Houston Rockets: Realistic Expectations for 2011-12 Season

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Houston Rockets: Realistic Expectations for 2011-12 Season
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This will be brief and to the point.

Let's start off with a few assumptions. Assume the NBA owners and players come to an agreement to end the current lockout by commissioner David Stern's Monday deadline to save a full 82-game season. Assume Daryl Morey locks up Chuck Hayes, the team's only free agent of consequence. Finally, assume the Rockets start the year off in one piece—something they haven't done in quite awhile. 

A Monday end to the lockout would start training camps and the opening of free agency on or around Oct. 20. Unfortunately, we can't assume Morey will lure a starting center, such as Tyson Chandler, or a desirable swingman to the roster because he simply hasn't been able to get any top free agents to play in Houston. 

As of Oct. 7, realistic expectations for the 2011-12 Houston Rockets can be based only on what we know from last season and the fair assumptions above. 

So what do we know? We know the signing of Hayes will keep all of last year's roster intact, one that finished 43-39.

The roster features one of the game's toughest, most underrated point guards in Kyle Lowry, one of the league's top scorers in Kevin Martin, one of it's best international post players in Luis Scola and a future nightly double-double in Patrick Patterson. 

The shortcomings remain, however. The frontcourt is still undersized, unathletic and anything but intimidating. That won't change until a true center comes aboard. 

Morey and owner Les Alexander let head coach Rick Adelman and his 945 career victories walk, handing the keys to Kevin McHale, who has a coaching record of 39-55 from two interim stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Same roster, same strengths, same weaknesses. New coach and staff. That's about the extent of what we know.

What, then, should Rockets fans expect? 

McHale vows to use much of Adelman's offense—a wise move considering how prolific the Rockets were at that end, finishing third in scoring at 105.9 points per game last season.

Sticking with the "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" philosophy regarding the roster, Houston will have to continue to win games by outscoring teams. If McHale can use his Hall of Fame credentials to teach players like Jordan Hill, Hasheem Thabeet, Marcus Morris and Donatas Motiejunas how to defend the paint, the Rockets suddenly become very hard to beat. 

They finished one spot and three games short of the eighth and final playoff spot last year, but the organization and its fanbase should expect nothing less than an invite to the 2012 party. 

Consider the following:

The Rockets won't be burdened by the debilitating "will he or won't he play" talk surrounding Yao Ming. That got the team started off on the wrong foot last year, contributing to its awful 0-5 and 5-12 start to the season. 

There's no question who's leading the offense. Last year, we all wondered whether it was Aaron Brooks or Kyle Lowry. Brooks is in Phoenix. This is Lowry's team. 

Once the roster was set and a rotation was solidified following the trade deadline in late-February, Houston finished with one of the NBA's best records, going 17-8 during the season's final sprint.

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Take a look at the lower half of the Western Conference playoff bracket: Memphis isn't going anywhere, but Denver, Portland and New Orleans' positions are there for the taking.

Don't expect any All-Star selections or end-of-the-season award winners. Maybe a spot in the Rookies versus Sophomores Game for Morris and Patterson.

Epic 22-game win streaks and championship aspirations are out of the question. But, based on what we know right now and assuming no improvement to last season's roster, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2009 is the goal.

How about the No. 6 seed and a first-round date with the Los Angeles Lakers? Lakers in six sounds about right.

Not exactly a flashback to the Clutch City glory days, but a nice stepping stone into the future.   

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