Stars or No Stars, the Houston Rockets Will Compete in 2009-10
To put it lightly, it's been something of an interesting offseason for the Houston Rockets.
The team learned that franchise cornerstone Yao Ming, who suffered a season-ending foot injury during the semifinals, could miss the entire upcoming season, and possibly more.
Tracy McGrady, who recently underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee, may not be available until after the All-Star break.
Last, but certainly not least, Ron Artest, who became one of the leaders of the Rockets during the playoffs, bolted to the Lakers as a free agent.
This summer, the Rockets have acquired small forward Trevor Ariza through free agency, center David Andersen through a trade, and drafted swingmen Chase Budinger and Jermaine Taylor.
With their "Big Three" from last season all but toast, what should we expect from next season's version of the Houston Rockets?
Head coach Rick Adelman will be entering his third season in charge, and as he's wanted to do all along, he should have the Rockets running up and down the court next season.
Because Yao and McGrady aren't players that flourish in the open court, it's been difficult for Adelman to implement his style of a fast-paced offense since he's been with Houston.
That will change this season, when he has players like Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Shane Battier, Carl Landry, and Ariza all at his disposal, without a clear-cut No. 1 option.
Because they have no bona fide scorers, the Rockets will look to exploit opposing defenses with their quickness and easy transition buckets.
Andersen, who will be a 29-year-old rookie in the NBA, will be the only player on the roster (until Yao returns) over 6'9".
Due to the injuries, many are counting the Rockets out in terms of playoff contention next season.
However, I think this team will be able to surprise some people.
The Rockets, as they showed against the Lakers when they played the final four games without Yao or McGrady, will be a scrappy bunch that will be unwilling to back down from anything.
Sure, they won't have Artest, but from all accounts, Artest was a negative influence in the locker room, especially with the team's young point guards Brooks and Lowry.
Without Yao in the paint, look for Scola and Landry to see lots of time together in the frontcourt.
Scola is a versatile offensive player that can bang in the post as well as shoot it from a decent range with efficiency.
Landry is a super-athletic big man that also has the ability to shoot from range.
Chuck Hayes, a 6'6" forward that should see lots of time at center, is one of the best post defenders in the league despite being undersized.
Hayes has great hands and exceptional strength, which gives players like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Pau Gasol major problems in the paint.
Brooks, who was thrown into the fire as the starting point guard in just his second year after the team sent incumbent Rafer Alston to Orlando, should see a huge boost in his numbers with the team's primary offensive threats gone (for the time being).
Ariza, while not being an offensive player like Artest, is a fantastic wing defender and is just 24 years old, meaning he has plenty of room to grow as an overall player.
He's much more athletic than Artest and should be a very dangerous player out in the open court, where he's proficient finishing around the rim.
Lowry, acquired from the Grizzlies as part of the Alston deal (where the Grizzlies essentially gave him up for nothing), is exceptionally quick and can get to the line with the best of them, where he shot over 80 percent last season.
Battier, perimeter defender extraordinaire, is still with the team and will likely re-assume duties as the team leader.
Battier, who has averaged 10 points per game for his career, saw a dip in his scoring last season, averaging just over seven PPG.
Like many other players, Battier's numbers should escalate next season without the presence of a primary scorer.
Rockets' GM Daryl Morey has passed on encouraging news recently, claiming that Yao is looking strong and may be able to return and play before season's end.
It was initially reported that this injury could have ended Yao's basketball career.
McGrady will likely be ready to play around the midway point of the season.
He has a contract worth $23 million that expires after the season, and he will be playing to prove that he's still a top-tier player in the league.
The Rockets will likely not be a top-five seed in the playoffs next season, but don't be surprised at all if they are able to sneak into the seventh or eighth slot.
They're feisty, they're young, they're capable, and most of all, they're willing to do whatever it takes to win, as we saw against Los Angeles.
Adelman and his coaching staff have a tall task this upcoming season, but they're more than ready to take it on head first.
The Houston Rockets will be "running and gunning" in 2009-10 and could be a big surprise for everybody else in the Western Conference.
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