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Houston Rockets Preview - HoopsBlogging

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Houston Rockets -
Last Year’s Record: 52-30
Key Losses: Jeff Van Gundy, Vassilis Spanoulis, Juwon Howard.
Key Additions: Rick Adelman, Luis Scola, Mike James, Steve Francis, Aaron Brooks, Jackie Butler, Carl Landry, Justin Reed

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

While the Celtics stole the show, the Rockets made equally impressive moves this offseason without having to hit the front page of every news outlet on the continent.

Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, not only added a lot of offensive spark to this squad, but he also put in a coach that could handle it: out with Jeff Van Gundy, who couldn’t manage to eliminate the Jazz after going up 2-0 in their quarterfinal series, and in with Rick Adelman.

The Rockets have often struggled to provide a consistent scoring option behind Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Now the only question is whether or not they have enough shots to go around. Mike James and Steve Francis have both proved that they can be relied upon for scoring and Bonzi Wells will likely have impact as well, seeing as how he played quite well under Adelman in Sacramento – putting up 23 points and 12 rebounds per game in the 2006 playoffs.

The Rockets will enter the season with two new starters – Francis or James at PG and Luis Scola at PF – as well as a much deeper bench. Luther Head was the bench last season, now he’ll be lucky to pull down 15 minutes per game.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Rockets biggest strengths are scoring and depth

It’s hard to think of the Rockets, who were one of the best defensive teams last year, as an up-tempo offensive powerhouse, but that’s what they’re striving to be. The only two players that will get time regardless of their inability to score are Dikembe Mutombo and Chuck Hayes.

This team is finally prepared to handle a McGrady back injury or Yao foot injury without completely falling apart. Their added depth will not only make them able to weather the storm, but they should also have some decent success while doing so.

If the players buy into the system without letting their ego’s get the best of them, then the Rockets’ depth will be a significant strength. Rafer Alston was overworked last season and should now be able to catch a 30 minute breather every game. McGrady will get to rest a bit more without watching his team fall apart at the seams and Shane Battier won’t have to fulfill a scoring role, but rather take on his full-time job as the team’s glue-guy.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

The Rockets biggest weakness is…ummmm, the Power Forward position? I have got so used to saying it in the past that it just pours out naturally. The Rockets are completely stacked elsewhere, but their Power Forwards are untested in the NBA.

Nonetheless, this is no longer the worry that is has been in the past. The Rockets made a strong move to erase this glaring hole with the addition of Luis Scola.

Chuck Hayes will still see playing time as an energy player, but Scola gives the gift of scoring. He isn’t a needy player who demands the ball, but he has great range and an uncanny ability to finish around the hoop, which is why he was named the MVP of the FIBA Americas tournament this summer.

While their power forwards aren’t NBA-proven, my biggest concern for the Rockets is the point guard spot.

If I were Daryl Morey, I would do everything in my power to trade Mike James and Rafer Alston for a player like Jose Calderon.

They no longer need to worry about scoring with Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Bonzi Wells, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, and Luther Head all able to do the job; but they do need a proven distributor. Steve Nash or Jason Kidd would cost too much. While Calderon is also likely off the market, a player with his abilities would complete this team.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Build chemistry, make the playoffs, enter the postseason as a healthy team, and make a championship run.

The Rockets can no longer be put on the backburners as the Mavericks, Spurs, and Suns dominate the West. This team has been built to win and many important ingredients have finally been added to the mix. One of the Rockets four point guards (Francis, James, Alston, and Brooks) should be able to step into the distributing role that the Rockets need for them to reach the ultimate level of success.

With all the pieces in place come playoff time, I don’t see how they can fall short again like they have for the last few years. While they may not win it all, they are built to do so. With that in mind, the only goal this team has is to win the championship - anything else would be a disappointment.

5. Aaron Brooks or Luis Scola: Which Rookie Will Have the Bigger Impact?

The Rockets are entering the season with two very promising rookies: Luis Scola and Aaron Brooks.

Luis Scola earned a lot of attention this offseason for carrying Argentina to second-place at the FIBA Americas tournament without the team’s usual core (Ginobili, Oberto, Nocioni, and Herrmann). He was able to win MVP honors while putting up 19.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg. He even managed to impress while playing against USA in two games, scoring over 20 points in each contest.

Aaron Brooks also managed to have a pretty good summer. He was named the Outstanding Rookie of the Vegas NBA Summer League while also being considered an MVP candidate. He scored 21.4 points per contest and dished out 5.2 assists per match while demonstrating his three-point range and lightning fast quickness that every team would love to have.

Scola is entering the season as a starter while Brooks is deep in the Rockets’ depth chart. Nonetheless, he’ll be able to earn some minutes depending on what he does with his limited playing time early on.

In the end, however, Brooks seems to be a long-term project due to the team’s backcourt depth while Scola will come in firing. Adelman is not known to use or develop rookies all that much, but Scola is an advanced rookie due to his years of experience in Europe where he has been among the best for the past few seasons.

Predicted Record: 58-24

Injuries to Yao and T-Mac are the only two things that could hold this team back during the season. Last season the duo combined for 45 missed games, this year a healthy Houston squad is able to beat any team in the league. They might take a while to learn Adelman’s system and develop chemistry, but they are definitely capable of improving on last season’s totals.