With Yao Back; Will Rockets Return to Playoffs?

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Yao Ming injury

The Houston Rockets tip-off their 2010-2011 season tonight when they visit the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.  After missing all of last season with a foot injury, Yao Ming returns to the line-up.  He is expected to have a lessened role but still help the Rockets make a trip to the post-season.

By: David Kay

Houston Rockets (42-40 in 2009-2010)

2010-11 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Yao Ming/Brad Miller/Chuck Hayes
PF: Luis Scola/Patrick Patterson/Jordan Hill/Jared Jeffries
SF: Shane Battier/Chase Budinger
SG: Kevin Martin/Courtney Lee/Jermaine Taylor
PG: Aaron Brooks/Kyle Lowry/Ishmael Smith
Head Coach: Rick Adelman (4th season)

2010-11 Team Salary: Approximately $73.1 million

Offseason Moves:
-Rockets acquire SG Courtney Lee in four-way trade that sends G/F Trevor Ariza to Hornets
-Rockets acquire 2nd round pick and cash considerations from Raptors for C David Andersen
-Rockets sign C Brad Miller to 3-year, $15 million deal
-Rockets re-sign PF Luis Scola to 5-year, $47 million deal
-Rockets match 4-year, $24 million offer sheet to PG Kyle Lowry
-Rockets C Yao Ming picks up player option
-Rockets pick up player option on F/C Chuck Hayes
-Rockets extend qualifying offer to PF Luis Scola and PG Kyle Lowry

Off-Season Grade: B+
For a team that entered the off-season well over the cap, Daryl Morey once again worked his magic to improve the team without jeopardizing their long-term cap flexibility.

Morey re-signed Luis Scola to a five year deal that could look somewhat ugly when it is ending, but is very reasonable for now.  Houston also matched Cleveland’s offer sheet for Kyle Lowry who is a valuable piece off their bench.  Besides, it was either match the deal or lose him and get nothing in return.

Swapping Trevor Ariza for Courtney Lee is a downgrade in talent but saved the team some luxury tax payment this season while helping their cap situation for the next few years.  The Rockets also used their mid-level exception on Brad Miller to add proven depth up-front just in case Yao cannot make it through the season.

2010-2011 Outlook:
All things considered, the Rockets fared better than I expected without Yao Ming last season.  The tallest man in the NBA is back but how effective and reliable can he be?  Houston plans to limit his minutes to about 24 per game to start the season.  If Yao proves to be healthy and can handle more playing time, it will slowly come his way.  Until then, his health will remain a major question.

If Yao does suffer an injury relapse, Houston is more prepared to handle it this season.  They signed Brad Miller, brought back Scola and Chuck Hayes, drafted Patrick Patterson, and still have Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries providing plenty of options in the frontcourt.

Aaron Brooks RocketsThe point guard play will be solid with reining NBA Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks and Lowry.  Kevin Martin provides a scorer at the two while Shane Battier brings every intangible you could ever want from a role player.  Lee and Chase Budinger give the Rockets depth on the wing.

The Rockets have a very talented roster that should certainly be a factor out West.  It will be interesting to see how Rick Adelman plans to divvy out the playing time among the eleven or twelve players who are all worthy of being part of the regular rotation.  That is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

Looking Ahead to Next Summer:
It will be a critical off-season that will center on the question, “What should we do with Yao?”  He becomes an unrestricted free agent and his durability will be a major factor in whether or not the Rockets try to re-sign him.

Jeffries and Battier are both unrestricted free agents as well.  Expect the Rockets to try and deal Jeffries’ expiring deal before the trade deadline or just let him walk next summer.  I would imagine Houston would be very active in trying to reach a contract extension with Battier since his leadership and experience is invaluable.

The Rockets will also have to work on an extension for Brooks who will be a restricted free agent.  He has earned a hefty pay raise and should see one from the Rockets despite them inking Lowry to a long-term deal this past summer.

NBA Power Ranking: 12th

Other NBA Season Previews:
#13 Utah Jazz
#14 Denver Nuggets
#15 Phoenix Suns
#16 Charlotte Bobcats
#17 New Orleans Hornets
#18 Memphis Grizzlies
#19 Philadelphia 76ers
#20 New York Knicks
#21 Los Angeles Clippers
#22 Indiana Pacers
#23 Golden State Warriors
#24 Washington Wizards
#25 Detroit Pistons
#26 New Jersey Nets
#27 Sacramento Kings
#28 Cleveland Cavaliers
#29 Toronto Raptors
#30 Minnesota Timberwolves

Check out David’s Fantasy Basketball Rankings

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