my least favorite time of the year: Rocket’s out in first round again
Another playoff appearance, another first round knock out. For those of us (including yours truly plus spousal unit) who were at the two Rocket’s NBA Championship series of not too long ago, instead of having confidence going into each season that we can at least compete for the top, we are getting trained in the habit of early exits, thoughts of what might have been and what changes should be made.
Thoughts of what might have been are not productive, as they always mean discussing injuries (Yao and Rafer), bad trades and signings (Mike James, Steve Francis) and bad luck.
Inevitably, there is the “trade Yao” or “trade McGrady” conversation that comes around. My two cents is below, the overriding opinion being: the Rocks have and always have needed a decent third scoring option, and a “microwave” off the bench. Luis Scola may end up being #3, but they still need a dependable bench scorer or two:
- Yao Ming: Yao is one of the two best centers in the league (the other being D-Ho)…when Yao is healthy. Considering the last three seasons worth of injuries, his health is a huge caveat. Yao’s year round playing schedule with the Chinese National Team and the Rockets means he will have downtime through wear-and-tear for the rest of his career. My two cents: 3/4’s of a season with Yao is better than no Yao at all; unless you have Michael Jordan, it’s difficult near impossible to win a championship without a presence in the middle (see: Tim Duncan, Shaq, et al);
- T-Mac: I’m a T-Mac fanboy. Sometimes I wish he would shut up and play, but overall, I don’t think you can argue against keeping one of the top individual scorers in the league. T-Mac can always get a shot, and his average goes up in the playoffs (as do his assists and rebounds). My two cents: He’s beaten up a bit from a long career, but you gotta ride T-Mac for at least two more years;
- Luis Scola: a huge steal for the Rockets, will only get better next year. He should evolve with a full year as a starter as the long awaited #3 scorer behind T-Mac and Yao. He’ll be more familiar with the NBA vs. International game and thus be on the court longer. My two cents: the Spurs will regret letting him get away for many years.
- Shane Battier: you can’t have a team without Shane. Our best defender, best team player, sheer unbridled enthusiasm. My two cents: make sure he retires as a Rocket.
- Rafer Alston: the point guard nobody picked to still be on the team is the man whose late season injury killed the Rocks chances against Utah. He’s calmed down quite a bit, but his trash talk is needed on a team with quiet players like the four above. My two cents: Unless Steve Nash, Chris Paul or Tony Parker is available, keep him, we could do a lot worse; in a year, Brooks (see below) may push him for the starting job, but Aaron may be too small.
- The bench: the low point of the Rockets, but two good rookies should improve next year; absolutely need to trade/acquire/steal a scoring threat:
- Carl Landry: the steal of the draft. Except for a knee sprain towards the end of the season, he and Scola were the energy off the bench. My two cents: should be a great 2nd year contributor, probably the first man off the bench.
- Aaron Brooks: the third of the three rookies, Aaron is the fastest guy on the team, but he is also the smallest. With Rafer out, Darren Williams of the Utah (much bigger) muscled Aaron around and kept him from having an impact in the playoffs. My two cents: he had a typically streaky rookie season, but his ability to get to the basket should make him the backup point guard;
- Bobby Jackson: the backup point guard after a mid-season trade, shot close to 30% in the playoffs. With Rafer down, Bobby’s slowness and age were revealed. My two cents: Adleman, I know you love him but please don’t bring him back.
- Dikembe Mutumbo: My two cents: I don’t care how old he really is, for his rebounding, shot blocking, finger wagging and humanitarianism, let him retire as a Rocket and play as long as he wants.
- Luther Head: dependable scorer and defender during the season, Luther dissappeared in the playoffs. He was counted on to be points off the bench, but was inconsistent. My two cents: give him one more year, since he is young, but make sure he knows this is it.
- Steve Novak: one of the best pure three point shooters in the game, and one of the worst defenders. My two cents: keep him as a shooter, but give him more minutes and make Battier tutor him on how to defend.
- The rest: Chuck Hayes has heart, but he is a liability on offense; Francis has played his last; Mike Harris might be a good bench player. But the Rockets need to get someone off the bench to score and give McGrady et al a breather. It could be Landry, Brooks, Novak as they are all young.
As far as the remaining playoffs, as usual I am trying to stay interested. Those darn Spurs look good, but New Orleans and LA do as well in the West. Utah’s weaknesses were exposed by a weaker Rockets team, so I do not think they will get past the Lakers. The East is great, with Boston being pushed to 7 games, and Detroit and Orlando (age vs. Youth) square off.