by: David Kay
2008-09 Season Summary:
The Rockets valiantly tried to be the best NBA team in Texas but fell short in the end, finishing one game behind the San Antonio Spurs. Tracy McGrady only played 35 games before having season ending microfracture surgery on his knee but maybe that was a blessing in disguise as the Rockets actually came together as team without him and finally got out of the first round of the playoffs. On the flip side Yao Ming’s lower body once again proved to be fragile and the Rockets were left short handed to finish the season. Luckily for Houston, their front office has put a very good roster together that had better than average chemistry and were able to succeed with the likes of Aaron Brooks, Von Wafer and Luis Scola.
C: Luis Scola/David Andersen/Joey Dorsey/Yao Ming??
PF: Chuck Hayes/Carl Landry/Brian Cook/Pops Mensah-Bonsu
SF: Shane Battier/Chase Budinger
SG: Trevor Ariza/Brent Barry/Jermaine Taylor/Tracy McGrady??
PG: Aaron Brooks/Kyle Lowry
Head Coach: John Kuester (1st year)
2009-2010 Team Salary: $74.2 million
Projected 2010-2011 Team Salary: approximately $53.0 million
Off-Season Grade: Failed
Here’s the thing; Houston knew Yao Ming would likely be missing the entire season and did nothing to find a true replacement. They acquired the rights to David Andersen from Atlanta, but Andersen has never played a minute in the NBA, having spent his professional career thus far overseas. Why they haven’t made an effort to bring in a suitable lost post presence confuses me.
The major move this off-season was pretty much swapping Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza. Ariza is coming off a breakout season with the Lakers in which he was the perfect compliment alongside Kobe, Pau, and Odom. In signing a five-year deal, $34 million with the Rockets, Ariza will take on a much more prominent role especially with T-Mac’s health a question mark. Ariza thrived as a lockdown defender and someone who can thrive in transition in L.A., but I’m curious to see how he will respond to being a go-to scorer. Yes, Artest was a little crazy and out there, but at least he was capable of being that offensive presence that Houston lacked at the end of last season.
Other than that it was a fairly quiet off-season as the only other moves the Rockets made were acquiring second round picks Jermaine Taylor and Chase Budinger who shouldn’t fit much into the regular rotation.
I really think this team is going to struggle this year without Yao and T-Mac’s status uncertain. The rest of their roster is better suited being role players which they have excelled at in their respective careers. I just don’t see how this team is going to score a lot of points, meaning they will have to win games on the defensive end.
Up-front, Houston will be incredibly undersized. Andersen is the only player on the roster taller than 6’9” while power forwards like Landry, Hayes, and Dorsey are physical, but lack the ideal height. Luis Scola will likely be asked to shoulder a major load underneath.
If T-Mac’s knee recovers sooner than later and he does come back healthy and can be an effective scorer, the Rockets will be in much better shape. But with his recent injury history, that cannot be counted on.
Looking Ahead to the Summer of 2010:
The Rockets will be faced with two major questions next off-season.
1) Will Yao pick up his $17.7 million player option?
2) Will Tracy McGrady be brought back?
Coming off a major injury, I would be shocked if Yao turned down his player option and tested the market. His health will determine his fate and if he comes back at 100%, I would expect the Rockets to do everything possible to lock him up to an extension.
As for McGrady, one thing is certain; no chance on earth is he going to net a payday near the $23-plus million he is making this season. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and Houston will have to take a serious look at brining him back if he proves to be healthy. The Rockets don’t have the money to pursue a major player next off-season since they will have little to no cap flexibility, but Houston could go over the cap to retain T-Mac. If Yao does opt out of his contract though, the Rockets would have the cap space to be a serious player next summer.