(Note: if anyone has noticed my silence during the past week or so, it's mostly been because the Lakers, not the Dallas Mavericks, decided that mid-May was a good time to rip out my heart and free up my calendar for the next month. I will be back with opinions, observations and what to expect going forward from YOUR...Los Angeles Lakers a little later on. When I can stop crying enough to see the screen. Maybe writing about teams that were less successful than the Lakers will make me feel better)
Oh boy - how can a team be such a mess that has so much talent? 4 years ago this team won 55 games. With Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Houston looked like it could challenge the Lakers, Spurs and Mavs for conference supremacy. Too bad they didn't take into account that they put their faith into two players with nearly comical medical reports. So here we are in 2010, with McGrady no longer on the roster and amazingly enough an NBA afterthought and Yao missing all but 5 games the past two seasons.
I like a lot about this Houston team. I think that they've completely overachieved for the previous four seasons, all in the face of injuries to their two best players. Now you might say that it's the fault of the Rockets to place such weight on injury prone players like Yao and McGrady. More accurately, it's management's fault, not the players and especially not the coaching staff.
I couldn't disagree more with them dismissing Rick Adelman. He has been one of the best coaches in the league for the last 20 seasons (yes, really - look at his resume) and got more out of guys like Kyle Lowry, Carl Landry, Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin than anyone before or after them. 3 seasons ago, this Rockets squad gave the Lakers all they could handle in the 2009 Western Conference semis and were almost good enough to make the playoffs despite two catastrophic injuries to Yao Ming.
The Rockets aren't completely hopeless. They don't have a lot of dead weight in their rotation and Kevin Martin would be great if he were your second best player. Therein lies the problem - Kevin Martin is their best player and while they don't have a lot of dead weight in their rotation, they really are just rotation guys. With pieces like Hasheem Thabeet, Luis Scola, Terrence Williams and Goran Dragic, getting a true number one scorer through trade isn't out of the question. But that's something for the future, not this offseason. This offseason is about keeping the Rockets competitive and hopefully getting them into a low-seed in the postseason.
Kevin Martin: 12 million
Luis Scola: 8.6 million
Kyle Lowry: 5.75 million
Hasheem Thabeet: 5.1 million
Brad Miller: 4.7 million
Jordan Hill: 2.8 million
Terrence Williams: 2.3 million
Goran Dragic: 2.1 million (team option)
Patrick Patterson: 1.9 million
Demarre Carrol: 1.2 million (team option)
Courtney Lee: 2.2 million
Chase Budinger: 884,000 (team option)
Total: 45 million
Yao Ming: 17.7 million
Jared Jeffries: 6.8 million
Chuck Hayes: 2.3 million
Total: 26.8 million
(The Rockets will essentially have about 12 million to play with, as 26.8 million will be coming off their books in a couple months)
1). Re-sign Yao Ming to a 1-year, 5 million dollar deal
Essentially, this signing would be from a purely marketing standpoint. I read a report a few days ago that Yao would like to come back to the Rockets if they would have him. I think whatever money you spend on Yao, you basically make back from him being a walking (well, sometimes) marketing campaign overseas. Plus, if he gives you anything, great. If not, you know what you paid for.
2). Get someone that can block a shot
I love Chuck Hayes. He's 6'6" and gives Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum more fits than anyone that's not Kendrick Perkins or Dwight Howard. But relying on a guy like that going forward is just not dependable. I would go ahead and resign Chuck if he does not command more than 3 million annually.
Samuel Dalembert and Reggie Evans are inexpensive options, but signing Marc Gasol to an offer sheet (5 years, 60 million would be ideal) would really solve a lot of problems for the Rockets going forward. Odds are that with Memphis trading Hasheem Thabeet, that they will match nearly any deal for Gasol (especially in light of his performance in the post season), so signing him to an offer sheet might merely be a way of upping the contract value for a division rival.
3). Punch the options on Dragic and Budinger, not Demarre Carrol
Budinger and Dragic are productive players, especially at those prices. I might even about giving Budinger a small extension, as he finished the season with a flurry. I'd let Demarre Carrol walk, mostly because I do not know who that is.
4). Resist the urge to trade Hasheem Thabeet...right now.
See what you have with the guy. He's 7'3", 270 and he's 24 years old. He's only been playing ball since he was 15. That's 2002 for those keeping track. How could you not give a guy more of a leash when he's that big and started playing basketball before there was gmail? Give him some playing time this year and see what he's got.
5). Hire Dwane Casey
Word is that the Rockets are already cleared to talk to the Mavs assistant coach, who is a defense first guy and got a raw deal with the Timberwolves , as he coached a Kevin Garnett-led-but-not-much-else team to a 53-69 record before being fired after "only" a 20-20 record in January of 2007. Since the day that Casey was fired, the Wolves have won 68 games. In 3 1/2 seasons. Whoops. I'd be more than happy to give this guy a shot and see how he fares with more talent than the Wolves teams he has coached.
The right deal isn't out there for the Rockets right now. I would build this squad with a defense-first coach and hope to make the playoffs as a low-seed. They need to see what they have in Thabeet, Dragic, Williams, Budinger and Hill, and then they can move from there.
Writing this post didn't make me feel any better.