In yet another tragic development to an already nightmarish story, Yao Ming has been lost for the season due to a stress fracture in his ankle, putting his career in jeopardy. With the Rockets stumbling to a 16-18 start, is it time for Houston to look to move Yao to another team?
For years, the Rockets envisioned Yao Ming as the next pillar of great big men to come through Houston, following in the footsteps of Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Elvin Hayes and even Charles Barkley. Standing at 7'6" and possessing a shooting touch never before seen in a player of his size, Yao had as much potential as any draft prospect in years.
Unfortunately, the dominance never truly materialized. While Yao established himself as one of the league's top centers in his first few years, he seemed to lack the killer instinct, the aggression exhibited by so many other stars.
Then, in a development that Rockets fans could only describe as crucial, Yao began to assert himself as a dominant force, taking the reins of the Rockets team from injury-riddled Tracy McGrady and demanding the ball as the clock winded down, a huge shift from the passive Yao that often deferred to teammates.
Just at that same time, the injury bug bit in a horrible way. Yao would go on to miss nearly half of the three seasons in a row from 2005 to 2008 and would eventually miss the entire 2009-10 season after having reconstructive surgery on his foot.
Now, with Yao's career hanging in the balance and his season over, the Rockets must leave Yao in the past and trade him and his huge contract to help rebuild in the era after Tracy McGrady.
With Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola, the Rockets have a core of a potentially great team but lack the star that could help them advance far in the playoffs. If the Rockets want to be better than just a fringe playoff team, they will move Yao to a team desperate for financial relief.
Because his contract is insured for 80 percent of his salary after he misses 41 games, any team acquiring Yao could save almost $8 million in salary if they traded for him. For that reason, teams in dire straits financially are calling the Rockets with the intention of trading for Yao.
For example, Charlotte and Sacramento, two teams with well-known financial issues, are reportedly looking to acquire Yao. However, outside of DeMarcus Cousins (who is untouchable) and perhaps Gerald Wallace, neither has much the Rockets would be interested in.
With the suitors likely offering little of value, the Rockets could be quick to simply decide to hold on to Yao's contract and reap the financial benefits of it. However, with the trade talk developing as the trade deadline approaches, they would be wise to attempt to get in on a blockbuster trade, potentially facilitating Carmelo Anthony's exodus out of Denver.
The fact is that with teams looking to cut salary, the Rockets must use their strong financial standing to their advantage and gather up more assets for a run at a star player. For now, Yao has no value to the team outside of lining Les Alexander's pockets, but he could mean a lot to a team that is looking to balance the checkbook.
It is easy to propose that an owner spend a lot of money to improve the team, but a bad team is not going to help finances at all. The only way to continue to fill the seats at the Toyota Center is a winning product, and right now the Rockets are struggling to bring that to the table.
While it hurts to say goodbye, it's time.
"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."