Houston Rockets Red Glare Stirs Excitement, Fades into Offseason

Jim McCurdyContributor IMay 27, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Aaron Brooks #0 of the Houston Rockets looks to pass as he is covered by Jordan Farmar #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 17, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

They dazzled the faithful sea of red from late-October until mid-May.

They restored life in a city blemished by heavy winds emanating from a hurricane considered the third most destructive sea storm of its kind in United States history.

They made a run through the postseason that hadn't been matched in franchise history in 12 seasons.

After the Houston Rockets won their first round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers and took the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals, there were enough fluffies to go around they could fill the Toyota Center's noise-making balloon sticks with plenty of hot air.

"Good Lord, we were ecstatic to be here, pushing the Lakers to Game 7 shorthanded," Rockets forward Shane Battier would say afterward, "so I have nothing but pride. It would have been better if we played better and had a better showing, but we were running on fumes."

This much is true: The Rockets gave Houston something to be captivated by for nearly seven months. They nearly won the Southwest Division title, falling a game short -- the race decided on the final day of the regular season. They nearly beat the heavily-favored Lakers to advance to their first conference finals since getting out of the first round in 1997.

The Rockets waged through a season that saw star Tracy McGrady miss 47 games due to a knee injury he deemed severe enough to undergo microfracture surgery on Feb. 24 in Chicago.

McGrady, who's been plagued by back spasms during his career and sat out 35 games in his second season with the Rockets in 2005-06, missed 18 games before the All-Star break this year. Yao Ming missed time for the fourth straight year
his broken foot culminating a year in which many started to believe he was the NBA's best big man.

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Don't forget about backup center Dikembe Mutombo, a 17-year veteran from Kinshasa, Congo who appeared in just nine games in the regular season. Mutombo strained his left knee 1:40 after stepping on the court in Game Two of the first round series with the Blazers, and then publicly announced you had seen the last of him as a player. 

"We battled through a lot of injuries and things like that, a lot of issues or problems," second-year forward Carl Landry said, "but the guys in the locker room continued to fight and stay strong through everything we went through."

Landry, of course, missed three weeks after being shot in the leg in the early morning hours of March 17 after the Rockets returned from a game at New Orleans the night before. A second team NBA All-Rookie selection in 2007-08, Landry lost a tooth in Game 3 of the Rockets' 2008 first round series with the Utah Jazz.

Injuries aside, Rocketball launched new hope for the future of this franchise.

"They've built a culture here for us that other players want to play, especially with this team ... " Rockets owner Les Alexander said on a day the team cleaned out its lockers after the season reached its termination point. "We think we're gonna have great things going."

Team executives indicated they will carefully consider all of their options during the offseason.

Signs point to re-signing free agents Ron Artest and Von Wafer, who've expressed an interest to remain with the club. McGrady has one year left on his contract, and it appears he will remain with the team. But that doesn't mean there won't be changes.

"We have to get bigger," Alexander said. "Losing Dikembe for this series was vital. I think if we would've had Dikembe, we had a real good chance of beating the Lakers. And he's not coming back because he's retiring, so we have to get bigger. These guys tried as hard as they could, but obviously we need more scoring at certain points of the game."

Which buttons the Rockets' brass push is uncertain, but something is bound to change.

"We hoped to accomplish more this year, so we're not satisfied, but we also feel there's a lot of things that happened this year that we can build on," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. "We're very optimistic going forward."

Houston doesn't have a pick in next month's draft after trading the rights to its first and second round picks away to Sacramento and San Antonio, which means if the team is to make significant upgrades, it might have to come through trade or free agency.

Or from in-house enhancements.

"Obviously, there's additions you always want to improve your team," coach Rick Adelman said. "We'll just have to see how that comes together. You'd like to have more shooting and passing. Those are the two areas that would really help us.

"The biggest thing I think is going to be the step up the young people make. That's usually where your team improves."

An offseason awaits as optimism and anticipation grow.

Houston Rockets Postseason History

Playoff Appearances: 26
Overall Playoff Record: 116-121
NBA Championships: 2 (1994-95)

2009 -- defeated Portland, 4-2, first round
        lost to LA Lakers, 4-3, conference semifinals

2008 -- lost to Utah, 4-2, first round

2007 -- lost to Utah, 4-3, first round

2005 -- lost to Dallas, 4-3, first round

2004 -- lost to LA Lakers, 4-1, first round

1999 -- lost to LA Lakers, 3-1, first round

1998 -- lost to Utah, 3-2, in first round

1997 -- defeated Minnesota, 3-0, first round
        defeated Seattle, 4-3, conference semifinals
        lost to Utah, 4-2, conference finals

1996 -- defeated LA Lakers, 3-1, first round
        lost to Seattle, 4-0, conference semifinals

1995 -- defeated Utah, 3-2, first round
        defeated Phoenix, 4-3, conference semifinals
        defeated San Antonio, 4-2, conference finals
        defeated Orlando, 4-0, NBA Finals

1994 -- defeated Portland, 3-1, first round
        defeated Phoenix, 4-3, conference semifinals
        defeated Utah, 4-1, conference finals
        defeated New York, 4-3, NBA Finals

1993 -- defeated LA Clippers, 3-2, first round
        lost to Seattle, 4-3, conference semifinals

1991 -- lost to LA Lakers, 3-0, first round

1990 -- lost to LA Lakers, 3-1, first round

1989 -- lost to Seattle, 3-1, first round

1988 -- lost to Dallas, 3-1, first round

1987 -- defeated Portland, 3-1, first round
        lost to Seattle, 4-2, conference semifinals

1986 -- defeated Sacramento, 3-0, first round
        defeated Denver, 4-2, conference semifinals
        defeated LA Lakers, 4-1, conference finals
        lost to Boston, 4-2, NBA Finals

1985 -- lost to Utah, 3-2, first round

1982 -- lost to Seattle, 2-1, first round

1981 -- defeated LA Lakers, 2-1, first round
        defeated San Antonio, 4-3, conference semifinals
        defeated Kansas City-Omaha, 4-1, conference finals
        lost to Boston, 4-2, NBA Finals

1980 -- defeated San Antonio, 2-1, first round
        lost to Boston, 4-0, conference semifinals

1979 -- lost to Atlanta, 2-0, first round

1977 -- defeated Washington, 4-2, conference semifinals
        lost to Philadelphia, 4-2, conference finals

1975 -- defeated New York, 2-1, first round
        lost to Boston, 4-1, conference semifinals


1969 -- lost to Atlanta, 4-2, division semifinals

2009 NBA Draft Order

Draft to be held June 25

First round
1. L.A. Clippers
2. Memphis
3. Oklahoma City
4. Sacramento
5. Washington
6. Minnesota
7. Golden State
8. New York
9. Toronto
10. Milwaukee
11. New Jersey
12. Charlotte
13. Indiana
14. Phoenix
15. Detroit
16. Chicago
17. Philadelphia
18. Minnesota (from Miami)
19. Atlanta
20. Utah
21. New Orleans
22. Dallas
23. Sacramento (from Houston)
24. Portland
25. Oklahoma City (from San Antonio)
26. Chicago (from Denver through Oklahoma City)
27. Memphis (from Orlando)
28. Minnesota (from Boston)
29. L.A. Lakers
30. Cleveland

Second round
31. Sacramento
32. Washington
33. Portland (from L.A. Clippers)
34. Denver (from Oklahoma City)
35. Detroit (from Minnesota)
36. Memphis
37. San Antonio (from Golden State through Phoenix)
38. Portland (from New York through Chicago)
39. Detroit (from Toronto)
40. Charlotte (from New Jersey through Oklahoma City)
41. Milwaukee
42. L.A. Lakers (from Charlotte)
43. Miami (from Indiana)
44. Detroit
45. Minnesota (from Philadelphia through Miami)
46. Cleveland (from Chicago)
47. Minnesota (from Miami)
48. Phoenix
49. Atlanta
50. Utah
51. San Antonio (from New Orleans through Toronto)
52. Indiana (from Dallas)
53. San Antonio (from Houston)
54. Charlotte (from San Antonio)
55. Portland (from Denver)
56. Portland
57. Phoenix (from Orlando through Oklahoma City)
58. Boston
59. L.A. Lakers
60. Miami (from Cleveland)


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