Houston Rockets: Roster Preview, Predictions and Storylines to Watch in 2012-13
The Houston Rockets have been a fringe playoff contender for three straight seasons, finishing ninth in the Western Conference in each of those years.
Saddled with the horrible dilemma of not being talented enough to contend but decent enough not to bottom out, the Rockets have been stagnant. GM Daryl Morey was sick and tired of that problem, and went out on a mission to change things.
Morey certainly accomplished his goal, as the Rockets' roster looks significantly different than it has in previous seasons. While he didn’t put together an enticing enough package to convince the Orlando Magic to send Dwight Howard—a player that was the ultimate prize this summer—there is now a young core of promising prospects in place that could change the landscape in Houston.
Let’s take a look at whom the organization acquired in the offseason, players it said goodbye to, the projected starting lineup and depth chart, the strengths and weaknesses of the roster, making some predictions and much more in the 2012-13 Houston Rockets season preview.
Jeremy Lin (Restricted Free Agency)
Omer Asik (Restricted Free Agency)
Carlos Delfino (Free Agency)
Toney Douglas (Trade with New York Knicks)
Donatas Motiejunas (2011 Draft Pick)
Jeremy Lamb (2012 Draft Pick)
Royce White (2012 Draft Pick)
Terrence Jones (2012 Draft Pick)
The Rockets made out like bandits this summer, largely due to the use of the “poison pill” contract offer. Morey doled one out to Lin and Asik, giving each player $25.1 million over three years, with a majority of the money coming in the third season.
Because New York and Chicago declined to match the offers to Lin and Asik, respectively, Houston now has two legitimate up-and-comers who are likely to play key roles this season.
Lin is an interesting case, as he has only 25 games as a starter and two seasons in the NBA under his belt. He’s one of the most popular players in the league, a phenomenon known as Linsanity, and came from seemingly nowhere to bring the Knicks back to relevance last year.
If he’s anywhere near as skilled as he proved he could be during that short stretch, the Rockets have an absolute steal on their hands with this young Taiwanese-American star.
Meanwhile, Asik is the first legitimate center on the Rockets roster since Yao Ming patrolled the paint. He’s a tough defender, wily rebounder and decent shot-blocker, but he’s offensively inept and cannot be relied on to produce points.
There’s now a plethora of rookies on the roster, as Morey ended up having to keep the No. 12, 16 and 18 overall picks, rather than packaging them in a deal involving Dwight Howard.
Lamb was selected first out of UConn and projects to be the second-string SG, behind the only serviceable veteran left on the roster—Kevin Martin.
White went next, and he’s certainly got a lot of baggage to go with his incredible upside. If he weren’t diagnosed with a crippling anxiety disorder and a fear of flying (he’s taking a bus to as many games as possible), the Iowa State product would have been a top-10 pick. He’s yet to do much in the preseason, but has potential to join the rotation at the forward spots.
Finally, Jones came off the board and he has immense athleticism to go with his incredibly raw talents. He’s another versatile forward that has a shot at some minutes this year.
Aside from those picks, the Rockets finally put Motiejunas on their roster—the No. 20 overall pick in 2011. He’s made some big strides since going back to Europe for a season and should immediately see minutes at the pivot.
Houston knew that it couldn’t sustain itself on just rookies and young free-agency acquisitions, so veteran Carlos Delfino was acquired on a one-year deal to help the SF position’s depth behind inexperienced Chandler Parsons.
It was certainly a busy offseason for Morey, but he made out quite well and his team has a bright future ahead.
Kyle Lowry (Trade with Toronto Raptors)
Marcus Camby (Trade with New York Knicks)
Samuel Dalembert (Trade with Milwaukee Bucks)
Courtney Lee (Sign-and-Trade with Boston Celtics)
Chase Budinger (Trade with Minnesota Timberwolves)
Goran Dragic (Free Agency)
Luis Scola (Amnesty)
Lowry was on the outs and involved with a number of trade rumors throughout the 2011-12 season, while his backup at the PG position—Dragic—elected to return to the Phoenix Suns now that Steve Nash is in L.A.
Three bigs are now gone, with Camby—not exactly a candidate for a youth movement at age 38—was shipped to the New York Knicks, Dalembert jettisoned north to Milwaukee and Scola inexplicably being cut to save $21 million over the next three seasons.
The Scola cut makes a bit more sense when you consider that the Rockets thought they had a legit chance to land Howard, but that wasn’t in the cards.
Also departed are Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee, two players that saw a number of minutes at the 3 and 2, respectively, last season. Morey elected to go with a full blowup of his team, and only a few holdovers remain from the past few seasons.
Click on to see what the new lineup and depth chart could look like now that Houston’s summer makeover is complete.
Projected Starting Lineup and Depth Chart
Houston is extremely inexperienced from top to bottom, which can be a blessing and a curse in the modern NBA. While this team has no expectations to compete for the next few years, it’s unlikely they’d be able to hang with the Lakers or Thunder in the Western Conference. Getting reps against these star-studded teams is instrumental to development.
Now let’s take a look at who exactly is being groomed to revive this struggling franchise.
At the 1, there is no question that this is Lin’s team for the next three years at a minimum. Aside from Lin, there is little depth at the position, as Toney Douglas fell out of favor in New York and hasn’t been a factor. Machado is an undrafted rookie.
The SG position will be occupied by Martin—the only career double-digit scorer on the roster—and Lamb, the young-gun rookie. These two are going to account for a majority of Houston’s points.
Parsons, an extremely versatile rookie last year, has proven enough to coach Kevin McHale to earn a starting nod at SF. He’s going to be backed by veteran swingman Delfino, a player coming off three solid seasons as a starter for the Bucks. Expect Jones to get a few minutes here and there as well.
The 4 is comprised of Patterson and White, plus Morris when healthy. This is perhaps the most concerning position, as the team has little proven talent to plug in. Patterson worked his butt off the past two years, but isn’t much more than a glorified role player. White could eventually earn this job, as he has the energy to match Patterson and possesses better basketball skills. Morris needs to get back in basketball shape to log minutes and start living up to his lottery selection in 2011.
Finally, Asik—a defensive specialist—and rookie Motiejunas will occupy the center spot. Expect McHale to substitute and rotate the two depending on the situation, as Motiejunas is a much more natural scorer and jump-shooter, but an unproven defender.
This is an extremely young roster with a lot of question marks, but the Rockets will get a chance to answer soon enough.
Because the Rockets are so youthful, they have the speed and athleticism to win some games they have no business being in during the 82-game grind of a regular season.
These kids will be running and gunning up and down the floor with reckless abandon at times, blowing some of the creakier, aging teams out of the water. Many nights it’s not going to work, but on occasion it will be some of the most exciting basketball around.
The real strength of the current roster, though, is its upside.
The core players have a chance to develop together, from Lin at the PG position down to Asik at the pivot, and grow into a contender—much in the mold of Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, no one on the roster projects to be as great as Kevin Durant.
Regardless, this could be a solid team that becomes one superstar away from competing with the big dogs in the West. If a majority of the starting five and some of the bench prove themselves this season, Morey will have a clear idea of what moves to make next summer in order to truly start making some noise.
There are almost too many weaknesses to count on this roster—if you look at it in the context of just the 2012-13 season.
Lin is extremely unproven and could be hampered by injuries that cut his season short last year, Asik is good at nothing but defense, three rookies are expected to play a major role and four second-year players are also going to take up major minutes in the rotation.
The bottom line is no matter how good of a job coach McHale does with what he has to work with, there are going to be a ton of nights where this Houston team cannot hang with the opposition. There will be those rare nights when everything clicks and the Rockets dominate, but they will be few and far between.
Expect the inexperience of this squad to be its downfall in the upcoming campaign, but it allows for these young men to gain invaluable reps in game situations.
Storylines to Watch
When it comes to the 2012-13 Houston Rockets, all eyes are going to be on Jeremy Lin.
The electrifying point guard is going to have to adjust to his new location, a new offensive system, teammates that aren’t nearly as skilled as Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler and deal with the weight of expectations that come with his $25.1 million contract.
It’s a lot of pressure for the 24-year-old, and his rehab getting in the way of a productive offseason certainly isn’t helping. He has to make an immediate impression or risk facing an overwhelming wave of criticism.
Other storylines to watch include how the core pieces grow and learn to play with one another. This is critical, as bad chemistry and rapport could sink this youth movement before it even gets off the ground.
It’s also worth keeping tabs on Martin, as his approximately $13 million expiring contract is one of the more valuable assets in the league. A veteran team might come by with an offer the Rockets cannot refuse for the SG by the time the trade deadline rolls around.
If all goes to plan for the Rockets, they are going to see a big improvement from their second- and third-year players, while also getting major contributions from the rooks.
They could feasibly win a lot of games if Lin or someone else steps up and becomes a superstar. Unfortunately, outside of the Harvard product, there aren’t any ideal candidates on the roster to make the leap to stardom.
Regardless, the Rockets haven’t been all that bad and coach McHale is a great coach, so a few breaks and potential injuries to other fringe contenders out West means that Houston could conceivably sneak into the postseason as a No. 8 seed.
It’s going to take a lot of luck, but there is an outside shot of this franchise making the playoffs for the first time in three years with a core that no one would have ever expected.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Rockets could easily blow up and finish with the worst record in the league. In fact, this would be much less surprising than the team making the playoffs.
Lin has potential, but besides him, no one else has proven to be a capable NBA starter (aside from Martin, who is more than likely gone by the end of the season). It’s going to be rough, and there is a strong possibility that some of these rookies will not pan out, and other young pieces wind up being late bloomers either in Houston or elsewhere.
This is just a simple fact of life in the NBA, as being a first-round pick does not come anywhere near guaranteeing success. The Rockets could find this lesson out the hard way in 2012-13.
26-56, fourth place in Southwest Division, fifth-worst record in league (.088 chance to land No. 1 pick in 2013 draft)
As expected, the Rockets are going to take their lumps during the upcoming season. They will struggle to win 30 games, which is the number Bovada.lv has pegged them to reach.
We think that is a bit of a lofty expectation, and this team could easily lose as many as 60 contests in 2012-13. It’s not going to be a pretty campaign by any means, but there should be plenty of potential on display.
As long as Lin reaches somewhere near his averages as a starter with the Knicks, Asik plays stout defense as a starter and the young guys either continue to develop or start on the right foot, this is going to be a drastically improved team come 2013-14.
Unfortunately, that isn’t much solace to Rockets fans, but it’s all they can look forward to now that Morey blew the franchise up and is getting a fresh start.