NBA Draft Lottery 2011: Houston Rockets Stay at 14, Luck Must Come Another Way

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMay 18, 2011

HOUSTON - DECEMBER 29:  Former Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon waves to the crowd as he is introduced to the crowd at Toyota Center on December 29, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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The suspense for Houston Rockets fans ended before it could begin.

The team will again pick last in the lottery—a lousy consequence of a failed late-season playoff push.

Hooray for a 43-39 finish. Hooray for last place in the NBA’s toughest sector. A division fielded five outfits with plus-.500 records just seven other times in league history. The Southwest’s quintet is loaded with giants and giant killers, so hooray for not running for the bushes in March.

Hooray? A boo feels more appropriate.

All gunning for the eighth seed and not getting it does now is thrust GM Daryl Morey into an unenviable position. The right course of action did not deliver the desired results.

His defenseless team needs size and a superstar soul. For the second consecutive year, he must add a significant, lottery-worthy piece from the 14th spot.

Fans will expect a long-term contributor. His owner will demand a game-changer.

The Rockets remain good enough to avoid a flush to the embarrassing land of 50-loss whipping boys. Yet a trip to the sport’s toilet bowl—as the Cleveland Cavaliers can attest—is often the quickest way to get better.

A woebegone season in 2002-2003 landed them former hometown hero LeBron James. This June, the reward for a miserable campaign was the top and fourth picks.

Maybe the Rockets organization should have schlepped a kid to Secaucus instead of Kyle Lowry. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s 14-year-old son proved the ultimate lucky charm.

This draft might not offer an abundance of prodigious, rim-shaking, All-Star-ready talent, but Houston needs help any way it can get some.

A franchise enslaved and beleaguered by mediocrity could use a heaping helping of serendipity.

Morey’s greatest hope for success remains a triumphant return for 7’6” centerpiece Yao Ming, and isn’t that akin to gambling four years of college tuition money on a blackjack hand?

Surprise: You bust.

The summer’s top free agent big men, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler, have established themselves as irreplaceable pieces on title contenders. Morey will need a miracle to pry Gasol from Memphis or Chandler from Dallas.

Such as: a way to lobotomize GMs Chris Wallace and Donnie Nelson without a life sentence and lifetime banishment from Houston’s front office.

Jan Vesely, Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas or Tristan Thompson could slip. Those tantalizing international prospects or Thompson, a raw defensive talent with a primitive offensive game, represent Morey’s best shot at an impact contributor if he stays put at 14.

Moving up a few slots does not seem impossible, but is there a player available worth the assets he might have to surrender?

My assessment after another disheartening evening gets worse.

Rockets supporters will cringe after reading this grim nugget. Prepare to loathe the number one. That’s how many franchises have won fewer playoff series than Houston in the previous 14 years.

Take heart, Red Nation. You’re better than the Charlotte Bobcats.

The 27 other organizations have won at least one postseason round, and 21 of them reached the conference finals.

A lot has happened since Bill Clinton faced a perjury charge and an impeachment hearing for failing to keep his pants zipped in the Oval Office.

Apple boss Steve Jobs introduced iTunes, the iPod and the iPad. This country elected its first black president. The WNBA disbanded the once dynastic Comets.

American Idol led reality television’s furious 2000s charge. MTV all but slashed music videos from its programming. Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

Al-Qaeda terrorists executed the worst attack on U.S. soil ever. Special forces captured Saddam Hussein and killed Osama bin Laden.

Houston built three new world-class sports facilities. Reliant Stadium hosted a Super Bowl. The Toyota Center hosted the NBA’s midseason exhibition weekend.

Celebrity pastor Joel Osteen converted the former Summit into a mega church. The Astros tasted the World Series.

YouTube launched numerous singing careers. Lake Mead continued to dry up faster than a room filled with Larry David jokes.

And all the Rockets managed in that span was one—yes, one—playoff triumph.

Remember how wonderful it was to hear a packed house serenade the Portland Trail Blazers with a longtime arena standard?

Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.

That accomplishment, 12 years in the making, does not seem as grand when placed in proper context.

Management took a whack at championship contention twice. First, the brain trust traded for Steve Francis. Then it selected Yao with a rare No. 1 overall pick.

After Francis had flopped, the team sent him and other pieces to Orlando for expensive scoring machine Tracy McGrady.

I won’t torture fellow fans by reminding them how that experiment ended.

He experienced plenty of back trouble but never found a backbone when it mattered most.

This is where Morey sits. The NBA draft lottery is not a hip place to hang out two years in a row. Do it once (or twice, as the San Antonio Spurs did in 1987 and 1997), and pundits and fellow executives, coaches and players might revere you for more than a decade.

Make it a habit and you can become the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Tuesday was Houston’s chance to replicate Chicago’s improbable lottery victory a few years ago. Then, a franchise with a one-percent chance of picking first won the right to select hometown stud Derrick Rose.

Even if there is not a clear-cut Rose in this draft, Morey would not have turned down that morale boost.

The Rockets must instead start a critical roster improvement quest with the 14th pick. The coaching vacancy remains unfilled.

Morey has whittled his candidate roll call to three, according to Houston Chronicle writer Jonathan Feigen. Kevin McHale, Dwane Casey and Lawrence Frank might not comprise the average fan’s dream list, but each has potential.

Another sweltering summer will help define Morey’s tenure. If only the numbers-crunching GM could have gotten some extra help Tuesday.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver ended that possibility in an instant.

The real suspense—how Morey plans to upgrade an undersized, defense-deficient roster without a facile fix—begins now.

With the NBA Draft approaching, NBA Mock Draft season is here. Stay tuned to Bleacher Report for updated mock drafts, along with the latest NBA Draft news, analysis, rumors and predictions.


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