Houston Rockets: Mapping out the Plan for Rockets to Return to the Playoffs
The Houston Rockets, once considered a lock for a playoff bid, experienced a meltdown of epic proportions. With only a few weeks left in the season, the Rockets were the favorites to become the sixth seed in their grueling conference's playoffs. This was quite a surprise and accomplishment, as many expected the roster to struggle due to the lack of a clear star and playoff experience.
But despite not deterring from the challenge at the beginning of the truncated season, the Rockets went on a 1-7 slide, officially knocking them out of postseason contention. While their relevancy in the playoff chase did shock the NBA community, there is no denying the unfortunate fact that changes within the organization are a necessity.
However, major alterations are not needed for this franchise due to their roster being already ladened with talent and depth. Unlike the Charlotte Bobcats or Washington Wizards, the Rockets have a playoff-ready squad that has the potential to strike fear in the eyes of opposing teams.
So, what modifications should the Rockets brass pursue? Well, the subsequent slides will address adjustments that will propel Houston back into the playoffs.
Maintain Their Top-Tier Depth
Maintaining their fantastic depth is absolutely crucial for the Houston Rockets if they want to acquire a playoff berth in the 2012-13 season. After all, their plethora of talented players at every position is arguably their most valuable asset and was no doubt a deciding factor in many of the team's victories.
Playing in the high-speed Western Conference, the Rockets having an excess of competent role players at their disposal which allows the team to play at a high level without worrying about fatigue. Other than the Denver Nuggets, the Rockets undoubtedly possess the deepest roster in the NBA.
Just look at the number of quality forwards on the squad. The consistent Luis Scola, athletic Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee headline the group with young guns Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and Chandler Parsons rounding it out.
While the Rockets do need a clear star—which acquiring would undoubtedly cause them to lose some of their prized depth—the franchise must do everything possible to keep most of their core.
Acquire a True Superstar
The one thing holding the Houston Rockets back from a playoff berth and, even more important, dominance, is their lack of a star on the roster. Since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have lacked a player who not only leads the team into battle, but can score off the dribble or off savvy post-moves at will.
Last offseason, the Rockets almost acquired Lakers 7'0" behemoth Pau Gasol to fill their star void. But as many of us are already aware, the deal was vetoed by the NBA brass.
Sure, one can make the case that sharpshooting guard Kevin Martin or double-double threat Luis Scola are more than capable of bringing Houston to the playoffs. However, many expect the squad to go after a star this offseason to address this debilitating problem, as they have the cap space and city to entice a prize free agent to sign with the franchise.
Current New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon and Indiana Pacers All-Star Roy Hibbert are two names that automatically come to mind. Both prospects are quite young and have the ability to develop into dominant forces.
In my opinion, however, Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings is the most realistic option. The Kings are obviously trying to find suitors for the 6'6" versatile facilitator. Despite his stats dropping since his miraculous rookie season, Evans possesses the potential to turn into a top-tier player.
The Rockets must be careful, though, not to blow up their roster to acquire a superstar (see Brooklyn Nets).
Re-Sign Both Goran Dragic and Marcus Camby
Goran Dragic will be a hot commodity if the upcoming contract-less guard decides to test his value on the open market. Despite the breakout season of starting point guard Kyle Lowry, who is currently battling a sports hernia, many Houston fans want the Rockets to not only re-sign Dragic but insert him into the starting lineup.
While his play does make him a candidate to acquire the starting role, as the 6'3" Yugoslavian averaged over 12 points and five assists per night off the bench, there is no doubt the Rockets would love to keep him in a reserve role in Houston.
The two-headed point guard combo of Dragic and Lowry has been deadly for opposing squads. If the Rockets want to experience playoff action next summer, then GM Daryl Morey needs to re-sign this agile facilitator. But that isn't the only player the Rockets need to bring back.
Current starting center Marcus Camby, a midseason acquisition from the Portland Trail Blazers, has rejuvenated his career since coming to Houston. His seven points and nine boards per contest average is the perfect testament.
His advanced age does raise a few questions, as the former Massachusetts star is already 38 years old, but his contributions this season shows the former Defensive Player of the Year still has fuel left in the tank.
Additionally, Camby even stated he would love to play a few more seasons at the professional level.
Select a Center in This Year's Draft
Due to missing the playoffs, the Rockets will find themselves picking in the upper-lottery range. Sure, many potential superstars will already be taken by this point, but the list of prospects who are projected to be still available is nothing to scoff at. In fact, this may be the deepest draft of the past five years.
The Rockets have no major roster needs at the moment, but will probably want to draft a center due to current big men Samuel Dalembert and Marcus Camby being on the wrong side of their respective careers.
The Rockets have a few options if they want to explore this specific path. Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard is my favorite choice for Houston. In a league that lacks quality seven-footers, Leonard would be an intriguing prospect for the Rockets. While he does scream bust with his raw offensive game, his 7'1" frame, mixed defensive presence and major upside may be too much to pass up.
The refined former UNC center Cody Zeller and Mississippi State combo-forward Arnett Moultrie are two more names that may interest the Rockets
Refrain from Injury
Yes, I know! Injuries are part of the game of basketball and are impossible to avoid. But the Rockets need to do everything in their power to refrain from injuries next season. After all, physical ailments were a major reason why the Rockets stumbled to this year's finish line.
With their starting backcourt in Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin battling to stay on the court for most of this season, the Rockets must avoid a repeat. Whether it is resting certain players in back-to-back games or limiting their minutes as a whole, it would definitely be beneficial for the Rockets to stay healthy for the entire year.
I believe the Rockets will escape the injury bug next season, as the NBA will go back to playing a normal schedule instead of their current condensed, rigorous agenda.
Nurture Their Youth
In the current Rockets rotation, there are numerous players who possess the ability of becoming top-tier players once their game matures. But the Rockets can't sit around and hope this specific group of athletes develop.
No, they must nurture this talent in every way possible. Whether it be giving all garbage minutes to the young talent, requiring them to take part in the NBA Summer League or just more one-on-one sessions, helping these players realize their true potential would help the team immensely. But it wouldn't just pay dividends in the present, it would absolutely help the organization in the future.
The players needing assistance include Patrick Patterson (23), Chase Budinger (23), Marcus Morris (22) and Chandler Parsons (23).
Get off to a Fast Start
Playing in arguably the toughest division in the Association, the Houston Rockets can't afford getting off to a rocky start like they did this past season. To begin the year, the organization went 3-7 in their first 10 games.
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