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Courtney Lee is now a keeper (as is Patrick Patterson)

I know I have been guilty of extreme criticism of Courtney Lee this year. I'm still not over his botched free throws against San Antonio in the fifth game of the season. Last night's game -- and his recent performance overall -- has drastically changed my opinion of him though.

Courtney Lee is a definite keeper. And, like Kevin Martin, Rick Adelman must find more playing time for him.

Last night Lee had his best game as a Rocket. 23 points in limited time. He played so well that he earned what Matt Bullard deemed "closing" minutes. There is no doubt he deserved to be on the court when the game was decided. Unfortunately, Adelman treated him like Isiah Thomas treated Michael Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game... he froze him out at the end. Lee was reduced to standing in the corner away from the action. So much for being there at crunch time. I mean - he was on the court, but he was hardly a participant in the offense. If Courtney held grudges, he'd be completely in the right to want to do what Eric Cartman did to Scott Tenorman. Then again, he already has a girl's name so he's probably used to this glass ceiling treatment.

It's unfortunate - because of all the players on the roster, Lee has been the one regular to show steady improvement as the season has progressed. His defense is solid, he's proven to be quite adept at the mid-range game. And there is no denying that he can jump out of the gym. Quickly. Sure, he's wildly inconsistent with open jump shots, especially from behind the arc, but that was never his expertise anyway. Courtney Lee is a keeper.

Meanwhile, guys like Chase Budinger, Aaron Brooks, Jordan Hill and even Shane Battier have only gotten worse. Budinger cannot even put together two moderately good games in a row. Brooks' regression has been documented here in great detail. Battier is on the wrong side of 30 and no longer has the lateral quickness to play the premium D we are used to seeing (and his offensive production is now worse than Chuck Hayes'.) And for all the "Free Jordan Hill" memos I distributed earlier in the season... I've learned something.

Jordan Hill really is not that good. And I don't think he's going to get any better. Ever.

Why did I have this sudden realization? Simple. This guy named Patrick Patterson started getting minutes at the same position. Where Jordan Hill is slow and mechanical... Patterson is quick, agile and natural. Plus, Patterson already has an NBA-ready jump shot. Hill has now been a Rocket for about a year and aside from being a wee bit more fluid on his hook shot, he's really no better today than the raw project we acquired from the Knicks a year ago. Patterson, however, has been a revelation. At no point has he seemed overwhelmed by the game. He's making a ridiculous amount of open jump shots. He's rebounding at a very good rate. And he's not the fouling machine that Jordan Hill is.

So, of course Patterson received precisely zero playing time last night in a game where the Rockets got out-rebounded by 20. That is not a typo. No matter how good Kevin Love is -- and he's really good -- there is no way the Rockets should ever get out-rebounded by 20. Coach Sleepy left his best-available non-Scola PF on the bench. The entire night. But he gave brick-happy ABZ 20 minutes to get owned by Jonny Flynn and Sebastian Telfair. That is just inexcusable.

At this point, I fully expect the following players to be "ex-Rockets" in three weeks:

Chase Budinger
Aaron Brooks
Jordan Hill

Hopefully Rick Adelman does not destroy their collective trade value by trying to showcase them and having it backfire when it serves to inform the rest of the league that these guys really aren't that good to begin with. He will, of course, because he's extremely stubborn about his rotations and division of playing time.

It's days like yesterday that make it so hard to be a Rockets fan sometimes. But with guys like Courtney Lee and Patrick Patterson showing promise and providing immediate dividends on the court, there's hope for the future. And by "the future" I do not mean to imply that there will be goobacks from the future coming to take everyone's jobs. At least I hope not.

*note: I hear that Richard Justice wrote some article about blowing up the Rockets today... I'd link to it, but I do not want to inflate his ego by actually directing traffic his way. He sucks more than ABZ did yesterday.