After an embarrassing oust in the first round of the NBA Play-offs last season at the hands of the Utah Jazz, it was clear what had to be done for the Houston Rockets team to advance deeper in the playoffs in the coming seasons.
The style in which the Rockets lost last season was cause for concern as they were bounced by a less-talented team. The Rockets had a 2-0 lead in the series and then the wheels fell off. They were out hustled, out executed, and worst of all, they were out-coached.
The most pressing issues facing the team heading into the off-season were finding a new head coach, improving the supporting cast for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, and getting help at the power forward and point guard position; all tall tasks for rookie general manager Daryl Morey to face.
The Rockets fired head coach Jeff Van Gundy and replaced him with Rick Adelman, who brings 756 career wins and an up-tempo offense to the Rockets to replace Van Gundy’s slow-ball offense.
Juwan Howard was a serviceable player at power forward, but at 34, he was fossilizing on the court. The Rockets traded Howard to Minnesota in the off-season for guard Mike James. If that name sounds familiar it is because James played for the Rockets for part of the 2004-05 campaign. James was brought in to help out at point guard not because the team questions Rafer Alston’s decision-making on the court, but because Alston is a brick mason out on the court. (His career field goal percentage is under 40 percent.)
The Rockets addressed their needs at power forward by trading for 27-year old Luis Scola, a native of Argentina. Scola is a highly decorated international basketball player with two Spanish league MVP awards and an Olympic-qualifying tourney MVP. He will be an upgrade offensively over Chuck Hayes and Howard and he is quick and should steal the ball a few times.
Perhaps the biggest move the Rockets made this off-season was bringing back Steve Francis. While he may not be what he once was, Francis can still be a contributor. It has been a rough couple of years for Francis since he was traded for McGrady. He has battled inconsistency and injuries in stints with Orlando and New York. Maybe the biggest slap in the face to his career was when the Knicks traded him to the lowly Portland Trailblazers on draft night. The Blazers did not want Francis and paid him $30 million to go away. Francis has gone from being one of the most electrifying players in the game to being little more than an afterthought, but Houston is his home and perhaps he can get his career back on track.
With the additions of Scola, James, Francis, the drafting of Oregon guard Aaron Brooks, and the apparent re-commitment of Bonzi Wells, the Rockets have finally given Yao and McGrady a deep supporting cast and possibly a legitimate third scorer on the team.
Though the Rockets look to be more potent with all of their new acquisitions, the Western Conference will be stacked once again with Dallas, Phoenix, and the defending NBA Champions, the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets success this season will depend on the ability of Yao and “T-Mac” to stay healthy; a feat that neither has accomplished successfully the last two seasons. The Rockets two stars have combined to miss a mind-numbing 105 games in that time frame. It is imperative that they both stay healthy. McGrady’s ability on the court is almost unparalleled and Yao is consistently an MVP candidate when healthy.
This should be a big season for the Rockets and expectations are high on the team to deliver. The magic number to remember for the Rockets is ten. McGrady has been in the league ten years and has never won a playoff series. If the Rockets win a playoff series this season, it would be the first in that same amount of time.