ROCKETS RHYTHM RUINED
By DENNIS L. SILVA, II.
Just five months ago, the Houston Rockets had 60 wins and championship hopes filter throughout the organization, preparing for one of the most anticipated seasons in Rockets lore.
Thursday, the team ceremoniously celebrated its first division win after defeating the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets 93-92.
It’s incredulous how far things have fallen in Houston, Texas.
The Rockets currently sit at 30-39 on the season, and while their playoff dreams are still mathematically possible, no one will talk about playoffs or enunciating the season past 82 games.
Currently, the talk is of next year.
“Minus Yao, everyone has something to play for,” Rockets coach Van Gundy said earlier this week. “(David) Wesley’s trying to secure a future in this league, (Keith) Bogans is trying to secure a future, Luther (Head) may never have it better than he has right now to carve out a career for himself. Rafer’s (Alston) trying to prove, is he a 24-minute-a-game player for a really good team, 32-minute, 36-minute – that’s to be answered. Chuck (Hayes) is trying to carve out a career and stay on a team. I think Ryan (Bowen) has had much worse year than he had last year. I think he’s going to have to try to figure out a way to stay in this league. Deke (Dikembe Mutombo), is it still important enough to him at this point in his career?”
Many questions surround a team that once saw the brightest of lights at the end of its tunnel. Instead, it faces the grim reality that Operation Championship is back to square one.
At this point of the season, with 13 games still remaining, the Rockets are very much aware of their needs.
A rugged, defensive-minded power forward who can score inside, preferably claim a mid-range jumper. A shooting guard who can, well, shoot. And most significantly, a point guard. Yes, even though the Rockets thought they had acquired their 36-40 minute-per night starting point guard when they attained Alston for Mike James in October, the team still needs another point with quickness who can defend to the death.
At least one of those wants will be addressed through the NBA draft. Duke’s Sheldon Williams makes a lot of sense at this point as an inside brute who can score, rebound and block shots. He also comes from a winning program, another plus.
What we do know is that Stromile Swift, the Rockets’ marquee free agent acquisition in July, does not fit into the team’s plans. The Rockets are a team who love to grind-it-out and slow the clock, choosing to establish Yao Ming on the blocks instead of beat teams downcourt for easy scoring opportunities.
Swift has shown he is good for 2-3 SportsCenter highlights per game. And nothing else. At the very most he can get you 16 points and nine rebounds a night. At the very least? Four points and three rebounds. Meaning he’s not worth the wait to see what exactly he is fully capable of.
With that said, the Rockets’ should be targeting Indiana’s Peja Stojakovic, who is a free agent at the conclusion of this season. Houston will have guards David Wesley and Keith Bogans come off its cap. If Stojakovic wants out of Indy, the Rockets should be calling A.S.A.P. Possibly offer a sign and trade. Swift and Luther Head for Stojakovic. While Head is a nice defensive talent, he’s proven to only knock down the occasional trey (36%) at the offensive end. The Rockets could offer Head and Swift in a sign-and-trade package for Peja, then draft Williams and Villanova guard Allan Ray (who’s predicted to go somewhere in the top 10 of the second round).
In just three moves the team would rid itself of lazy, unintelligent play and gain a deadeye bomber who would thrive playing alongside Yao and Tracy McGrady, as well as drafting two rookies who could learn and grow due to veteran influence.
Current Rockets forward Juwan Howard could Williams under his wing until his contract runs dry in 2008-09. That gives Sheldon at least two years to learn and adapt to the physical nature of the league. Howard’s game has not completely worn out its welcome just yet. He stands as one of Van Gundy’s few trusted employees and performed admirably this season, posting 11 points and 6 rebounds per game.
Entering the game for your Houston Rockets, No. 21- Kevin Garnett!
When ESPN’s Ric Bucher announced the concept of trading McGrady, Head and a 2nd-round pick for Kevin Garnett and Minnesota’s first-rounder a few weeks ago, my eyes lit up.
This just might work.
For one to disregard the madness that a transaction like this would cause, we first must remember who runs the show.
Van Gundy has tried the “uptempo, let’s-not-bleed-the-clock” style of play.” He brought in Swift. He brought in Derek Anderson, who was traded for virtually nothing in February. He even handed significant minutes to a rookie (Head) known for his speed and quickness.
So it’s quite apparent the Van Gundy suits a slow-down, defensive-minded gameplan that embraces rebounding, smart shot selection and teamwork.
While McGrady has made himself a Houston landmark in just two years (including this season’s 47-game massacre), his back pain is that of the chronic nature, meaning he will be enduring such pain throughout the remainder of his career.
As a Rocket or not, book him for at least 10-15 missed games over the rest of his NBA tenure.
With that said, it would be wise if the Rockets looked elsewhere for a second threat to Yao. While the move would be insanely unpopular, it would be wise. Garnett needs out of Minnesota. McGrady, for the best interests of the Rockets, needs out of Houston.
Voila! Bucher’s idea sounds legit.
If the Rockets chose to go this route, they’d immediately be back in the top five of the Western Conference. They could use their two draft picks to acquire a swingman and another point guard, seeing that now Howard would be the stable backup that Garnett never had.
With the Wolves' pick, the Rockets could draft Memphis' Rodney Carney or Washington's Brandon Roy, both of whom are athletic swingman who can score the ball at will, as well as shoot the 3-ball at a respectable percentage. With their length and athleticism, Van Gundy would sure to be drooling over their defensive potential.
With their own first-round pick, the Rockets draft UConn’s Marcus Williams, the 6’2” dynamo point guard who can score and defend with anyone in this year’s draft class. Paired alongside Alston, the Rockets would have two quick point guards who can penetrate and score. Alston could defend the bigger 1's while Williams could handle the pesky gnats who are quick and agile to the basket.
What’s nice for the Rockets is that they have options.
Of course, when you have Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady to work with, you have a pretty strong foundation as it is.
The question becomes, at what point, and to what extent, are you willing to sacrifice that foundation in order to accompany the beliefs and philosophies of your head coach; the same head coach who essentially runs the team from top to bottom.
At what point, and to what extent, are names and sheer talent and marketability sacrificed for wins?