"Well, it really was a Woozle
Yes it was, was, was
Why it really was a Woozle, yes it was
Of course it was, I'm sure because
I think I saw some Woozle fuzz
It really was a Woozle, yes it was
'Cos I know what a Woozle does
And what a Woozle doesn't
And if a Woozle it was not
Then you are standing on the spot
Where a wise old Woozle wasn't
Well, we didn't exactly see one
But we knew it had to be one"
And, thus, with implacable logic and incredible prescience did AA Milne describe the 2010-2011 Houston Rockets season.
If you haven't read Winnie the Pooh lately, and perhaps some of you haven't, the story is one of hunting Woozles that are diligently tracked, but never quite found, with puzzling proof of their potential, possible, presence piling up in proportion to the pursuers' peregrinations. And that, in a nutshell, is our season.
If you have no interest in nuts, or the shelling thereof, stop now. Otherwise, jump.
After much study and a welcome DARPA grant, here are some reasons for not finding the Woozle:
No Yao Ming. We waited for him. Yao went under the knife, again. We waited. He rehabbed. We waited. The Rockets were cautious. We waited. Yao landed awkwardly that one time in preseason. Then Yao was gone. He may not have been there at all. I think at this point all Yao doubters have to be silent. Two years without Yao, two years without the playoffs, with one of the deepest overall Rocket teams I've ever seen. (Well, too many wings and not enough centers, but I digress.) Anyway, do the math.
Disaster Start. You remember, right? 5-12 through November? Let's say the Rockets just started the season in a mediocre fashion, 8-9 instead of 5-12. Those three wins would have put us in the playoffs, by virtue of the tiebreaker with Memphis. Sure, you can point to any stretch of the season and make conjectures, but cast your mind back to the first month. One bitter, close, defeat after another. How close? The Rockets started the season 3-7 in their first ten games. They lost 7 games by an average of 4.7 points. When you factor in "fouls and threes" padding opponents scores somewhat it looks even worse for the Rockets.
If I could point to one moment where I thought "We're quite possibly snakebit for this season..."
it was the OT loss to San Antonio that should have been a win. Or maybe it was the shot that didn't go in to beat LA on "Ring Night". Or perhaps it was Derek Rose heaving a last second three in from Galveston after a night of memorably enthusiastic rogering by the officials. Or Montae Ellis scoring 46 points on not-quite-three-pointers. Or perhaps it was Manu Ginobili putting a dent in Aaron Brooks' future earnings on a completely unnecessary dickmove - truly an irresponsible piece of red-ass douchebaggery worthy of Pete Rose himself.
I suppose that's a lot of moments in the first few games but the hits just kept on coming. I can think of perhaps 9 games all year when I felt like the Rockets were simply outgunned and were going to lose - that leaves 30 other (arguably) quite winnable losses and what feels like an infinite number of games in which substantial leads were given away. Your assessment may vary, but that's pretty close, I think. I choose to think of this as a very good sign for the future.
Despite the nightmare open, at no point did the Rockets give up, or give in, or back down, run scared, free fall, or anything else that would get them kicked out of a Tom Petty song. They were actually, somehow, in the hunt as the season wore down.
Memphis and New Orleans played brilliantly down the stretch, completely destroying preconceptions of their character, with former Rockets Shane Battier and Carl Landry holding down injury forts for their respective sides. (I find that somewhat galling.) So what would be a 6th place finish in the Leastern Conference equalled a "Gone Fishing" bit of comic business on TNT. (Hey Jared Jefferies went from bench, to buyout, to starting for the Knicks. But, the Eastern Conference is back, baby! Well, with four teams, anyway. Maybe three.) At the end of the day, no Woozles anywhere.
Weird, Awkward, Rostery Stuff. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Something strange may be going on between the front office and the coaching staff. These are the facts: Daryl Morey traded for 4 players this season. Rick Adelman played one of them. Well, technically they all played, but no, they didn't. They didn't even play the garbage minutes you'd expect the 9-12 spots on the bench to play.
Did Goran Dragic play backup PG because it was either that or Brad Miller running point? (I kid, Courtney Lee.) Did he play because he was the only one of the four ready to play? Were the other three completely unworthy of any the significant number of positive garbage minutes the Rockets racked up after the All-Star break?
While I don't think it would have made much difference in the playoff hunt, there are doubtless excellent reasons for those guys not having meaningful minutes. Having no meaningless minutes? That appears to be a fit of pique, or something worse.
Let's have a look.
The Rockets traded a protected 2012 first round pick to New Jersey for the talented, twittery, @therealtwill #wordapp. Excuse me, for the possibly troublesome, definitely talented, oddly flawed, basketball player and cause celebre known to his mother as Terrence. Terence Williams (#wordapp), whose closest career arc at this point is probably Gerald Wallace (and Rick Adelman wouldn't play him, either #wordapp), played an astonishing 84 minutes in 11 games for the Houston Rockets. 84 minutes for the #11 pick of the 2009 draft? That's fairly shocking, no matter how you look at it.
You might say, well, there was Shane Battier to play, and Chase Budinger to develop, and Courtney Lee earned real minutes once the light went on for him sometime in December. Plus there was Brooks coming back, Martin was healthy all year, etc. Granted. I get that. But after Battier left, Budinger tweaked his ankle and the Rockets brought in Mike Harris. Nothing against Mike Harris, I wish him the very best, and the real spot on an NBA team he deserves. The message about Terrence Williams seemed unmistakable at that point, though.
Mike Harris, after a season spent being the MVP or something in China, knew the system better than Terrence Williams, who had been here most of the year? Uh oh. Is it a conspiracy? You'll be surprised to learn, I have a theory.
Here are Five Ways of Looking At Terrence Williams (less interesting than Thirteen Ways of Looking a Blackbird, but we live in diminished times.)
One - Terrence Williams is being taught a valuable, painful, lesson. He is entitled to what he earns in the NBA, nothing more. He may have all the talent in the world, been a bigshot at a bigtime program, but guess what? Everyone in the NBA is talented. Almost all of them are from bigtime programs, somewhere or other. Remember, out of all the young players in the world, about 36 of them will be new hires in the NBA in a given year.
It may be edifying for him to learn that a team can trade real value for you and yet invite you to wear a snappy suit at the end of the bench and tweet your dismay to your heart's content. Another year of that, though, and your career is starting to look wobbly, and strange currencies beckon. My sense is that by sometime in late March the message, if that was indeed the message, was received. Even if it wasn't the message, it's like Mark Twain's advice to spank a little boy once a day, because even if you don't know why, he does. (That advice simply doesn't translate to our prevailing worldview - a random timeout just seems stupid.)
To the TWill bandwagon - no, I have no idea how he redeems himself if he never plays. Practice? Volunteer work? Quit tweeting?
Two - Rick Adelman never asked for another SF who thinks he's a SG or a PG. Who thinks he can shoot threes, and can't. Who thinks he can make any circus shot, but can't. Who handles and passes like a dream, but takes the "pounder" title from Brooks in a walk. Rick asked for (and I'm guessing here) a real center. He got @therealtwill and he thinks @therealtwill is a clueless bonehead at worst, and utterly superfluous at best. Remember, this is the man who got amazing seasons out of teammates Bonzi Wells and Ron Artest , so boneheaded isn't necessarily a job disqualification.
Three - It's nothing personal. Adelman simply has no use for Twill, because he won't play within his system. Possibly because he doesn't know how, possibly because he won't, but its basically irrelevant. Rick's teams can score and win with just about anyone if everyone is on the same page. If they aren't, he has no use for them.
Four - Terrence Williams is a victim of circumstance. Management and Coaching really aren't communicating. Rick didn't get an in-season extension, so he decided to play for the record books and a winning season, which is, after all, part of his job description. Furthermore, Adelman was already developing one rookie, and two second year players, and the rest were pretty young overall (Lowry, Lee, Dragic) and he didn't really care to take on further projects mid-season, especially without an extension. Why do the work developing players who won't help you win now, if you're not coming back anyway? Why tarnish your coaching record? Why not shoot for the playoffs (which management does want, make no mistake)? Why not hit #8 on the All-Time Wins List?
Yes, that's All-Time NBA Wins, for those of you who think an Adelman replacement will be easily found. And he did integrate a bunch of new, young, players, including a first-time starting PG, and first time starting SF.
Five - None of the Above - We cannot know anything in this world, least of all the minds of basketball people.
As for Dragic, well he did play, and certainly seemed to enjoy getting out of the doghouse in Phoenix. As his season wore on Goran Dragic looked more and more like the tall feisty PG who personally destroyed San Antonio in one magical quarter.
Hasheem Thabeet? When Rick Adelman asked what he was supposed to do with him it was no rhetorical question. In the end Rick settled on Hatrack, rather than Center.
The Guy With Hair Like Jordan Hill's? Apparently one such hairdo was one too many. I hope Demarre Carroll catches on somewhere - I think he will.
Sprained Ankles. Sprained ankles were the Rockets injury theme for this year. By my count we had it happen and lost player games to it something like 14 times this year. Honestly, some may have a bone to pick with the medical staff, but if you actually know a way to stop sprained ankles caused by stepping on another players foot in basketball, Daryl Morey will cut you a check like Gallery Furrrrnituuuure - TODAY.
There's more post-mortem, but we're pushing 1900 words and I'm tired. I'll do more soon.