In anticipation of tonight’s game between the Washington Wizards and the Houston Rockets, the guys at The Dream Shake were gracious enough to answer some questions I had about their team. Read on……
1) Before the season, I berated Michael Wilbon on Bullets Forever for writing what I considered to be a hack-job of an NBA column. Part of my issue with his piece was misplaced optimism about the Houston Rockets. This is what I said:
Stories out of Rockets camp read much like the high the Wizards were feeling upon leaving Richmond….great camp, excited to match-up against someone other than teammates. But if you’re telling me that “optimism” in Houston is anything more than extremely guarded, you’ve got to be kidding yourself.
The team’s two stars, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, have missed a combined 148 games over the past three seasons. In fact, T-Mac had knee surgery in May and has already announced that he’s got an arthritic shoulder which will require surgery after this season. Rockets fans may be excited about their prospects, but if they’re not walking on egg shells regarding that key issue of health, just as Wizards fans were after this latest setback with Arenas, then I’m at a loss.
So….was I wrong? Were you optimistic before the season, or guarded? How do you feel about the championship prospects for the team today as the Rockets continue to experience health issues?
You can be realistic while still being optimistic. I said the Rockets would win 62 games this year. Now, you may say, hold up, that’s blatantly optimistic.
Here’s what I say:
The Rockets won 55 games last year. That was without Yao for the latter part of the season, including the last 10-0 stretch of 22 games in a row. That was without Tracy for portions where the team actually played well for the first time since he’s been here and had time out. And most importantly that was without a true backup for Shane Battier and Tracy McGrady that we now have in Ron Artest. So I was saying they would win 7 more games. They could have done that without a few slip ups here and there last year, like an early season loss to the Grizzlies.
So while it was optimistic, it wasn’t overly so. Every team in the league experiences health issues, so I’m less bothered by it than a lot of people are. The off-season surgery to McGrady was the first of his career, and it was supposed to stop his knee from having any further issues. It was a leap of faith to believe that, but taken on face value, with them only removing free floating calcium deposits in the knee, it made a lot of sense. It wasn’t ACL surgery. He did have shoulder surgery as well, but that was more precautionary. I have the same injury in my shoulder and I’ve never had surgery for it. And Yao got a screw in his foot for what was the first “non-freak”, “non-collision” injury of his career. Before that I always made the argument that he was more unlucky than injury prone. And the screw was supposed to stop stress fractures from occurring again. It appears it has done its job considering how fast he came back for the Olympics and that his recent MRI showed no damage. Either way, a slow start isn’t a big deal. The Rockets have an easier schedule right after the New Year than they did last year and that could help them rack up a lot of wins in a row again. They are still learning to play together and the continuity is not there yet. So while 62 wins is optimistic, it’s not a wholly unreachable number, even at 7-5.
2) Say there was an NBA expansion draft before this season and you can only protect 8 players. Yao, T-Mac, Artest and Scola seem pretty obvious (I’m assuming that even with his injuries, you protect T-Mac and his salary because he’s only on the books through next season….but tell me if I’m wrong), who else do you protect?
I wouldn’t protect TMac, for the most part, because of his salary. It’s highly unlikely a team would take him on at 21MM dollars. His coming off the books in this scenario isn’t a big factor because we could replace him with someone that comes off the books in the same manner and in theory he would come off the books now instead of later. But I’ll play along and say that there is a 50% fear that someone would take him and our replacement, while cheaper, is a terrible tradeoff. So we have 4 games named and my other 4 in order:
- Carl Landry – I love his energy and his floor presence. He’s easily the first “backup” guy to keep
- Shane Battier – Shane could be 1A here, there is no way I’m just letting go of him. He’s a heck of a trade piece if for some reason he wasn’t in the future plans. And the fact is that he’s likely to be the starter when he comes back so Artest can dominate with the second team. Plus, you have to love the whitest man in the NBA
- Aaron Brooks – Speed + the ability to finish without dunking, that’s a pretty good combination. He has been more than I even expected he could be this year. His potential has officially gone about 10 levels higher than I thought it could.
- Von Wafer? Rafer Alston?– While our bench does go 8 or 9 deep and Rafer would be an option here, I’m fine with losing any of these guys provided we’re replacing them with someone. None of them is irreplaceable.
3) How satisfied, or unsatisfied, are you with Rafer Alston? Is starting Aaron Brooks over Skip to My Lou an option? If you could change one thing about this Rockets team (make a trade), would it involve the point guard position?
Great. Googly. Moogly. No I’m not satisfied with Rafer. Our blog actually started because Dave and I wanted Rafer gone. (Note: Dave is going to be ecstatic that I actually admitted that.) Has he been acceptable? Sure. He is a good defender and when he’s on, the Rockets can’t be beat. He’s rarely on from a FG% standpoint though. His passing has improved and he doesn’t throw the unexplainable pass to n
owhere as often, so that is nice. But he’s 31 and he’s not going to learn to shoot anytime soon. I don’t hate Rafer, but let’s not act like he’s Shane Battier off the court; doing good for the world. He’s a punk, and he’s not misunderstood, that’s just what he is. I’m fine with that on my team, this is basketball, not church camp, but I become less amenable to it when you also can’t shoot.
Aaron Brooks is not an option this year to start, that’s why I’ve said that Rafer actually might be the perfect fit for this team now that he doesn’t throw the ball away twice a game “just ’cause”. But his defense on Chris Paul, and don’t let anyone fool you, he was all over Paul from the start of the game, gave me confidence that players can’t just bully him. Big PGs that are physical will eat him up, but there aren’t a ton of those out there anymore, so I think he might become viable as a starter as soon as next year.
At the end of last season I would have told you that are three biggest needs, in order, were: 1. Get a top 10 PG, 2. Get a back up SG or SF 3. Get a legitimate backup Center.
If I could change one thing about the team and get a mid-level star in return, then yes, it would be PG. But barring that, the number one need on this team right now (besides the health fairy) is a backup C that is 7 feet tall. And while I think Dikembe Mutombo is the answer this year, I don’t believe he is the answer next year. I can’t tell you how much I wanted Roy Hibbert in the draft. That’s not to say I’m not pleased with the way our draft was turned into Crazy Pills, he filled number 2 on that list. Actually, he more than filled number two as he can be a starter in this league at the 2 or 3. And since Brooks has stepped up, and we aren’t getting a top 10 PG, backup center is our glaring weakness.
Thanks again to the guys at The Dream Shake. Be sure and check some of their latest posts out, including: A Q&A with the Orlando Magic Blog, Third Quarter Collapse, and why they hate Jason Terry.
[photo source: flickr/project 404]