Houston had an early exit from the playoffs last year, but like their Texas counterparts, are probably a better team than their finish would indicate. Everything the Rockets do begins and ends with Yao Ming
and Tracy McGrady
, and the team has greatly desired a productive third option for some time.
Last year, the team thought that free agent Bonzi Wells
would give the team a reliable 3rd option, but it is this season that the move may finally pay off. Wells was injured much of last season and was in terrible shape to boot. This year Wells looks focused and fit, having lost at least 20 pounds, giving him the quickness he needs as a slashing scorer.
The team also made a couple of savvy moves that are sure to pay dividends at a couple of need positions. The team really went a little crazy in terms of player acquisition, as it has 20 players under contract and will have to make some tough cuts by the start of the season. As of now, it looks like Bob Sura
, Justin Reed
, Mike Harris
, and John Lucas
are on the outside looking in. Steve Novak
, Carl Landry
, and Kirk Snyder
should be battling for the final roster spot.
The Rockets signed Steve Francis
to a modest contract, which returns the one-time Rockets star to his old stomping grounds. Francis seems to be in great shape and good spirits now that hes come home, which should help him to contribute in a complementary role for the first time in his career.
The trade for Luis Scola
and Mike James
also look to be tremendous value pick-ups for the Rockets. Scola should be stepping into the starting power forward spot vacated by Juwan Howard
. Scola was a star in Europe, but should be able to turn himself into a super role player right off the bat with his smart decision making and experience.
James was acquired in a prisoner exchange for Juwan Howard
after a lack-luster year in Minnesota. James is more of a scoring guard than a point, but he brings solid perimeter shooting and gritty driving ability to the Houston bench, which gives the team some depth in terms of scoring. Depth Chart:
[c]courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech: Findings are players NBA offensive percentile rank[/c]Strengths:
Star power is a clear strength of the Rockets, as they enjoy a great inside/outside combo with Ming and McGrady. But the team has more than that going for it this season, as they have depth and scoring balance to support their two stars for the first time.
The guard depth is especially good for Houston. The team will certainly trot out a lot of two point guard lineups with Alston, Francis, James, and maybe a little bit of rookie Aaron Brooks
. All four players are deserving of playing time, so Rick Adelman
is going to have to get creative or the team is going to have to swing a deal to free up some time.
Houstons veteran leadership and experience are also a major factor for this team. The first and second string all have over five years experience with the exception of Chuck Hayes
. It may take a bit of time for the new members of the squad to get up to speed, but the core of the team is intact from the past season, so there shouldnt be tremendous pressure on the newcomers to do too much too quickly.
The team has been a good defensive club as well the past few seasons, but with a new coach and new players, it remains to be seen if the team still commits themselves to those defensive principles. It is almost a lock that this team will be more offensively productive, as no team coached by Rick Adelman
has ever been anything less. Weaknesses:
The most outstanding weakness of this team is health. Greater depth will help the team survive the nicks and bruises of the regular season, but it still comes down to Tracy McGrady
being ready to go.
The presence of Bonzi Wells
, Mike James
, and Steve Francis
will help to bolster the scoring of this team and will allow McGrady to play less minutes and even miss a couple of games if and when he gets a pull or a strain. But McGrady has to be ready to go come playoff time or the Rockets will be packing up early for the year yet again.
The other possible weakness is the personnel itself. Alston, Wells, James, Francis, and even Aaron Brooks
(digging backwards in his years at Oregon) are all notorious yappers and part-time complainers when theyre not getting what they deserve. Each of these players is also quite used to having the ball in their hands. Its clear that most of the time these four vets are going to be playing a bit more off-ball than as ball-pounding playmakers, especially when considering McGradys ball-handling tendencies as well.
It will be a real credit to Adelman if he can build a high powered system predicated on ball-movement like he had in Sacramento. The balancing act of egos on this team may be the greatest challenge of all, as none of the more combustible players have ever had trouble finding the me in team. Outlook:
This should be a big-time year for the Rockets. They are the classic on paper team that looks like it can contend with the top-shelf squads in the west. Familiarity and chemistry will be the biggest challenges for Houston throughout this season as they look to establish a rotation while at the same time adjusting to a new coaching staff.
Its likely that the team will look to move some of their depth at the guard position, but finding a buyer for one of their mercurial guards will be a process of each proving himself capable of being a team player at the offset of the season.
Look for the Rockets to be one of the lower seeds in the West as they will probably struggle early in the season against the more established Western powers that have had less personnel change and have maintained their coaching staffs.
If the team finds its identity and everyone gets along, the team should really come on strong in the second half of the year and could be a tough out in the playoffs
or they could fail to find that identity and remain and mediocre playoff team still searching for the right pieces to fit around their two superstars. Time will tell which direction the team goes in, but the club has certainly made aggressive moves to ensure the former path.