Sunday, October 24, 2010

Houston Rockets: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 42-40
2009-10 Playoffs: N/A
Key Additions: Courtney Lee, Brad Miller, Patrick Patterson
Key Losses: Trevor Ariza
Projected Rotation Players: Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Yao Ming, Aaron Brooks, Courtney Lee, Shane Battier, Kyle Lowry, Chase Budinger, Brad Miller, Chuck Hayes

Look for the Rockets to admit defeat (or at least consider it) on Yao Ming (and his expiring $17.7 million contract) ahead of February’s trade deadline.

Let’s be honest. Even if the Rockets’ 24-minutes-per-game limit is able to keep Yao healthy for the entire upcoming season, it will be the exception, not the rule. A healthy 2010-11 will not mean that he’s no longer injury prone.

Looking at the Rockets’ roster, as presently constructed, it’s clear that this is not only a front office that in interested in accumulating assets on its roster, but one that’s prepared for life after Yao.

With matchup nightmare (and newly re-signed) Luis Scola crashing the boards and scoring from both the inside and the outside (to ~17 feet), surrounded by a group of shooters and penetrators/slashers that includes efficient scorer and potential All-Star Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier (also an excellent perimeter defender), Courtney Lee (also an excellent defender) and Chase Budinger, the Rockets have assembled a core that is one big body away from contention. It would be possible to argue that Yao is that piece, but only if the person making that argument has any trust is his ability to stay healthy for a extended period.

Despite a tentative reliance on Yao’s presence, the 2010-11 Rocket are assembled as more of a competitive transition team than a legitimate contender. Not only is Yao a massive ($17.7M) expiring contract that can be parlayed into some top-flight talent, Battier and Jared Jeffries represent another ~$14.2 million in cap relief that non-contenders would gladly surrender legitimate talent to acquire. Thanks to the outstanding strategic approach of GM Darryl Morey and his team, the 2010-11 Rockets are a team in transition that will spare its fan base much of the pain normally associated with the retooling process.

Bottom line: Vegas has the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Rockets at 48.5. It’s tough to see this team getting within 10 wins of this number. As good as Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola are (and they’re pretty good), not one of this trio is cut out to be the best player on a ~50 –win team in a tough conference.

If it sounds like I’m dismissing the possibility that Yao can stay healthy and make a significant contribution to contender, it’s because that’s exactly what I’m doing. Yao has played more than 57 games once in the past five years, and there’s no reason other than blind faith to believe that he’ll do so this year. With an aging and far less effective Brad Miller behind him, it’s tough to project the 2010-11 Rockets as much more than a 36-38-win team.

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