Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2011 Rockets Recap

       

          The loss to the Kings last night effectively ended the Rockets 2010-11 season, but not before they put up a valiant Kubiak-esque "battle fight" on the rest of the NBA. For yet another year, the Rockets were Houston's most respectable sports franchise. Yes, I know that is like saying they were the best Nicholas Cage movie, but seriously we can be proud of how the Rockets played, and I think, where they are headed. Let's look at the highlights of this season, and then a few options for the future.
        First, I will remember this season for the emergence of Kyle Lowry. Short of Rebecca Black, nobody increased their profile more this year. Kyle became the heart and soul of this Rockets team. His hustle, desire, and toughness are contagious on the court. He truly worked on his game, and became a deadly outside shooter (a knock on him previously). The turning point came when Daryl Morey traded sulking pg Aaron Brooks to the Suns for backup Goran Dragic (a promising young player in his own right), and once the team was turned over to Lowry it seemed that everyone benefited. The Rockets have posted a 15-6 record since the break, and nearly climbed into the playoffs with an amazing end of season effort.
        When you look up hustle in the dictionary, you see a picture of the Chuckwagon. Chuck Hayes, the oft criticized and undersized center for the Rockets was superb this season. Like Lowry, Hayes has clearly improved his offensive game. Long criticized for being an offensive liability, Hayes now has an uncanny knack for being at the right spot around the basket. Sure, Chuck has probably benefited most from Lowry's excellent pg play, but make no mistake, the Chuckwagon has worked hard to become a force on the offensive end. The Chuckwagon even provided my #1 highlight of the year when he recorded a triple double vs. the Warriors, and rightfully received some much deserved attention for his game (Chuck Hayes was a trending topic on Twitter that night!).
        One player who took a while to grow on me this season was Kevin Martin. The problem was myself and others viewed him as the needed superstar to lift the Rockets to the next level. He is not that. But what he is, is quite possibly the greatest role player in the NBA. Like Harvey Keitel, he doesn't often carry the movie, but he quite often is the best part of it. Once Kyle Lowry took the leadership role and became the guy who controlled the ball when the game is on the line, Martin was freed up to do what he does best. Quite possibly the best player in the NBA at drawing fouls, K-Mart lives at the free throw line and rarely misses. Inexplicably, he can draw fouls on great NBA defenders, on shots that he has 0% chance of actually making. Two free throws later, Martin has given the Rockets two easy points and left his defender shaking his head, only to make the same mistake later. K-Mart can score the quietest 30 points I have ever seen, and after watching him for the whole season I can now appreciate his greatness on the offensive end.
       So with all those great season developments, what was the biggest disappointment? Defense. The Rockets are going to have to get better on the defensive end. My first suggestion, play Courtney Lee over Budinger. Chase is a streaky player, and when he isn't scoring his defense is killing the already less than average Rockets D. Lee might not have as high an offensive ceiling on any given night, but he is much more consistent and far superior on the defensive end. Also, I would love to see more Patrick Patterson. He is looking like a great pick, and his effort on the defensive end is stellar. At this point, I wouldn't even be opposed to trading Luis Scola for a legitimate center, and handing more minutes to the young sparkplug. Speaking of center, another need that all Rocket's fans are clamoring for is a solid 7-footer to protect the paint. Hasheem the Dream doesn't appear ready to take that role, so Morey will need to address this through the draft or an off season acquisition. Given the Rockets climb up the standings, I believe the best way to do this will be through free agency. My number one option: Samuel Dalembert. We know one thing, unlike Rick Smith, Morey will be working his tail off to make moves that will be designed to get the Rockets back into the playoffs next year.
       The last question for next season should probably be, who will coach this team? I think Adelman has done a tremendous job. Aside from letting Terrence Williams rot on the bench (I would love to see what he could bring to the table), Adelman has taken an injury riddled team without their superstar to a winning record. Remember, Adelman was brought here to lead Yao and T-Mac to a championship. We all know how that scenario has played out. Probably the bigger question is, does Rick Adelman WANT to coach the Rockets next season? If he does, I fully support him. He is one of the great NBA coaches of all-time. If not I understand, he has nothing left to prove, and the Rockets might be well served to have an infusion of young energy at the coach's position. I for one would like to see a Mario Elie type hire, although that could just be a yearning for the days of Clutch City. Either way I think whoever coaches this team next year will be excited about the prospects.
       To sum up, let's enjoy these last few games of the season and recognize our team for a job well done. Several players have taken huge steps this year, and we know Daryl Morey still has a great vision for where this franchise is headed. Now if only Rick Smith and the Texans could get pointers from the Rockets front office.

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