Houston Rockets Fall Apart with No Clear Fix Available as Trade Deadline Nears

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJanuary 10, 2011

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Head coach Rick Adelman of the Houston Rockets talks to his team during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 20, 2010 in Oakland, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Welcome back to Choke City.

The days of Mario Elie's "Kiss of Death" and Hakeem Olajuwon's last-second tip of a Clyde Drexler-miss are long gone. No one can seriously use the word "clutch" and this edition of Houston's hoops squad in the same sentence.

It is OK to be a diehard fan and also come to grips with this tough reality. I still love them. You still love them.

But we have to stop kidding ourselves. Former FEMA director Michael Brown was not doing a "heckuva job" in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina, and these Rockets will never approximate the 1990s crunch-time heroes.

Give this to the 2010-2011 team: they gag as a unit. Saturday's meltdown against the Utah Jazz at Toyota Center was the second nauseating, late giveaway in a week. It took everyone on the roster to again snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.

Red is indeed rising. That would be blood pouring from the mouths of fans who have thrown up so much watching this team squander leads and miss defensive assignments that the pain of incessant vomiting has damaged their esophagi.

I am as sick of writing the same column about the Rockets as you are of reading it. Until this squad pops another DVD in the player for us to watch, we are stuck with this repetitious, dreary movie.

The defenseless Rockets are waiting for a train, one that will take them far away from this mess of an 0-5 start to 2011. They know where they hope this train will take them, but they can't be sure.

Here is the worst thought of all, as Carmelo Anthony landing in the New York-New Jersey area seems likelier by the day: what if that train to salvation does not come in February? Fans fed up with the losing streaks and botched endgame execution want GM Daryl Morey to make the upcoming trade deadline as active as a toddler on a sugar high.

He will undoubtedly work the phones and racks up hundreds, maybe thousands of minutes calling the 29 other men who occupy his same front office position. That does not mean his efforts will be rewarded with the kind of fleecing Rockets supporters have come to expect.

Houstonians should trust Morey. He makes bold deals and does not emerge on the losing end of them. At worst, transactions that do not benefit the Rockets as projected become draws.

With precious few useful commodities on the market, though, what can Morey pull off that does not involve kidnapping or a hostage situation? NBA.com, ESPN and Yahoo!Sports have all reported the Nets are closing in on a three-team deal that would land Anthony in New Jersey.

Anthony, unnamed sources say, still prefers New York.

Those same sports outlets have also reported that the Nets would love to pair Anthony with Chris Paul, stuck with the New Orleans Hornets for two more years thanks to a contract extension he signed. It takes two teams to make a trade. The Rockets can wish for Paul and Anthony in one hand, but they should expect Denver and New Orleans to crap in the other.

It makes no sense to send either star to a Western Conference squad when a possible transaction partner in the Eastern Conference can offer the same number of attractive assets, headlined by a third overall pick with legitimate star potential. The Rockets cannot dangle Derrick Favors in a trade, and the Knicks make the 2011 draft pick they surrendered look a lot less valuable every time they win.

The Rockets began November 0-5, but then beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers and Knicks. Rick Adelman hoped Aaron Brooks would return from a right ankle sprain in time to add another explosive option to the team's scoring arsenal.

He also wanted to believe Yao Ming would play again this season after a left ankle sprain forced him to the bench.

The Rockets drubbed the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and Houston's prospects of swapping picks with New York for a lottery spot looked as promising as ever. Then Amar'e Stoudemire amassed a scoring rampage not seen since Patrick Ewing roamed the interior and the Knicks decided to challenge for perhaps the fourth or fifth seed.

An MRI revealed a stress fracture in Yao's left ankle and ended his season.

Brooks did return in mid-December, but he struggled to make shots and lacked the speed bursts that made him a lethal weapon. He re-aggravated the injury last week and has not played since.

The Rockets now seem like safer bets to join 13 other franchises in Secaucus.

Houston, barring a miracle finish, figures to pick higher than New York in the 2011 Draft.

Fans wish the bad news ended there. Instead, the supposed top-tier trade chips Morey possessed seem to lose some luster with each week.

Each time Jordan Hill starts in place of the injured Chuck Hayes and plays with lethargy, he gives opposing GMs one more reason not to take the same chance on him the Rockets did. Would you trade for a center who grabbed four rebounds against an undersized Utah Jazz front line?

Chase Budinger and the rest of the youngsters ranked as sexier assets this summer. Rockets players not named Luis Scola and Kevin Martin are shooting below 40 percent in January.

Houston connected on just 13-of-46 second half shots in Saturday's collapse.

The next question becomes even tougher to answer. What could Morey acquire that would make parting with Scola, Martin or any other player worth the pain? The Rockets already dumped fan favorite Carl Landry to get Martin. Why jettison Martin now for another role player, a scrub or a stiff?

Anthony appears destined to end up near the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty, whether in Newark or Manhattan. If Paul leaves New Orleans before his contract expires, it will not be to come here.

The two superstars mentioned in trade discussions are out of Morey's reach. He can beg and plead all he wants, but Masai Ujiri and Dell Demps are not obligated to appease him or Rockets supporters.

Anthony, like Chris Bosh the previous summer, wants something Houston cannot deliver. He is from New York and spent his one collegiate year at Syracuse University. He craves the kind of star union LeBron James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade formed in Miami.

'Melo is not a Rockets fan. He would rather team up with Stoudemire than Scola. He would take Paul as a starting mate over Brooks or Lowry.

No one else rumored as available would fill the superstar void that continues to sink Rick Adelman's ship. Those fixated on Andre Igoudala should look elsewhere. Trust me on this one.

You want Trevor Ariza, part II? Be my guest. I don't.

Igoudala is a stellar complimentary piece and a designated stopper. The Rockets have plenty of role players, though not enough of them can play acceptable defense.

Can one above average athlete patch the gaping holes in the Rockets' coverage? If the name on the back of his jersey does not read Howard, Duncan or Olajuwon, no way.

Yahoo!Sports writer Marc Spears reported last week that Marcus Camby does not want to be traded from Portland, but would accept a deal that sent him to Houston. Camby owns a home in Pearland.

Morey, though, has expressed his dedication to the Rockets' long term welfare. A 37-year-old shot-blocker who still falls for easy up fakes might not even help much in the short term.

Camby still produces despite his climbing age, but he cannot put a 16-21 outfit over the top, whatever that means.

Bleacher Report's NBA editor asked me to predict five or six mega-deals that might involve Yao's expiring $17 million contract.

Forgive me, but I do not see any on the horizon. Morey wants to trade Yao to net a utility youngster or a star, not garbage. He also does not want to donate the Trevor Ariza trade exception.

Leslie Alexander does not want to spend money for the sake of spending it. Competent NBA owners do not treat their payroll like a Happy Meal toy. Jerry Buss shells out the cash necessary to keep the L.A. Lakers competitive for championships, but he thinks before he opens his wallet. 

The Washington Wizards were desperate to ship out Gilbert Arenas. When they found a taker with a reasonable offer, they jumped head first into the water like a diving champion at the Olympics. The Rockets can live with Yao on the roster beyond the February deadline.

They still consider him a vital component of the organization, even if they should think otherwise.

Morey covets a franchise star like Deron Williams. After a slapdash first half, Williams did what elite performers do. He ran the Jazz offense with supinity, while the Rockets crumbled with the pressure to put away the game mounting.

Until the rudderless Rockets unearth the next anchor and championship-caliber engine, they will hover in the land of commonness.

The January slate does ease up after a win-less first week. The Rockets will joust with the East-leading Boston Celtics at TD Garden in a few hours sans Martin, Hayes and Brad Miller. The Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Hornets and Atlanta Hawks loom. The month ends with road games at San Antonio and Dallas.

Given that the losing streak could reach 10 by Saturday night, fans will implore Morey to do something to shake up the roster and energize the fanbase. Let this column serve as a harsh reality check.

I doubt I printed anything here that would make Johnathan Feigen, Fran Blinebury or another hoops writer tuned in to the Rockets scoff. Those in touch with reality see a porous team without a star shepard. They also know the Rockets need to become adequate defensively and employ a superstar just to secure a postseason berth.

True title contention will require much more.

February, in most years, would come with guaranteed change. With so little obtainable on the market, Morey may have to wait until this summer or beyond to cure what ails the gagging Rockets.

Until then, all Adelman's squad can do is play doctor in lieu of seeing a real one. The Celtics' roster boasts 52 combined All-Star appearances.

The Rockets? Try two.

One week ago, the team arrived in Portland a half-game behind the No. 8 seeded Blazers. Thanks to another 0-5 stretch, the Rockets have been lapped and left in the dust.

If they want to return to the playoff chase, they will need to find a way, with the current cast, to stop choking on it.


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