Season Preview: Houston Rockets

The Rockets expect to be without Yao Ming this year.

The Rockets expect to be without Yao Ming this year.

Houston enters the 2009-10 season as a team without enough meat in the middle. A potentially career-ending leg injury to big human Yao Ming forced the Rockets to throw in the towel against the Lakers in the 2009 playoffs. The hairline fracture, discovered after game three against the Lakers, devastated the Rockets. Houston gave L.A. its toughest competition in the Western Conference playoffs, but this year the Rockets will likely be an afterthought.

With Yao expected to be ready to play again sometime in the summer of 2010, and uncertainty surrounding Tracy McGrady’s never ending injury carousel, the Rockets will turn to a host of new faces as they forage for wins in the tough Western Conference. European center David Andersen, a 7-footer, will have the unenviable task of replacing Yao, one of the few legitimate low-post threats in the NBA. Shane Battier, and ex Duke Blue Devil, will team with Argentine Luis Scola at the forward positions. Battier is one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA and his defensive prowess came full circle when he locked down on Kobe Bryant in the 2009 playoffs. Scola is one of the most underrated players in all of basketball; his low-post scoring and rebounding skills will give plenty of quality teams fits. Rookie Chase Budinger, a 6-10 forward from Arizona, will spell Scola at power forward. Budinger, despite slipping to the second round of the draft, was still an All-American player.

Aaron Brooks is likely to be the Rockets starting point guard. After filling in for Rafer Alston after he was dealt to the Orlando Magic, Brooks was merely average during the regular season. He averaged 11.0 ppg, and 3.0 apg. Anyone with any basketball knowledge knows that a starting point guard in the NBA must average more than 3.0 apg. However, Brooks made Derek Fisher look a lot older than he actually is during the playoffs as he continually blew by the Lakers point guard for easy lay-ups. Flashy L.A. import Trevor Ariza will complement Brooks in the Rockets backcourt. Ariza’s playoff prowess was one of the main reasons that the Lakers got back to the top of the mountain last year. Despite the playoff flashiness, little is known about Ariza. He is essentially taking the spot of Ron Artest in the Houston lineup, no small task for any player.

Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry, and Joey Dorsey, all quality players in their own right, will fill in for Houston coach Rick Adelman when he turns to his bench. Tracy McGrady, yeah, you remember T-Mac, will also begin the season on the Rockets bench. If McGrady isn’t traded, he figures to re-assume his spot in the starting lineup.

After finishing the 2008-09 season 53-29 and giving the Lakers all they could handle in the Western Conference semifinals, the Rockets will struggle to remain contenders in the tough-as-nails Western Conference. Tracy McGrady, who probably deserves more mention in this article, is in the final year of his contract and is due $23 million by season’s end. McGrady serves to be a valuable commodity before the 2010 trade deadline.

So what have we learned? Well, in short, the Rockets can expect to struggle this year. If Ariza collapses under the pressure of his newfound stardom, the Rockets will be in even more trouble. Andersen is unproven at best, but Battier and Scola are both terrific players. The Rockets will need plenty of help from McGrady and who knows, if T-Mac returns to form the Rockets could sneak into the playoffs.  But probably not.

As a wise man once said, “success in the NBA is as fragile as Yao’s foot.”

Oh, and just for fun,

This guy is still ready, waitin' for his big break.

This guy is still ready, waitin' for his big break.

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