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Houston Rockets Look to Next Year: Time to Play It Safe

Patrick HarrelCorrespondent IIMarch 27, 2010

CHICAGO - MARCH 22: Kevin Martin #12 of the Houston Rockets puts up a shot and is fouled by Kirk Hinrich #12 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 22, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Rockets 98-88. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Just over two weeks ago on March 9, two key Rockets, Kyle Lowry and Trevor Ariza, returned from injuries and helped the Rockets start a four-game winning streak. All was going well, and the Rockets' playoff hopes were increasing by the day as the team was finally able to mesh after the addition of Kevin Martin.

Then Shane Battier got injured and Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, and Kevin Martin soon followed him into the training room.

With just eleven games left in the season and Houston standing six and a half games out of the eighth spot, the Rockets are all but eliminated from the playoffs. 

Kevin Martin finally sat out against the Bulls after playing with what appeared to be a fairly painful shoulder injury for the last few games. This was a step in the right direction. However, while Adelman may be tempted to play Martin as soon as he can, this move could prove disastrous. 

An already fragile player, playing with an injury only increases the chance that he serious injures himself again.  Re-injuring his shoulder is one risk, but Martin could also develop other problems from compensating for his current injury.

These compensations for injuries can create bad habits that plague players into their later years.  Consider he is supposedly unable to lift his left shoulder above his head without pain, there is a huge risk that he could disturb his shooting mechanics.

The sting of losing Yao Ming for this season was bad enough, but at least the injury came in one of the more exciting playoff series this city has seen in a long time. Imagine the incredible criticism that Rick Adelman and the Rockets would draw if they played Martin while injured and he received an injury that could affect next season.

The same applies to Shane Battier, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, and David Andersen. The Rockets certainly miss these players now (maybe not Jeffries), but Adelman must be incredibly cautious with them, especially Battier, who has a knee injury. 

While it is important to show potential free agents that the Rockets will be viable contenders next year by staying respectable with wins down the stretch, rushing Kevin Martin and others back onto the court when they may not be completely healed could be potentially disastrous.

Furthermore, keeping Battier and Martin off the court would allow the Rockets to find the answers to a few interesting questions going into next year.

Is Trevor Ariza ever going to be an offensive playmaker? Do Jermaine Taylor and Mike Harris have futures with the team? Do Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks work well enough together that it will be worth matching a big offer for Lowry?

I am not proposing "tanking" the season in order to get a better draft pick, as that would clearly hurt the Rockets chances of signing a valuable player this offseason, but rather suggesting a certain cautiousness that should be taken at this time of year.

The Rockets will not be reaching the playoffs this year, but they must do themselves a favor and make sure that they have no nagging injuries when they begin training camp next fall.

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