Though it's far too early to come to any definitive conclusions on the subject, I think that Patrick Patterson's early showing could save the Rockets some money this summer.
My confidence in Patterson doesn't lie solely in his single outstanding performance against the Suns. Even in his less-impressive outings, he has shown plenty of promise in a variety of different ways.
Patterson looks like a versatile guy. He's much further along, in many aspects, than Jordan Hill. Mostly it's in the little things. The ability to counter a defender on the block, run the pick and roll and pass out of the post, among others. He's not ready to play 20 minutes per night, but the Rockets could do worse than run him out there for, perhaps, 15 minutes per night. If anything, until he develops his game and produces consistently, he won't hurt the Rockets in any significant areas of the game.
Chase Budinger played close to 20 minutes per game last season and even played 15 minutes in the Rockets' first game against Portland. Team injuries aside, was Budinger really that further along in his development than Patterson appears to be?
Patterson can already do, to a reasonable degree, much of what would be asked of him as a backup power forward. Rebound the ball. Guard the opposing four-man. Run the floor. Add new dimensions to the offense. Patterson does all of this. His jump shot isn't to the level of what Carl Landry's was this past season, but it may be effective enough to spread the defense and keep defenders honest. Though Patterson doesn't possess the explosiveness that Landry exhibited during his rookie season, he isn't exactly glued to the floor.
Yes, I think it could work. The second unit is a running, guard-oriented bunch, anyway. Patterson would be a nice fit with Lowry, Budinger, Battier and Andersen/Hayes/Hill. And let's not forget Jermaine Taylor, whose presence would further reduce the need for Patterson to shoulder any tangible offensive load. Taylor is probably more ready-made to play than Patterson, as he has clearly defined his role as an explosive bench scorer. Patterson hasn't played enough to reveal a certain playing identity.
In this scenario, Hill would rotate between the four and the five. He can rebound, which is a must for both positions. If his defense can improve, even just slightly, he and Patterson give the Rockets a ton of options in the frontcourt.
What could instant playing time from both Patterson and Hill do? Potentially, it could prevent the Rockets from having to use their MLE on a free agent center. Aside from Brad Miller, there aren't many attractive options. Most of the centers available in a sign-and-trade scenario would be slightly expensive and, aside from Tyson Chandler, would be on the books for at least three more years. Would acquiring another center be worth the extra money? Especially with the talent that could potentially be available in 2011?
The particulars of an impending lockout have managed to escape me. I haven't done too much research on the subject. All I know is that things don't look good and that there's a good chance that it could happen. I'm not sure if the Rockets would want to bet on the 2011 free agent class if they think that a lockout is unavoidable, especially because the lockout would begin before free agency. But if they want to risk it, having extra money to spend would be nice.
If the Rockets feel that Patterson is ready come the start of the season, they would perhaps find their most logical frontcourt solutions to be in-house. This would be, by far, the easiest (and cheapest) route.