Like we are currently seeing in the NFL, the 2011 NBA off-season is up in the air with a lockout looming. Free agency could be delayed and completely restructured depending on the new agreement reached by the owners and players. Still, The Sports Bank continues to break down all thirty NBA teams to see what areas they need to address in the off-season.
The Houston Rockets have already tackled one task by hiring Kevin McHale as their new head coach. That is just the beginning though as the team faces a huge question about Yao Ming‘s future as they look to up-grade their roster and get back into the NBA Playoffs.
By: David Kay
Houston Rockets (43-39 last season)
’10-’11 Season in Review:
A rough start to the season was simply too much for the Rockets to overcome down the stretch as they finished three games back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, missing the post-season for a second straight year. When you look at the Rockets roster, the fact that they finished above five hundred might come as a surprise since they lacked the star power needed to contend out west.
Yao Ming was supposed to return in a limited role after missing the entire 2009-2010 season due to injury but was once again strapped to bench in street clothes as injury held him out for all but five games. With Yao sidnelined, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola emerged as the top players for the Rockets. Martin provided scoring on the wing while Scola posted career numbers serving as Houston’s only real low post threat.
Aaron Brooks was the league’s Most Improved Player a year ago but wound up in Rick Adelman’s doghouse before being dealt to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first round pick. Brooks was benched in favor of Kyle Lowry who had his best season as a pro and showed signs of being the new point guard of the future which was supposed to be Brooks’ job.
General manager Daryl Morey remained active in the trade market acquiring Terrence Williams from the Nets for a future first round pick, and dealing free agent-to-be and team leader Shane Battier to the Grizzlies for project center Hasheem Thabeet and a future first rounder.
Outside of Martin, Scola, and Lowry, no Rocket averaged double-digit scoring as Houston went with a team concept. Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, Chuck Hayes, Brad Miller, Patrick Patterson, Jordan Hill, and Dragic were all worked into the rotation but had their ups and downs throughout the season.
A second straight season missing the post-season cost Adelman his job and the Rockets have already replaced him with former Celtic great and ex-Timberwolves’ general manager, Kevin McHale. He now faces the challenge of getting the franchise back to the post-season.
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Brad Miller/Hasheem Thabeet
PF: Luis Scola/Patrick Patterson/Jordan Hill
SF: ^Chase Budinger/Terrence Williams
SG: Kevin Martin/Courtney Lee
PG: Kyle Lowry/#Goran Dragic
C-Yao Ming (UFA)
F/C-Chuck Hayes (UFA)
SF-Marques Blakely (UFA)
PF-Marcus Cousin (UFA)
^SF-Chase Budinger (RFA)
#PG-Goran Dragic (RFA)
’11-’12 Team Salary: approximately $45.7 million
1. What to do with Yao?:
Chronic feet and ankle injuries have plagued Yao the past two seasons as he has only played in only five games. He has stated that he will pursue a comeback rather than retire but how much can the Rockets count on him or afford to pay him if they decide to retain his services? If he does come back healthy, he will likely be nothing more than a role player as he just cannot be counted on to play heavy minutes on a nightly basis due to the wear and tear on his body.
Yao is a huge risk and if the Rockets give him anything more than a one-year deal worth the league minimum, I would be shocked. However, if another team rolls the dice and tries to steal him from the Rockets with a more lucrative contract, general manager Daryl Morey will have a decision to make.
Barring a Yao medical miracle, the Rockets sorely need an up-grade at center. Last year, they started 6-6 Chuck Hayes at center for 63 games. While Hayes plays bigger than his listed height and is a ferocious rebounder, he just cannot handle true NBA big man. Plus, he is a free agent. The Rockets do have Brad Miller and Hasheem Thabeet, but neither is starting material. With this being a weak draft class for true centers, Houston would have to address this need with their mid-level exception or via trade.
3. Small Forward:
When the Rockets dealt Shane Battier, it thrust Chase Budinger into the starting line-up. I have liked Budinger dating back to his Arizona days, but he just is not a starter in the league and better serves a team coming off the bench as a scorer. He is a restricted free agent this summer meaning some team can try and steal him away for the right price. Terrence Williams never found his groove after being dealt to Houston so he is a question mark heading into next season. That leaves Houston in search of a starting small forward.
OTHER NBA TEAM NEEDS PAGES:
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
NEW JERSEY NETS
CHECK OUT MY NBA FREE AGENT POINT GUARD RANKINGS
CHECK OUT MY NBA FREE AGENT SHOOTING GUARD RANKINGS
CHECK OUT MY NBA FREE AGENT SMALL FORWARD RANKINGS
CHECK OUT MY NBA FREE AGENT POWER FORWARD RANKINGS
CHECK OUT MY NBA FREE AGENT CENTER RANKINGS
CHECK OUT THE SPORTS BANK’S 2011 NBA MOCK DRAFT
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.