It's time we look at this Houston Rockets roster from a different perspective.
Lately, we've been caught up in "tanking" and "rebuilding" and all of that jazzy talk, but so far, we have yet to base any of that on one thing: talent. Instead, we've taken Daryl Morey's favorite term -- assets -- to an unhealthy extreme.
We need to stop talking about this roster in terms of how much a group of its players could bring Houston in a trade. That's not a fair form of evaluation. We're not solely looking at an unfinished roster. We're also looking at a group of unfinished players.
As Rockets fans, we hear quite a bit about assets, but not quite enough about the on-court quality of players. I suppose this is natural, given 1) The team's high tendency to make moves, and B) Its desire to acquire a star player using said "assets." It's fair to regurgitate what we're being fed. I get that.
Having said that, we've gone a little overboard. Keep in mind, folks, the season is still a month away and we've probably flipped opinions on this team at least five times over. Let's slow down, be patient and see what this roster gives us first, now another year into its progression.
I've caught myself taking a turn for the pessimistic a few times. I've dismissed Terrence Williams and Hasheem Thabeet a little too often (although come on, I've got a legitimate claim with the latter). Hell, I've readily taken it to Jordan Hill, and as badly as Jordan Hill has played at times, he's still early in his development, as difficult to believe as that is. But I've also seemed to disregard a handful of other important facts:
1. The Rockets Are Incredibly Young
Number of players on Houston's roster over 30 years old: One.
Number of years separating this individual from his thirtieth birthday: One.
This man: Luis Scola, whose below-the-rim game bodes well for a long tenure.
Other notable ages: Patrick Patterson is 22. Marcus Morris is 22. Chase Budinger is 23. Terrence Williams and Jordan Hill are 24. Kyle Lowry is 25. So is Goran Dragic. Courtney Lee is 26. Kevin Martin is 28.
2. The Rockets Aren't Just Young...They're Also Quite Good
We can't continue to take Houston's winning seasons for granted. The Rockets' young players have played very well in limited roles. That's an exciting thought, if you really consider it.
Patterson showed promise as a versatile two-way player in just his rookie year. Lee has the same two-way potential, as do Williams and Marcus Morris. The others? They've also shown flashes without being given a consistent chance. And that's just the bench players. The rotation guys also got the job done, with Scola being the lone 30-year-old.
A good number of teams with cores these young see nothing but losing seasons. A good number of teams with winning records have much older cores. Meanwhile, Houston is winning ballgames with a young core. In other words, the Rockets are nicely prepped for improvement not from just one player, but across the board.
Many teams have that one young guy that they're hoping will replace an older veteran in the future. Houston has maybe seven of those young, let's-see-how-he-develops players, most of whom have already seen significant playing time early in their careers.
3. The Rockets Are Full Of Good Contracts
This is where we can look at this team in terms of what it brings to the Asset Table. Should a few of the youngsters not pan out, they aren't owed a ton of money, and this should allow the front office to be flexible with its dealings. This isn't a reason to give cheap players undue credit or provide an excuse for when they fail. I'm merely pointing out the added bonus of how this current roster was constructed.
A Different Viewpoint
If you take away anything from this post, start here.
Houston doesn't have a star. That's the reality. It's very possible none of the young players will turn into stars either, but that doesn't mean they won't become very good players. The problem? Available playing time and distribution of minutes. So many of these players could soon begin to deserve significant minutes, except there likely won't be enough minutes to allot.
Morey's primary task isn't to acquire a star player due to a talent deficiency. This team has plenty of talent. What Morey must do is re-shape the roster so that the best talent is able to play enough minutes to make the greatest impact possible. This may require bringing in a star player, sure, but let's be sure that PT distribution -- for the most part -- is the primary reason for the need.
(For more on this, take a look at Bill Simmons' "Law of Too Many Guys." It's not the end-all-be-all analysis on the subject, but it addresses the issue nicely).
When you think about the strategy, it's unbelievably simple and almost goes without saying. But I think we've lost insight into what Morey is trying to do, and we've given up on a team that is still built to compete and to do so at an increasingly successful rate. If Morey is able to snag a star, that move will represent a large boost not necessarily in talent, but instead in organization and distribution, allowing Houston to play the most efficient team ball possible.
So, until that happens, let's enjoy all of the bubbling potential at hand and stop worrying how high the ceiling of that realized potential should be. We can guess where this team is headed -- perhaps to the back of the lottery, again -- but we don't know for certain. Understand? We just don't know. Not with this group of players, not with the number of young talents and wild cards on this roster, many of whom were once thought to be prime NBA prospects.
Be patient. The talent level is going to be high enough to keep the Rockets competitive, both on the floor and in the league's suddenly liberalized trade talks. And say these young players do get better. Say they come around, even just a little. All it takes is a flash here and there for another team to take notice, and for Houston to suddenly earn a better shot at pulling off a significant trade. Why shouldn't that happen?
Get Dwight Howard and Chris Paul out of your heads. The Rockets can trade for good-to-great players not named Dwight Howard or Chris Paul -- that's still allowed. The reality is that Houston isn't a favorite to land either player. The Nets, Clippers and Knicks all stand in the way, and those teams simply have a better shot given their market alone. If Houston lands Howard or Paul, fantastic: We'll all be pleasantly surprised. I'm telling you that likely won't happen, regardless of what Daryl Morey attempts to string together. If you can't get those two guys off your minds, you should at least be praying the youngsters show some swagger this year, enough to perhaps gauge a little more interest.
When we know this team is not going to work, we'll know. It'll be painfully obvious. We'll be ten times more adamant for change. But as far as I can tell, that time has yet to come.
(Kudos if you caught the obnoxious music reference in the headline.)