(UPDATE: See the bottom of the post.)
Of course, every bit of Houston's plan for the next five years revolved around the now-defunct Trade That Shall Not Be Named. If reports are true, Hayes was certainly a part of that plan. The most glorious supplement of the trade was cap space, enough to sign both Nene and the Chuckwagon.
Let's not forget how important Hayes was to this team in all facets of the game. On defense, sure, Hayes was Houston's premier post-stopper. He created turnovers and did plenty to irritate opposing post players without fouling to the moon. But we know this quite well. "Ol' Chuck On The Block" is Hayes' eternal image.
What we often overlooked about Hayes was his effect on the offense. The Rockets ran their entire offense through Chuck Hayes, believe it or not. Kyle Lowry would take the ball across half court and Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Chase Budinger or Lowry would often finish the possession, but in between, the ball went through Hayes. He provided the relaxing cushioning that allowed the rest of the offense to function. Hayes often caught the ball at the top of the key, thus spreading the defense and setting up backdoor cuts to the short corner or handoffs and pick-and-roll plays from the top, leaving room to drive in either direction towards the basket. He became a reliable pause button, one you could trust with the ball in order to let others find their favored spots on the floor.
Would McHale have used Hayes in a similar fashion? This year, perhaps. Judging by the first preseason game, the Rockets offense is going to look awfully similar to that of years past (minus Hayes, of course). There was plenty of ball movement, plenty of cutting and an emphasis on getting out on the break. Whatever the reason -- be it McHale's potentially similar philosophy or the little time spent in camp to usher in new sets -- the offense looked relatively unchanged.
I'm wondering how Hayes' loss is going to affect Kevin Martin, because to me, having the big man up top to pass the ball left space for Martin to drive to the rim. It also gave him more catch-and-shoot options and lessened his dribbles. Excuses are in season given the lockout, but there's no questioning how uncomfortable Martin looked during that first preseason game.
Now, we apparently turn to Jordan Hill, a player of a completely different mold. Hill has reportedly played well during camp and looked every bit the part against San Antonio. He's going to run a lot of pick and roll with Kyle Lowry, which bodes well for Houston as it is a strength for each. But Hill doesn't possess Hayes' skills in the passing department (nor can he stay on the floor given his penchant for fouling) and seems keen on living on the block opposite Luis Scola. It's going to be a major adjustment for an offense that worked to near-perfection running through the Chuckwagon a year ago.
Update: Chuck failed his physical with the Kings, who subsequently had no choice but to void his contract. This is likely the result of a reported heart abnormality that doctors recently discovered. All the best to Hayes and his family.