This season is all about getting off on the right foot, which for the Rockets is actually the left foot of Yao Ming. The franchise has relied less on their 30-year-old, 7'6", franchise center in recent years, but the team is still centered around the big man and his surgically repaired left foot.
The health of Yao is so important to the team that Houston has actually announced a rare minute-limit on their center. Like a young baseball pitcher being on a pitch count, the Rockets said Yao will be limited to 24 minutes per contest.
If Yao is healthy he will be joined in the starting five by a dynamic, albeit undersized, pair of forwards with Shane Battier and Luis Scola, and hot shooting guard Kevin Martin will play in the backcourt with point guard Aaron Brooks. Houston matched an offer sheet from the Cleveland Cavaliers to retain Kyle Lowry, who will back up Brooks.
Brooks was named the most improved player last season after upping his scoring average from 11.2 to 19.6 last season and nearly doubling his assists per game average. Martin is one of the best pure scorers in the league. He did not fit in with the youth movement in Sacramento but he led all Houston scorers with 21.2 points per game last season. Many are saying the 27-year-old shooting guard is in line for a breakout season.
The loss of Trevor Ariza to New Orleans is a huge blow to this team, but it is one move that Houston management said had to be made to afford the offer sheet to Lowry and a few other acquisitions.
Houston had reached the postseason four consecutive years before finishing 42-40 last season and missing the playoffs. Pressure will be on Rick Adelman to return Houston the playoffs and an injury to Yao will not be a good enough excuse considering the rest of the pieces in place.
The Houston Rockets schedule starts off on NBA opening night at Los Angeles on Oct. 26, but it gets harder than just playing the two-time defending champion Lakers. Houston is on the road for eight of its first 12 games.
Houston Rockets Offseason Moves
The offseason moves were dictated by the health of Yao. One of the main reasons Ariza was dispatched was so Houston could add some depth behind Yao and they did so with veteran Brad Miller and so they could keep Lowry in the fold.
Ariza was set to make $6.3 million this season. In the four-team trade for Ariza, Houston landed Courtney Lee, a 6'5" shooting guard entering his third NBA season. Houston GM Daryl Morey has always been high on Lee and when the chance came to cut salary and add the former first-round pick out of Western Kentucky, Morey jumped at the opportunity even if it meant cutting ties with Ariza.
2010-11 Houston Rockets Futures Odds
The Rockets’ odds of winning the NBA Finals are plus-4000. Their NBA odds to reach the Western Conference Finals are plus-900 and to win the Western Conference the Rockets are listed at plus-1800. NBA odds are courtesy of BetUS.
2010-11 Houston Rockets NBA Picks
The starting five of Houston is as solid as any in the Western Conference, even with a limited Yao. However, the depth leaves plenty to be desired. The Rockets should be able to challenge Dallas for the Southwest Division top spot, especially if Brooks comes close to matching his output last season and Martin breaks through like many expect he will.
The Yao experiment could end up telling the story of this season. Having a star player on a minutes-leash for an entire season is an unheard of concept in the NBA, and that is a major reason Houston cannot be considered a legitimate Western Conference contender. Look for them to battle for a low seed in the west and sneak in the playoffs.