off his athleticism and finishing ability.
The issue for McHale — and it’s a monstrous one — is finding the ideal way to incorporate and develop this young talent. Also joining the Rockets in the NBA this season is Donatas Motiejunas, a skilled forward who was selected in the 2011 Draft. Add in Marcus Morris and JaJuan Johnson, two other 2011 first-round picks on the roster, and that’s six players competing for time who are 23 or younger with than 40 games of NBA experience on their resumes. None of the six has immediate star potential, making this an even more difficult — probably impossible — propositon.
The point guard and center positions were the areas of focusA documentary put together by club sponsave been drawn together for the Europa League round of 16.Nuno said: “They will be very tough. They are a very good team which we just saw yesterday [against Arsenal], so they are a difficult team.“All the opponents that we play are very difficulors Rakuten lifts the lid on Barca’s 4-0 semifinal second-leg defeat at Anfield to the eventual European champions.In the footage, it’s clear the previous season’s collapse to Roma weighed heavily on the player entering the summer and the Rockets did get around to addressing them, albeit in a complicated and unexpected manner.
At the one, Houston elected not to retain either Lowry or Dragic. Lowry was shipped to the Toronto Raptors for a future first-round pick while Dragic was allowed to sign with the Phoenix Suns as a free agent. Make no mistake, that is a lot of outbound talent. In the middle, Houston sent center Samuel Dalembert to the Milwaukee Bucks to move up in the draft and then sign-and-traded Camby to the New York Knicks for guard Toney Douglas, cash and future picks.
To plug those new holes, the Rockets went big-game (well, medium-game) hunting in the restricted free-agent market, giving out 3-year, $25 million offer sheets to New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin and Chicago Bulls reserve center Omer Asik. Both offers were structured so that the third year was particularly painful; ultimately, both the Knicks and the Bulls allowed their young talent to walk. While the Rockets didn’t indicate any buyer’s remorse, the Lin/Asik combination, a relatively unproven and fairly expensive pairing, now becomes major building blocks as the team moves forward. That’s not exactly a duo that will inspire fear in the hearts of their competitors. In terms of depth and overall talent, it’s fair to say that the Rockets took a step backwards at both positions — at least in the short-term — relative to the end of last season.
After those house-cleaning moves, the Rockets made a particularly surprising trip to the amnesty pool, dumping forward Luis Scola after he averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing all 66 games last season. The amnesty decision cleared $21 million over three years off of Houston’s salary cap, although the move was undertaken without an obvious understudy waiting to replace his production.
In another move aimed to the future, the Rockets dealt productive guard Courtney Lee to the Celtics for Johnson, roster scraps and a future pick. Finally, in August, the Rockets signed Carlos Delfino to a reasonable 2-year, $6 million deal. Strong arguments can be made that Houston suffered short-term losses at the off guard and power forward positions too.
Where did all of those moves leave the Rockets? Young. Very young. With no particular residual chemistry and way, way more questions than answers.
Only three of the 10 players given the most playing time last season will return: guard Kevin Martin, who was benched by McHale last season and who has a $12.4 million expiring contract that makes a nice trade asset; Chandler Parsons, a talented 23-year-old wing who distinguished himself as a do-everything guy during his rookie year; and Patrick Patterson, a hard-working reserve forward who put up 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds off of McHale’s bench but will now compete with the many new youngsters for playing time. The others, who are no longer: Scola (amnestied), Dragic (left as free agent), Lowry (traded), Lee (sign-and-traded), Chase Budinger (traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves), Dalembert (traded), and Jordan Hill (traded to the Los Angeles Lakers at the 2012 deadline). Fall training Camp will have the look and feel of an early round “American Idol” audition.
The upside here is that the Rockets clearly are not done. (Are they ever done?) They have extra picks spilling out of their pockets and they have achieved a fairly flexible financial position, with only Lin and Asik on the books for real money going into the future. While those contracts were both too generous, neither is particularly prohibitive of future moves. Martin’s contract remains as the key to making a blockbuster trade package legal although it’s unclear who is left for the Rockets to target after their failed passes at Gasol and Howard. If they strike out yet again he simply comes off the books next summer.
It’s quite possible that this is the season the Rockets resolve their “stuck barely above average” problem by totally bottoming out. McHale is going to have his hands full, even if the team manages a consolidation or position balancing trade or two by opening night. On paper, at least right now, they look like the worst team in the Southwest Division and one of the worst teams in the Western Conference.
Rebuilding can be painful, complicated and disorienting. But there does seem to be a method to the madness here, even if the short-term results are likely to drive McHale insane.