Will Houston Rockets Youth Peak Too Early?

Marshall Zweig@ihavethewriteContributor IIFebruary 14, 2013

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

In my Houston Rockets article from yesterday, the glass was half full.

In the interest of fairness, guess what today's glass is?

In the aforementioned article, I compared these Rockets with the 2007 upset-minded Golden State Warriors. My only hesitation with the comparison, as I mentioned, was that the Warriors had veterans on their team. The Rockets have only one player who qualifies as a veteran: Carlos Delfino.

Everyone else on the roster qualifies for the Happy Meal at Mickey D's.

With an average age of 23.7, the Rockets are the NBA's youngest team. Are the Rockets' motorin' ways simply a product of that youth?

And will they run out of gas to flame out come playoff time?

Youth can get you a lot as a player. It can get you up and down the court in a hurry. It can find the extra juice to jump higher to block that shot or grab that board.

What youth can't get you is a sense of what the other guys are going to bring come playoff time.

Or the confidence to sink that shot when a loss means your season is in jeopardy of ending.

The Rockets haven't made the playoffs since 2009, the last year Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were on the roster. Though that was a mere four years ago, not one player from that playoff squad remains on the Rockets roster.

More shocking still, of the current Rockets, only Delfino was even in the NBA four years ago.

There is lack of playoff experience, and then there is unabashed rawness. Houston's players are for the most part the latter.

Sure, Harden made an extended playoff run last year as a sixth man. And one could make the case that Jeremy Lin was in a playoff-like atmosphere in Madison Square Garden during last season's Linsanity.

Sorry, Rockets backcourt, that's not enough to bestow veteran status on you.

Veterans give young players someone to learn from and model their play after. Harden is doing it for the rest of the guys, but as a first-year starter, he's doing it virtually blind.

Veterans shield younger players from blame and criticism. They know what to say to satisfy the media and focus the locker room. With the media, McHale is playing that role here, and he's made sure nary a finger has gotten pointed all season.

But who's that locker room presence? That guy who's going to settle nerves after a tough loss or get in faces when an extra gear is needed? That force of nature who refuses to lose?

Do you see that guy on this roster? I don't. Not at this point in their careers anyway.

Veterans provide the needed experience to make a stopper game happen—the victory that brings a losing streak to a halt. The seven-game losing streak the Rockets had to me indicated the lack of that presence.

It was a tough stretch of games, without a doubt. But in my eyes, that streak went three games too long, period. A veteran would have said, "There is no way we're losing to the Dallas Mavericks."

And then would have proceeded to back up his words.

Veterans provide grace under fire. To a vet, big moments inspire a rising to the occasion rather than choking under pressure.

No one can say Harden has chickened out in the season's clutch moments. But he's been straight up stymied on occasion. And even when he's not, I perceive the rest of the team often looking like they're hoping they don't get the rock come crunch time.

Vets, they want that rock. They expect that rock. Some of them even demand it.

Veterans help guys navigate the difficult 82-game NBA schedule, to really understand which games are crucial must-wins. Which wins they can stockpile to fall back on when the season gets long.

No one's doing that with this team. These are just a talented group of seemingly wonderful fellas who go out there and bust their humps every night.

Energy will only take you so far. That's where leadership should kick in.

Now, at the risk of sounding overly pessimistic, make no mistake: I love so much about this team. And I see bright things ahead.

Including their next birthdays.

Commenter @LaDonna McKinzie composed a wonderful analogy yesterday, comparing the Rockets to a three-year-old running amok in an antique store. The other team is the parents, chasing around after them, terrified the kid will make them "pay."

Now add a teenager to LaDonna's scenario.

When the parents and the shopkeepers are distracted, the wily teen could coolly grab some nifty old junk, run like hell, and score a big-time payday on Pawn Stars.

Said succinctly, veterans are crafty. Youngsters are still learning their craft.

So without a graybeard to join The Beard and Co., trust my half-full goblet and don't expect the world from the red and white this season.

But please, please join me in hoping for the best.


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