People will question John Hollinger's and Chad Ford's joint decision to rank the Rockets fifth out of thirty teams (behind Miami, LA, OKC and Chicago) in their future power rankings, pointing to Yao's decline and the general roster turmoil we've seen in years past. Then they'll try and pull some "Daryl Morey hasn't won anything/stats are overrated" reverse-psychology crap and force me to do a subsequent post on how Boy Genius has been tied down by large contracts and capitalized on every opportunity that he has been given to improve the roster. But there will still be haters. There will always be haters, 'cause haters gon' hate.
But let's talk about why the Rockets have been ranked fifth. Hollinger and Ford obviously get it, but I have a feeling that few others agree.
It's the boring argument that perhaps serves as an indicator for team success more than anything else. Poor management kills teams. Poor management won't spend money (Charlotte), or they'll have hidden agendas that govern any personnel moves they make (Clippers), or they hire bad coaches who have 'basketball tenure' and whose strategy will entertain just enough for fans to keep coming back (Golden State). Then you have the good management that continuously finds good character players (San Antonio), is willing to spend money after weighing every possible option (Houston), continues to put a winning product on the table despite a lack of draft picks (Utah) and hires coaches that cater to the current product (Oklahoma City).
The value of having Les Alexander and Daryl Morey and even Sam Hinkie (whom Jason Friedman has referred to as a "sure-fire superstar GM in the making") aboard can't be overstated enough. They allow you to ignore them. Everything is about basketball. The Rockets rarely find themselves in trouble with off-court issues. They have a tight-knit group despite constant roster shuffling. They also know how to put a winning product on the floor, which, as we Drayton sufferers know, isn't as easy as it looks. Morey's got all the chances in the world to improve the club because Mr. Alexander allows it. Ed Wade could probably do some real neat things if McLane's primary interest was to win, not sell tickets. Mr. Alexander seems to have found a happy medium, which allows the focus to be placed on the court and not in the owner's box.
Oh, and that Rio Grande Valley idea was pretty savvy as well. A minor league basketball team? Who knew!?!
The Rockets have some of the best talent evaluators in the business, led by Gersson Rosas and Pat Zipfel, and then it all reaches Morey in the end. The Rockets were able to turn two second round picks and a late first rounder into Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks and Chase Budinger. That's remarkable. If Hollinger could find a way to translate PER into a GM rating, Morey would find himself atop the list, and we're not even discussing his ability to trade. There has been one gaff on his résumé: David Andersen, who lost us money and gave us nothing more than a slightly stronger, more Australian, worse-shooting version of Steve Novak.
To add, Morey found us some extra draft picks from New York. Even if the Knicks don't finish in the lottery this season (something that is possible only because the Eastern Conference is that shitty), having two first-round picks will allow the Rockets to seriously explore trading up within the top five. They've got so many assets that, at some point, we'll see a franchise-altering deal. Draft day 2011 could be special.
The roster, on paper, could translate to 60 wins. It's absolutely possible. The Mighty Ducks beat the Hawks in the pee-wee hockey championship back in '92 led by wimpy, pouty, brown-nosing Charlie Conway. I don't care if it's fiction: it proves that chemistry can't be overlooked. The Rockets have all the pieces in place to perfectly execute a gameplan under Rick Adelman. In five years, there will be changes, but they've set themselves up nicely to cope with the loss of Yao Ming (which is really saying that they'll win closer to 40 games without him than 30). But for now, they just have to win in the playoffs. This takes a few things: A) Talent check, B) Coaching check, C) Chemistry check, D) Luck, E) Luck F) Luck. And more luck at that.
Lucky is good in the NBA. Lucky is healthy. Lucky is a few good whistles in your direction at crucial moments. Lucky is a sexual assault case that forces your pathetic GM out of the Big Apple. I've constantly stated that the Rockets have put themselves in a position to win, because that's all you can do, really. It all has to come together, with a little luck.
Every champion - um, ever - has been lucky. They've all been talented and well-coached and have had unparalleled chemistry. And they've been lucky. In the last twenty years, which is really all I know, name me one team who won a title when their best player was hurt. None. The Lakers lucked into getting to the Finals in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. They lucked into Yao Ming getting hurt against them in the 2009 playoffs. And the Rockets reaped the negative dividends of that luck. You've got to be lucky. If we get lucky this year, and if Yao Ming stays healthy and if everyone else does, too, then we could be a championship contender. I'm dead serious.
Perhaps what this all means is that you can trust the Rockets. You can trust them to put themselves in a position to win, and to do it better than twenty-five other franchises. All of the categories listed in the equation - management, players, money, draft, market - they all have to do with trust. There are certainly better teams than the Rockets right now, but they may not be in a position to say the same five years down the road, whether it's due to aging players, bad management, a poor and shaky market, a budget plan modeled after the Florida Marlins, or a reputation for drafting poorly (we're looking at you, old Seattle Sonics).
I think the Rockets are pretty set in all of those categories. And they are aware that each of those categories matters. That's the nice thing.