As the Rockets have so painfully demonstrated in the last three seasons, there is nothing more difficult in the NBA than replacing stars. Five years ago, the Rockets started Tracy McGrady at the small forward spot and Yao Ming at center. Now, those roles are held by rookie Chandler Parsons and our favorite goaltender Samuel Dalembert.
Both have outperformed expectations to a certain degree (Parsons certainly more so than Dalembert), but the fact that their roles are so large speaks volumes about where the Rockets are today. As easy as it once was to say that the Rockets are the model for depth and all that, great teams need quality depth to succeed, and that is simply lacking on this roster.
So for now, just as nearly every analyst preached in the off-season, the Rockets needs remain the same: first and foremost finding a star, but also filling the small forward and center spots adequately.
Much has been written here and on other Rockets blogs on the merits of blowing it up and rebuilding. This process likely would begin with the trades of Luis Scola and Kevin Martin for a combination expiring contracts, young prospects, and draft picks and finish with a 20 win season.
This rebuilding effort would theoretically set the Rockets up for a top draft pick in a strong draft, cap space to go after free agents, and young pieces to build around. Unfortunately, the NBA does not work in theory. Les Alexander will not be tanking; that is simply not his style. With that in mind, Daryl Morey has to do all he can to build a strong roster without getting really bad for a few years, and filling the gaping hole at small forward and the somewhat smaller but still open hole at center would be a great start on the journey back to the playoffs.
Both Chase Budinger and Chandler Parsons are overachievers for when they were drafted. Budinger showed that he has the chops to rebound, shoot, and cut to the basket in his rookie year, but his struggles in creating his own offense and inability to lock down scorers presents issues. Parsons is an equally intriguing specimen—he has plus size, decent athleticism, and creates mismatches as a point forward. However, his scoring struggles will likely hold him back from ever being a starting quality small forward.
Marcus Morris is yet another intriguing player, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to defend his position at the next level. He is putting up some gaudy stats during his stint in the D-League, but his struggles so far seem to be related to his inability to beat NBA defenders, something he'll have to adjust to quickly.
Finally, there's T-Will. Some love him, some hate him, some just want him to get off Twitter already. He excels at getting to the lane and he has moments of brilliance, but he can't seem to score once he gets there and has developed a habit of turning the ball over inside.
There's four players there that have shown some potential of turning into great players for the Rockets, but counting on any of them to develop into anything better than bench players might be a mistake. They need to start someone there, so each of these guys will get their shot at playing time, but going after an upgrade has to be a priority for Dork Elvis. I'm 100% speculating, but two-way players like Andre Iguodala, Gerald Wallace (ya right), or Wesley Johnson would be worth targeting. When Wilson Chandler returns from China, going after him in a sign-and-trade would have to be a consideration.
The center situation is certainly clearer right now, but anybody who thinks Samuel Dalembert is going to be on this team in two seasons is kidding themselves (and likely not even next year). From the time Dalembert signed, nobody regarded him as anything more than a band-aid. Watching him play, it's difficult to call his play anything more than adequate. If the Rockets are serious about moving forward without getting bad, they'll have to take a hard look at finding someone a bit better than "meh" at that spot.
If only Marcin Gortat had read all those emails I sent him at Rocketsfanslovegortat@gmail.com!
I've said this a million times before and I'll continue to say it: the Rockets have to make a move one way or the other to save themselves from the fate of the current Phoenix Suns. They're stuck in the land of mediocrity, too solid to get an impact draft pick, but too ill-equipped to win a championship. Lateral moves be damned, we need a small forward and center to compete in the West.
LeBron James wouldn't hurt either.