We are a week into the Major League Baseball season, and the Astros are 1-6. Contrary to Dickie Justice, Cecil Cooper, and all of the other "Yes We Can!" buffoons out there, I don't think the 'Stros have a chance in hell this season. You want a number? How about 70 wins, maybe 75; that's an optimistic approach right there. Drayton's Boys are old, fragile, and inefficient. If you think Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton, and Russ Ortiz are going to combine to win more than 12-14 games, you're crazy. If you think Michael Bourn was actually worth the price of Brad Lidge (though moving Lidge was necessary) and will suddenly hit more than .250 this season, you're crazy. And if you're waiting for basketball season to end so you can start rooting for your favorite underwhelming hometown baseball franchise, you're absolutely insane. We need to cherish every moment we've got with this year's Rockets team before it comes to an end. Hopefully that will be sometime around mid-June.
As far as the regular season goes, Houston sports fans are spoiled. The Astros are competitive every year and have been since the turn of the century, when they lost 90 games in Minute Maid Park's inaugural season. The Rockets have had success in the regular season for the last 5-6 years, with the exception of the injury-plagued 05-06 season in which we finished dead last in the division. But with the Texans still a year or two away from taking the next step towards playoff success, and with the Astros looking like they might be in the dumps for a few seasons due to their horrible farm system, the Rockets are currently the kings. They've got the best shot to win a championship, as well as the best shot to entertain fans with wins. It's about time that Houstonians really gave the Rockets the credit that they deserve.
Unlike the Astros, the Rockets have hope for the present and the future. And it's not just hope - it's a legitimate chance at a championship. Championship-caliber teams don't just waltz in to your city every now and then. Ask Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Ask Milwaukee Bucks fans. Ask anyone who currently lives in San Francisco. It's not very much fun to go to a game knowing your team is going to lose.
Rockets fans shouldn't take regular season success for granted just because the playoff records have been disappointing. 50-win teams are hard to come by, and yet we've been doing it for a few years now. Before you say, "Western Conference Finals or bust" or "Finals or bust," consider what "bust" really means. I'd hate to have to root for the Sacramento Kings right now - that's what you call a bust. How about the Chicago Bulls? Or the Warriors? The Clippers? The Washington Wizards? They all know what it means to be a bust, and it really, really sucks. I'll take my 50 wins and a first-round exit over 30 wins and a lottery pick. Sorry, draft talent evaluators, but it's true. I don't care if the guy can change my franchise. I know we all love the ridiculous upside that lottery picks bring, but I'm happy with a pickless draft if it means that we're winning.
The only scenario in which I could see myself wanting young draft picks over wins is if we were old and guaranteed to rot in the next year or two. Like the Astros, for instance. At that point, I'm shouting, "Rebuild!" at the top of my lungs. But with the current Rockets team we have assembled, and with our current financial situation, I think we're going to be just fine over the next few years. We've got young talent at every position, we've got a huge trading chip in McGrady, and if we decide against that, we can go spend millions for some uber-mega-talented free agents in the NBA Apocalypse of 2010.
It's a comfortable feeling, being a Rockets fan. I never thought I would say that, because normally it's the opposite - we've always got the injuries and the let-downs to sucky teams and whatnot. But seriously, compared to more than half of the teams in the NBA, we're lying back in our lawn chairs and sitting pretty. Don't complain about 50 wins, because for some teams, 50 wins and a 1st-round exit would be mighty nice.
I'm going to look back on this season, and the season before, and remember how much fun it was to see us win games instead of lose them. I'll remember how much fun it was to watch games against rivals that actually meant something. There's nothing worse than having Spurs or Jazz tickets when the rival teams are poised for a playoff run and the Rockets are coming up with excuses not to tank. No, this season was fun to watch if only because every game was important. That doesn't happen every year. Go search some of the other SB Nation basketball blogs whose teams won't be going to the playoffs and see how much fun they are having writing about it.
With all of that said, I do expect the Rockets to get out of the first round this season, and I would be disappointed if we failed to do that yet again. This team is certainly more than capable of winning in the playoffs - now we just have to do it. If the team and the players and the coach and the front office and the ownership and the fans and the media proclaim this season a failure if we don't get out of the first round, I won't be one to disagree. But I won't forget how much fun it was to get to that point, either.
Let's give everyone hell in the playoffs, shall we?