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One More Piece of 'D' To Lock Up In Houston

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With the acquisition of Ron Artest this week, the Houston Rockets not only increased their craziness quotient tenfold but also made a big addition to what was the Association's second-ranked defense from a season ago.

But as nice as it for the Rockets to have a second big-time perimeter stopper to add to Shane Battier, the team still has one more crucial move to make toward solidifying its lock-down unit on that end of the floor, and this man in question resides largely on the interior.

The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen reported Friday that Dikembe Mutombo is unlikely to re-sign for the veteran's minimum in Houston.  Agent David Falk has intimated that Mutombo is interested in returning, but he is also interested in making more than the $1.3 million that would come to him with that minimum contract.

While uncertainty remains regarding how much Mutombo is looking to rake in this season, if the Rockets can make a move to sign him at a reasonable price, it would most certainly be the move to make despite Deke's advancing age.

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The man refuses to succumb to age.  Though he played just 39 games last season and doesn't move with the swiftness that he once did, Mutombo still manages to use his long arms and exquisite timing to block and alter shots and to generally be a major presence in the paint.  He averaged 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in just 15.9 minutes per game last year, which carries out to a highly impressive 11.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes.  As good as the Rockets' defense was all season, it was 2.1 points per 100 possessions stingier when the man of six middle initials was on the floor than it was when he wasn't. 

Mutombo's presence was also felt particularly strongly in the absence of star center Yao Ming.  When Yao went down with a season-ending injury, Mutombo took over at center, starting his final 25 regular season games and all six playoff games, in which he performed quite admirably.  Though he played limited minutes (20.2 per game), he averaged 6.6 boards and 1.76 blocks as a starter in the regular season, and the Rockets went 18-7 in those games.  Come playoff time, Mutombo continued to rebound well and upped the shot-blocking to 1.83 per game.  Throughout the course of the year, he was tremendously consistent in his appearances in helping to make life markedly easier on the defensive end for his teammates.  He might have aged, but he still patrols the paint as well as anyone on the Rockets.

Furthermore, Mutombo is really the only proven option behind Yao at center in Houston.  Jackie Butler has yet to demonstrate himself worth the generous deal the Spurs gave him a couple of summers ago, and Joey Dorsey is undersized.  Yao needs a capable back-up at the pivot, and given his legitimate injury concerns, the Rockets need someone behind him who can step in and start in a pinch if needed.  The reasonably priced options on the market aren't necessarily any more appealing than Mutombo, and with the team's acquisition of Artest, it is clear that the Rockets are in win-now mode.  Age shouldn't be an issue if he can get the job done.

The Rockets shouldn't break the bank for Dikembe Mutombo, but if it is possible for them to bring him back with a reasonably moderate raise, it would be fooolish not to recognize the contribution that he makes on the defensive end and in the center of the Houston line-up when called upon.