Predictions and expectations make for some offseason fun, but the most I can predict for this Rockets team - in what is supposedly a make or break season - is a playoff appearance and perhaps a series win. I can't extend that prediction, no matter how much I'd like to do so. There are too many questions and not enough answers.
The Rockets appear stuck between A) What they believe they need to do this season, and B) What they believe they can actually do this season. This is the year, apparently. Everything that the front office has accomplished or has tried to accomplish, to this point, has indicated such. They chased Chris Bosh. They've tried to chase Carmelo Anthony. They signed Brad Miller and are attempting to sign Erick Dampier. And they brought back Luis Scola with a gracious contract.
These are the types of moves that hint towards a "We believe that we can contend this year" attitude. With uncertainty surrounding Yao Ming's future - not only on the court, but as a Rocket in general - they may be forced into going all-in this season.
Except, that's not exactly what they're doing.
The Rockets remain young and loaded with assets. They decided to use their lottery pick this year on Patrick Patterson. They've got the rights to two New York Knicks draft picks, though in using a specific pick, the Rockets will give theirs to New York as well. They traded a young Trevor Ariza for an even younger Courtney Lee. They brought back a youthful Kyle Lowry. Their Core Of The Future, if you will, includes Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Lowry, Lee and perhaps Patterson and Jordan Hill. All youngsters.
They've got one foot in and one foot out. Handicapped from truly contending, but cautiously protective of the future, whatever it may bring. Perhaps they're trying to do what the Boston Celtics did when they traded their young assets and sacrificed the future for a chance to win a few titles. We know that Daryl Morey has been trying to acquire a star player, but he hasn't been able to do so just yet. Perhaps he's worried about the timing.
No doubt, he has got a right to be concerned. The available "star" players aren't exactly the most convincing bunch. As talented as he may be, there's no telling how Carmelo Anthony would fit in with the Rockets, especially if they kept Kevin Martin onboard. Were a deal to be made, the Rockets would have quite the awkward frontcourt bunch paired with a depleted bench. The reward just isn't convincing enough to take the risk. Almost, but not quite.
This is the dilemma that the Rockets face. The agenda appears to be clear: they want to go get a star player and win a championship. But they haven't found the right one. Perhaps if they keep building their youth and their assets up, they'll find the right guy in two years. Or three.
For now, though, they believe, rationally, that this current roster can go far. But not far enough.
Then again, think about how often teams who attempt to win a championship through roster shuffling actually win one. Anthony knows best: his current situation is no different. The Nuggets have done just about everything, on paper, to prepare themselves for a title run, but they haven't been able to cash in.
Problem is, there are other teams that are simply better. They got lucky. They traded Vlade Divac for a lottery pick who turned out to be the best guard of his decade. They found two star players on the market who fit together perfectly and paired them with a bonafide star of their own in Paul Pierce. They spent countless time preparing for the Free Agent Apocalypse of 2010 - cutting lose contracts, opening up ridiculous amounts of cap room - and, unlike the New York Knicks, they were actually able to land the very players that they coveted.
Think about what the Knicks did. They went all-in, and they lost. It will take years for them to properly rebuild into a championship contender. They used up their assets, and they lost. Would you rather be the Knicks or the patient Rockets, who still have hope for a future?
Much of winning in the NBA is discovering gold, because many teams can prepare to win a title without actually winning one. This is what is so special about the mythical "future." The future brings the chance for the puzzle pieces to fit. It's difficult to force them to fit, so sometimes you just have to bear down, win as many games as you can with what you've got, and wait for something to become available. If you've prepared properly, you might strike gold.
The Rockets have indicated that 2010-2011 is their year, and that they're going to do everything humanly possible to make it their year without blowing everything up. But don't be disappointed if it's not their year. Don't be disappointed if they fail to lure in that star player that we've been looking for by the time the February deadline rolls around. They, like you, want to win. They, too, have a little more insight and knowledge than any of us.
It's too damn hard to win a championship to get all bent out of shape when that wish doesn't come true. Be patient. Let the pieces fall into place, however long that may take. And for now, hope for a miracle, because if the Rockets get lucky - if they stay healthy and play up to their potential - then it may not take a transaction for all of the pieces to come together. Their luck may not lie in finding an outside source. That's not predictable, but it could happen.
They might just have everything they need, right here. Maybe.