So, I’m back from a vacation to New Hampshire for a few days, rang in the New Year and came back to a site that has kept the content rolling with the good guys at 2-2. We’ve seen reliance on the bench, sustained displays, and some slight turbulence but overall our team is evolving in front of us. I also returned to some speculation regarding the DeMarcus Cousins drama and why not? It’s fun, he’s talented, and this team wants a centerpiece to build around. I feel like it’s a good spot to take stock in what we have on the way in this season and what this writer’s wish list for the New Year of Houston Rockets basketball.
First, I have to eat a bit of humble pie. I’m a rebuild now guy but I’m getting excited about these rockets. They emerged from the back-to-back-to-back 2-1 and McHale has shown no second thoughts about using the depth in his roster to make things pan out. The acquisition of Samuel Dalembert was something I was a fan of from the start because I like what he brings. I think the fact that he chunked up a bit in the post season was perfect for the Orlando game because you need mass to defend him but I digress. The Rockets are drawing me in to the belief that they can get into the playoffs and run some other teams off the court. I guess that’s to be expected in a lockout. The players have acclimated to Kevin McHale, which I assumed would happen. He’s a champion, a Hall of Famer, and an affable guy from all accounts. I see improvement in the guys who needed to be difference makers, and I see hope. Granted, I’m a big proponent of finding a franchise guy in the draft I’m willing to see what comes of a trade. Follow me after the jump for a quick look at the Rockets and your fuel to criticize me at the end of the season.
The 2012 Rockets are charged with a pretty major task. The season came with a few expectations of individuals but a pretty low bar set for their team. The non-trade that was this board’s favorite topic until the preseason wasn’t allowed to mean anything took place and then our regular season began to shape expectations because it’s allowed to. The expectations I came into the season with for Houston was a free agent addition, I preferred a 3 but we got a 5 and that’s my bias for Hill and Thabeet, to monitor Lowry’s progress, and to see about moving some vets off the team. Nowhere in there did I really have expectations for whether or not the Rockets would compete for the playoffs. Argue as I did I am willing to admit I see this team as a seven or eight seed in its current incarnation. To me, that’s a great place to be if your franchise is set, I don’t know if ours is. The preseason and the first four games have given me hope.
Taking things in order our free agent acquisition has to be addressed. Samuel Dalembert is on a very sensible two-year deal and we have another legitimate seven-footer sitting in the middle of the court. We trot out Jordan Hill to start and I’m grateful for that because he’s showing to be a strong rebounder and has enthusiasm on the court. Sam comes in and instantly brings rim protection, forces teams to stay out of the middle. I think Sammy gets a bad rep for going after everything near the rim but I’ll take that. I want a center that will go ahead and chase shots off, even if it costs you a couple points every so often. He solidified the Center position but I don’t think he’s going to start. Dalembert signed a contract that is pretty pricey but it’s on a two-year term with minimal guaranteed in year two. I sincerely believe he was brought in as a failsafe in case Jordan collapses or as a starter if we swing a deal for an actual win now attempt. I’m overjoyed with the results of Sam so far, he’s held down the center spot for us and Jordan has begun blossoming very nicely with Dalembert and McHale on board.
Next, I need to address Lowry. Again, I admit when I’m proven wrong and the early returns on Kyle suggest I was. Well, as wrong as you can be for a guy who felt Brooks needed to start and Kyle needed to show me sustained improvement. Kyle is showing beautiful development and it makes you wonder if he wasn’t supposed to develop that much further than he posted an 18 assist game with 2 points with a monster block, what else is he capable of? He learned a shot, his defense is still strong, and he leads this team. The reigns are in Kyle’s hands and he’s a humble enough guy that we could bring in a centerpiece and not have to worry about egos. I’m going to go out and say I think Kyle will get selected to an All-Star game this year barring an injury. He’s been a revelation for this Rockets team and has earned status as an untouchable on this squad, the only untouchable.
Last of my initial expectations is that we would offload our vets in Scola and Martin. Scola is as dependable as a Toyota. He’ll never break down, he’ll continually plug along and give you the same today as he gave you when you first got him. He’s the kind of guy a contender would love to have either to sub in behind a big name PF (Say, Kevin Garnett) or the kind of guy you toss in the starting line up to occupy attention away from your only real offensive threat (Say, like an Orlando situation). Kevin had his ‘situation’ shall we call it? There’s a ton of gray area and all it causes is massive headaches because we’re not allowed to critique here unless everyone agrees on it, so we’ll just say I’m glad his shooting and scoring is back. Kevin is getting to the line at a rate of ~2.6 times per game and that’s a drastic departure from his usual scoring method and we’ll see as the season goes on whether or not the rule change will have a big enough impact on his aggression level in the season. I still think the Rockets take a good long look at what they can get for Scola and Martin and make due with what they have off the benefits of the trades but I think it doesn’t come at the expense of a rebuilding move, again barring a major injury.
That is the last of my expectations entering the season and how they’ve changed. The impressions I get in just 6 games (4 regular, 2 preseason) and some hot button NBA topics range pretty well. I feel like this team is going to be entertaining and fun to watch, that was never in doubt, but I feel like I’m watching the emergence of youth I’ve had a lot of faith in. I think Jordan Hill is going to develop into a very good PF or Center. I feel like Thabeet needs to work on stamina and he’ll be out on the floor more frequently because he showed some legitimate strides in the preseason and let’s face it, we’re on the work for 5 million and we might as well see what untapped youth can do. I am ecstatic with Lowry’s production and it looks to be something that will hold up, as I said earlier. I honestly believe that with McHale’s coaching the Rockets ‘assets’ will finally be able to have real value. Under Adelman we had players who we said were valuable but wouldn’t play them, thus negating the value. Under McHale, we say they’re valuable and we actually use them, thus creating value. The Rockets team itself seems poised for a condensed season with the blend of youth and coaching willing to mix and match lineups. Some of the early hiccups have been trying to figure out rotations with a condensed offseason and two preseason games but I think McHale is also trying to get the most out of his roster. He has a plethora of young guys to work with so why not use them? I am under the impression that the DeMarcus Cousins on the trading block rumors might have some legs unless the Kings decide to just fire Westphal and avoid the entire situation. I don’t think there are many other franchise guys kicking around to deal for which would impart some urgency to a trade offer if Cousins is out there but it raises a lot of other questions. That will come up with my Resolutions for this roster.
Rockets New Years ResolutionsKyle Lowry – Just keep doing what you’re doing. Own this team.
Luis Scola – You keep on doing the same, you’re in the same position as Lowry, only you’re movable.
Kevin Martin – Grab a rebound or two more per game and I’ll be satisfied, I still think you might be shopping for a new home by midseason.
Chase Budinger – Nice break out game in Atlanta, watch out though, I’m convinced Terrence Williams offers more on the floor than you do, especially if your shot isn’t dropping.
Jordan Hill – Sustain the rebounding, work on the defensive recognition (pick and roll mostly), and I’m convinced you could get to the same status Kyle’s at, your offense is solid enough, your defense improves and your game becomes whole.
Samuel Dalembert – You know why you were brought here keep plugging along big fella’.
Hasheem Thabeet – Work on being able to run for more than 5 minutes and you’ll have a lot to bring to the table, tap that potential.
Goran Dragic – You’re in that awkward spot for me, honestly, I know you’re useful but I’m wondering why you’re not standing out to me. I think it might be the fact that Lowry is shining. Focus more on assists and see about moving to the 2.
Courtney Lee – Focus on defense and show me that your three point shot is more reliable. I like your mid-range stop and pop and you give the team a good spark off the bench.
Terrence Williams – Didn’t play in Atlanta, not entirely sure why, but you’re doing things right to get more playing time, resolve to show aggression, pass the ball, and rebound at your current clip and I think you’re a starter over Chase.
Johnny Flynn – Resolve to erase Minnesota from your memory. I think you can be a Steve Francis type point guard with better passing if only you would stop thinking so much and pounding the rock for too long.
Marcus Morris – You look lost, you need to resolve to lose your jitters and if you can’t, show up on defense because your draft positioning along will not save you.
Chandler Parsons – You still look like a douche.
Patrick Patterson – This board thinks you’re untouchable, I love your game and I think you can be an answer at the 4, but if we pull a trade for a 5 I think your either gone in that deal or challenged by Jordan Hill if he gets moved back to the 4.
Daryl Morey – It’s time to push for one direction or another, if the early returns are any indicator, you can push them up or restart it. The Dalembert signing gives me the inclination that you want to try to win something, that’ll take some doing. Resolve to overpay if you have to.
Kevin McHale – Resolve to not fall into the Adelman pitfall. You don’t strike me as the kind of guy who would play favorites but it’s worth consciously avoiding and continuing to use your depth, it’s hailed as a strength of this team and that’s got to be treated as such. Resolve to spend more time with my buddy Thabeet, too.
Leslie Alexander – If you say you’re willing to spend to win, go ahead and do it. My take is that you shit or get off the pot. Nickel and dime expenditures won’t yield a contender and you are going to have to sink some bad money to entice people to come play in Houston. I have some faith in you but I am not giving you as broad a margin of error as some fans. Facilitate Morey’s work, Stern already tried to screw you once, don’t give him the reach-around by backing away from going a bit Cuban-esque and paying more.
My own personal resolution for this team is to just be happy with the development of players I’ve pulled for and to take each trade rumor that comes up with a grain of salt. Houston is always the guaranteed landing spot for trade targets and free agents according to our beloved fans, I’m going to wait to see if these fish grow legs before I declare them evolved.
Lastly, I wanted to share a word with you all about this DeMarcus Cousins situation. That word would be "Breath". He hasn't asked to be a Rocket, the Kings have no obligation to get his approval on destinations, and he's not even guaranteed to be available. As it stands, he's a guy who makes Dalembert obsolete or moves Jordan to the 5, he's a guy every team in the NBA would like to snag if their coach is strong enough, and the Rockets are not able to package the best available deal for him if he is available. As far as Houston's offerings go, we have some late first round picks and Sacramento would want young players cheap, which we have, but do we have good young players cheap? It would take more than Hill, Budinger, Flynn, and a few 1sts to land Cousins. Please, consider this when fantasizing about Demarcus in a Rockets uniform. I'd be thrilled to get him but Sacramento is such an awkward trade partner in their current incarnation (No really bad contracts to offload, plenty of cap space, young team looking to continue to rebuild, seriously, what in the Hell do you offer them?).