Houston Rockets Fans Should Cozy Up to Current Roster

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst ISeptember 20, 2010

CHICAGO - MARCH 22: Aaron Brooks #0 of the Houston Rockets drives around 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

The Houston Rockets open training camp in less than a week and play their first preseason game Oct. 7 against the San Antonio Spurs.

A few thousand fans hope that will not be the only present that arrives in mere days. Some Rockets supporters have been pining for a pair of players since trade rumors leaked earlier this summer. One of those fellas wears No. 3 and the other, more likely to be dealt star dons No. 15. More than a few Houstonians are stuck in a CP3/'Melo state of mind.

The New Orleans Hornets and Denver Nuggets are under no obligation to deal Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony, even if the disgruntled franchise players raise a landfill-size stink.

The premiere of Anthony's reality television show, and new info from "sources familiar with the situation," has whipped the rumormongers into another frenzy. One article posted on Bleacher Report today used 'Melo's TV foray as proof he was headed for Hollywood.

I ate an Idaho-grown baked potato this weekend. That must mean I prefer that region to Texas, right? What does my shaver say about my next destination? This sordid trade saga has become a ridiculous speculation festival. It seems everyone, including the people who should know better, have accepted the party invitation. You might remember the Rockets-'Melo piece I published a few weeks ago.

Most of my proposed trade packages included Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, or both. A number of readers said those two should qualify as deal breakers. A few others also lamented that an Anthony transaction would wipe out most or all of GM Daryl Morey's coveted assets. Is 'Melo worth a potential lottery pick, Brooks, Martin, Shane Battier, or any $17 million combination?

Those who would answer with an emphatic "no," will receive the greatest gift of all come this weekend. Forget Paul and Anthony. Stop praying for players under contract with other teams to land in Houston. Accept reality. See the bright side. Understand the reasons to stay the course and the implications.

This is it, folks—the roster Rick Adelman will coach through training camp, and likely through the trade deadline. If Paul or Anthony becomes available, Morey should do everything possible to get them here. I consider both All-Stars worth the probable, steep asking price.

Since wishful Rockets fans do not cut Dell Demps and Masai Ujiri's paychecks, though, we should get used to a starting lineup with Brooks, Martin, Battier, Luis Scola, and Yao Ming. Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, Brad Miller, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and Jordan Hill will come off the bench.

The team's insistence that Yao will not play more than 24 minutes on any night made Erick Dampier and Kyrylo Fesenko intriguing, low-cost pursuits. Given Yao's fragility, another insurance center would earn his roster spot with his availability alone. Dampier seems likelier to sign with the reloaded Miami Heat than the Texas squad he battled for so many years as the Dallas Mavericks' starting pivot.

The Rockets do not need to add insurance, but that extra coverage would prove a luxury. Morey used the mid-level exception to ink Miller, and Scola and Lowry netted handsome raises this summer. The Rockets, then, cannot offer a remaining free agent more than a veteran's minimum deal.

In a tell-tale sign the hoops bachelor pool has dried up, NBA.com's Art Garcia reported this last week: "Mavs High on Brian Cardinal." I will let you add your own joke.

Morey hopes to pair another perimeter superstar with Yao. He also wants to see if and how his newest group members fit with the 7'6" center. Budinger, Lee, Miller, Hill, and Patterson have played zero minutes alongside Yao.

His limited presence can still change opposing game plans and open up opportunities that did not exist last season, when 6'6" Hayes started at center. Hayes will return to his role as a commodious, courageous, spot minutes post defender.

Morey already dumped Trevor Ariza before he ever suited up next to Yao. Why not give this overhauled cast at least half a season to strut its stuff? Before long, the GM will run out of trade chips and offer himself in potential packages.

The census says this team cannot contend for a title without the kind of upgrade Anthony or Paul would provide. That, of course, is just a guess. A roster packed with this mix of talent, athleticism, and willing role players can surprise critics and exceed most expectations. Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder.

No one can know this squad's ceiling or its limitations until it plays meaningful games. The Rockets open the season with one that qualifies as such, a Staples Center date with the L.A. Lakers. The two-time defending champions will accept their hardware then begin the quest for Phil Jackson's fourth three-peat.

The home opener against the Denver Nuggets follows that first test. Anthony will start for the opponents. When the Hornets visit Toyota Center later this fall, Paul will do the same. It makes no sense for Ujiri or Demps to trade their stars before the deadline.

A hastier breakup will not create more leverage or yield a better return. The teams that want Anthony and Paul will still harbor those same feelings in February. The same transactions options will still exist.

CP3 and 'Melo are superstar-caliber performers. Franchises spend as long as a decade trying to unearth those rare specimens. Why should Denver and New Orleans jettison their stars now without another fight?

What if the Nuggets win more than expected, contend for a top three seed in the Western Conference, and talk of league doomsday grows by the day? Would that force Anthony to reconsider his request, or hold off on another jersey-switcharoo, publicity-stunt circus?

Morey can dangle a number of attractive pieces in trade discussions, but he cannot force any hands. A signed contract still ranks as the most important card. Ujiri and Demps can play it at any time.

With the exception of a Dampier-like acquisition, this is it. Rockets fans should welcome this development. The current roster boasts the most interesting mix of players since the Hakeem Olajuwon years. It makes sense to give them time to coalesce.

If this experiment fails, Morey and Alexander can weigh other options as the trade deadline approaches. Anthony and Paul figure to still be among them. For now, trade obsessed Houston fans are stuck with this group.

Those who decry the suggestion of Martin and Brooks as trade bait are stuck with an early Christmas.


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