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Midseason Evaluation: Houston Rockets

Hello TDS, it’s been a while. I think we need to catch up. I’ve managed to pull myself away from my hobbies of clinic work in law school and tweeting mean things at 2kSports for producing such an awful product. Today we’ll be looking at where the Houston Rockets stand today, discuss the personnel, anxiously await the trade deadline, and much more!

First things first, the Rockets sit at 6th in the Western Conference with a record of 20-14 (59% win percentage). The second half of the season features a relatively rigorous schedule. Many of the teams on the horizon are teams that are tough to call dregs with only a few exceptions. The Rockets, and McHale’s, true challenge will be to recreate history and see if they heat up or collapse in the second half this year.

The Rockets opened up the 2011-2012 NBA Schedule with a unique set of expectations. Houston’s fans expected a drop off switching from Adelman to McHale with systemic changes on the way. The signing of Samuel Dalembert changed that tune amongst many fans and offered a realistic glimmer of playoff hopes. For once in the past two seasons the Rockets have employed a legitimate Center capable of blocking shots and deterring drives into the lane. They entered the season following Kyle Lowry’s emergence as a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the NBA. The youngsters in Houston marked the biggest point of intrigue; hopeful development and a chance for redemption were the theme. Unfortunately that redemption was a little less than the standard 5-cent returns we associate with the action. To quote Ryan Reynolds, kind of a lot’s happened since then.

The Rockets have stormed out of the gate ahead of the media darlings in Minnesota and Denver without the recognition across the Association. The Rockets are firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt and trade rumors abound about Houston trying to land the one thing they’ve desperately needed: a centerpiece star. Let’s look over what we’ve got heading into the All-Star break and pass around grades, as is cliché in the blog "industry." Criteria for grades are based on pre-season expectations (To be outlined) and actual impact. The rest of the criteria is entirely arbitrary so argue all you want, I’m the judge, jury, and executioner of this exercise! As a general guideline (A = Exceeding expectations/progressed B = Performing at expectation C = Performing below expectation D = Hard justifying their presence F = Lost cause)

Kyle Lowry

Kyle entered the season off a fantastic second half and it was sink or swim time from the moment this condensed season tipped off. Kyle currently averages 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. Despite some up and down points this season and an overwhelmingly mediocre slump he’s fought through his averages are in line with what I saw last season and I’m thrilled with that. Kyle has made a great case to be recognized, if not as a star, as a legitimate top ten point guard in the league. He’s been a vocal leader on this team and lends a tough attitude needed without an edge, which would be my only complaint. Overall I’m confident with Kyle at the helm but I also acknowledge him as a lynch pin to get any player of note because let’s face it, you have to give to get.

Grade: A-

Goran Dragic

Goran’s only real expectation that I found in the offseason was to continue being solid. Much is made of his potential as a starter for other teams but this season, I feel, completely exposed the fact that when you learn behind Steve Nash, you tend to need a Phoenix style system to contribute. He excels in the open court but struggles in the half court. His appeal across the league is overstated on the hope that he could somehow tame that issue but it will take more than a change of scenery to help him readjust. He’s continued his solid production as a bench presence and on several nights been the only thing keeping our second unit afloat.

Grade: B

Kevin Martin

Kevin was seen as the key to this team in conjunction with Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola. Last season he finished pretty strong but concerns rose as soon as the NBA changed its rules to allow more contact without whistles. Unfortunately this seemed to take a toll on Kevin this season. He’s been exposed several times this year when the whistles aren’t coming and the shot isn’t falling he ends up having a hard time justifying playing time. He complained about benching because of this but responded well with some monster games. The key for Kevin is to find other ways to contribute and to do so with a smile on his face. His averages haven’t dropped as terribly and as a result his grade is saved.

Grade: B-

Courtney Lee

Courtney was expected to be able to take a starting spot if we decided to move Kevin. So far this season we’ve seen that he is essentially finished with his development in his fourth year and he’s a relatively solid SG off the bench. In a starting role he could expand his numbers but I’m not sure there’s much else there. He’s one of many unable to get a contract extension because of Houston’s policy but I think he closes out this season and gets signed away due to Houston’s belief that it can land a major free agent.

Grade: B-

Chandler Parsons

My nomination for "Rooke Who Most Looks Like a Douche!" award. He has come in as a rookie and supplanted Chase Budinger from the starting lineup. Managed to bring a defensive tenacity and energy into the starting line up and help this team click right from the get go. His stats are unimpressive but his impact is incredible. Some may view this as blasphemy but given I expected him to spend time in the D-League as a second round pick…

Grade: A+

Chase Budinger

How the mighty have fallen. Chase was the starter at the beginning of the year and it was hoped that he would round his game out to be a better Small Forward for this team. Instead his shot slumped and he failed to rebound, defend, assist, wave his towel properly, etc… and lost his starting role and saw his minutes wane. After a considerable period of benching he resumed his role as "spark off the bench." The issue with Chase is when his shot is on or he’s riding a hot streak he’s an incredible guy off the bench, unfortunately it’s the other 60% of the time I’m concerned about. As a result…

Grade: C

Luis Scola

The Argentinian was a key to this team last season but underwent knee surgery. This was a contemptuous debate in the offseason; whether Luis’s game would suffer a hit and if his drop off was coming. His game isn’t particularly athletic and some argued he would have longevity. Others argued he would see his drop off starting now and the contract would begin to resemble an albatross. Luis’s new nickname may as well be "The Magician" because he does a wonderful disappearing act in the 4th quarter. His defense is consistently exposed, and his damage is done (Points and rebounding) in the first half, generally. I love Luis but his time to ride off into the sunset (Via trade or amnesty) is rapidly approaching.

Grade: B-

Patrick Patterson

Patrick was a diamond in the septic tank last season. He showed the promise of being the kind of player worth moving Luis Scola out for. He started off the season slowly but thankfully has picked his game up. The reason for this? He underwent surgery in the offseason assuming the lockout would last. It was a gamble I would have made too, so that’s not held against him. Since he’s gotten out of his funk he’s shown strong defense and an improvement offensively.

Grade: B

Jordan Hill

My favorite 09’er and he is currently injured. He’s been a feast or famine player this season. He has had wonderful moments on the floor showing you his talent level and he’s also managed to give us a nagging headache. He played well enough to make a case to pick up his contract option for next year but sadly it’s not in the cards. I can’t help but feel like there will be a taker this offseason and they’ll be happy with their investment. His position shifts have clearly caused a hitch in his consistency with more value as a 4 than a 5 but still showing he can hold down the 5 for stretches.

Grade: C+

Samuel Dalembert

The 6’11" Haitian Sensation (I will never call him "Bear" so fuck off Worrell) has been the missing ingredient for this Rockets squad. He’s putting up 7 points and 8 boards per game and nearly 2 blocks per game. Those two blocks are worth his contract alone considering last season blocks were a four-letter word for this team. Sammy really ties the team together, man. His impact cannot be overstated in this love paragraph. Entering the season my fellow contributor Mike stated that he would be the difference maker to get the Rockets into the playoffs and that wisdom is being lived out in front of us.

Grade: A

Kevin McHale

Kevin took the coaching position on the heels of a coaching legend. Many people were dismayed at the hiring of coach McHale and it confused me greatly. One of the greatest post players ever and a notorious player’s coach taking the helm of a team with raw or young (mainly post) players seemed to make sense. He has been completely candid with interviewers and seems to have a great rapport with his team. This is the first year and, as such, passing judgment on whatever system he has installed is premature because Morey hasn’t been able to acquire personnel to build what McHale is looking to do (Thanks David Stern!). Considering McHale followed up Adelman, who many credit as the best coach in Rockets history despite having one of the most talented teams from hiring to firing in Rockets history, and many expected a drop off, you’ve got to show some love…

Grade: A

The 09’ers

I lumped Flynn, Williams, and Thabeet into one category because, as much as it dismays me to quit on them all they were expected to develop into SOMETHING and failed to do so, either by their own volition or some other undisclosed reason. I felt the second unit ran better with Williams in it but I can legitimately see how Flynn got marginalized. As for Thabeet? I felt in the offseason he justified a look but Dalembert and Hill’s performance at the 5 along with Smith’s presence can push him out. I truly think Thabeet was worth running out but my bandwagon was not meant to take off.

Grade: F

Where do we go from here?

As it stands the Rockets have the roster as assembled and, if the season continues as it does, with only the Knicks 1st round pick, their own 2nd round pick, and possibly Minnesota’s pick (31-55 only). Houston’s own first round pick looks to be the property of New Jersey, so long as we see the playoffs. After the expiration of all contracts the Rockets will retain 40 million dollars in cap space (Source: Hoops World). The cap for next season is about 58 million dollars. The Rockets will also have to take into account the price of Donatas Motiejunas and/or Sergio Llull if he wishes to come over. Motiejunas’s price is determined by the current CBA but Llull would qualify for a free agent form of offer given his draft year and these are implications the Rockets have to consider.

As for the current trade deadline, the Rockets are looking to keep as much cap space available for this summer (the wisdom of which I currently contest). The failed Pau Gasol trade earlier this year makes me inclined to believe that the possible trade pieces are Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and Kyle Lowry (Yes, Kyle, more on that in a second). Martin, Scola, and Dragic for obvious reasons, they were proposed in the previous trade and with the opportunity to bring Sergio Llull over I think that marginalized Dragic at the very least. I look at Kyle as movable for a superstar (Join Kyle and Luis and even Martin depending on the package you’re looking for and you’re at least due a superstar and second tier talent in my eyes). In the interest of freeing cap space Luis Scola and Kevin Martin make the most sense as well. Scola’s drop off coupled with a backloaded contract makes him the most important player to trade. Kevin Martin’s contract size and expiration date makes it conducive to trade him next season but if you can free up space for this summer, I say do it if that’s their end game. It will be an interesting trade deadline but I don’t have my hopes up for some magical conjuration that most others around here are expecting (See: Recent history of shuffling contracts). I would love to be proven wrong but I want to be proven wrong with something more than Pau Gasol because, although I feel he would still be effective paired with Dalembert, I’d want someone younger and signed for a duration (Rondo is my pipe dream, don’t rain on my parade!).

There ya go TDS, my contribution! Enjoy and I look forward to a TON of tl;dr’s. If you made it all the way through, enjoy:

Charles Barkley calls himself a dumbass (via darcagn)