Published December 22, 2011
| Sports Network
You know things are going to be different in Houston this time head coach Rick Adelman officially in the rear view mirror.
Yao, of course, was forced into retirement with chronic leg injuries while Adelman, one of the most underrated coaches in the game, ended up in the Twin Cities, ironically the former stomping grounds of new Rockets mentor Kevin McHale.
Houston planned on remaking its roster by getting involved in a three-way Chris Paul-fueled blockbuster with the LA Lakers and New Orleans Hornets, a deal that would have brought All-Star power forward Pau Gasol to South Texas and sent Kevin Martin and Luis Scola packing to the Big Easy.
The NBA rejected the proposed trade for what it termed "basketball reasons," leaving Martin, Scola and also Goran Dragic to report to training camp for an organization that was apparently ready to part ways with them.
For what it's worth the always hard-working Scola said he had "no hard feelings" toward his general manager Daryl Morey but Martin, the team's leading scorer and projected shooting guard, was not as forgiving.
"Daryl showed his cards, They run the show. I'm just here to play," Martin said. "Everybody's looking to improve the team. He (Morey) felt like that was the way to improve the team, more power to him and the organization. At the end of the day, if you're still on the team, you've got to come in here and act like a professional and help the team get better."
It will be McHale's job to put what very well could be a fractured locker room back together and convince three key contributors that they are truly wanted in Houston.
"In this league, if you don't have any character, you don't have any toughness, you aren't winning anything significant," McHale said. "Those guys (have) showed they have that."
2010-11 Results: 43-39, fifth in Southwest; Missed Playoffs.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
FRONTCOURT: Scola, the club's leading rebounder (8.2 per game) and second- leading scorer (18.3 ppg) last year, is one of the more underrated players in all of basketball, making things very difficult for any opponent with his energy level, tough interior defense and rebounding prowess.
Budinger has been a revelation as a second-round pick a couple years ago. He's an energy player that will get after people on the perimeter and has shown he can stick the three.
Houston has visions of Nene or Marc Gasol being a long-term replacement for Yao but none of that panned out and it looks like McHale will mix-and-match things in the pivot. Undersized Jordan Hill got the first shot. Hill, a natural power forward, hasn't shown all that much since being drafted eighth overall by the Knicks in 2009 but he is skilled. Now he must prove he has the mental toughness to succeed at the NBA level. Hill's got decent size at 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds but the Arizona product certainly isn't going to like banging down low with other heavyweights on a consistent basis.
Unsure about Hill the Rockets quickly went to Plan B days before the season started, signing a legitimate center, the defensive-minded Samuel Dalembert. A natural shot-blocker and plus rebounder, Dalembert has awful hands and will take bad shots, frustrating you offensively.
BACKCOURT: Kyle Lowry had a coming out party last season and proved he could hold down the job of starting point guard. Already known as a capable defender, Lowry answered questions about his jumper and proved he was able to get his own shot. In fact, his offensive prowess may have been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA last season.
The 6-foot-7 Martin, who joined the Rockets in a three-team deal back in 2010 that sent Tracy McGrady to New York, averaged 23.5 points in his first full season with Houston last year. One of the most consistent and underrated scorers in the game, the oft-injured Martin's presence on the court is a necessity if Houston hopes to get back into the postseason. Martin has spent most of his time in the NBA on non-playoff teams and must prove his skills translate in a winning situation. He also needs to shake off the feeling of being snubbed after the club attempted to trade him.
BENCH: McHale's bench figures to be young and untested. Rookie forward Marcus Morris is the more offensively skilled of the Morris twins and figures to be a long-term answer up front sooner rather than later.
Athletic swingman Terrence Williams needs to offer solid perimeter defense while Patrick Patterson, the 14th overall pick in the 2010 draft, can give McHale minutes at the three and four. Center Hasheem Thabeet is dangerously close to being officially labeled a bust. The No. 2 overall pick by Memphis in the 2009 draft, Thabeet has the size (7-foot-3, 263 pounds) to dominate defensively but has shown absolutely nothing on the offensive end.
In the backcourt, McHale has more options. Jonny Flynn certainly has talent but that never amounted to much when he was in Minnesota. Dragic, meanwhile, has shown he can be effective in short bursts but will get exposed on the defensive end with major minutes. Courtney Lee, meanwhile, is a versatile wingman that can play perimeter defense and score.
COACHING: McHale always struck me as a better coach than general manager. Players certainly respect him for his Hall of Fame career in Boston and no one had a wider array of low post moves. Those kinds of skills are tough to translate to young bigs but if anyone can do it, it should be McHale.
OUTLOOK: There are probably too many holes on this Houston club to expect a return to the postseason. Obviously starting Hill in the pivot was not the best case scenario but it does show McHale is willing to think outside the box when necessary. If he can cobble together competent minutes from Dalembert, Hill and perhaps Patterson or Thabeet in the middle, the Rockets could surprise.