Yao Ming’s last game as a Houston Rocket was significant, and it happened right before our eyes in Washington, D.C.
November 10, 2010. Rockets versus Wizards. Yao versus Yi (Jianlian) on NBA TV. Millions and millions watching back in China.
Ming started for the Rockets that night alongside Ish Smith, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Shane Battier. Houston’s bench featured Jordan Hill, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, and Brad Miller. Jared Jeffries did not play and on Houston’s inactive list was Aaron Brooks, Jermaine Taylor (who the Wizards once traded to the Rockets for cash instead of drafting DeJuan Blair), and rookie Patrick Patterson — John Wall’s teammate at Kentucky, taken 14th overall in 2010, and interestingly enough, born in Washington, D.C.
The Wizards beat the Rockets 98-91 on that November evening. Yi Jianlian, who turned 25 (or 28) recently, shined. John Wall notched his first triple-double — 19 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds — in just his sixth NBA game. And the Wizards, with team brass selling the Wall-Gilbert Arenas-Kirk Hinrich trio as “one of the best backcourts in the NBA,” moved to 2-4 while the Rockets fell to 1-6. Unfortunately for Houston, Yao got injured six minutes into the game, and it would be career-ending.
That Wizards team featured other, now-departed young players — Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Al Thornton, and Yi himself (depending on which birth certificate you believe). Now, only Wall, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin remain in Washington — three very promising prospects who have thus far proved that the 2010 draft was far more successful for the Wizards than the No. 1 pick simply landing in their laps.
Off that 2010-11 Houston team, Patrick Patterson is now the only player left.
With a surprising blockbuster deal of Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, and three picks (two first rounders and one second, none of them Houston’s own) going to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward, general manager Daryl Morey has drastically turned-over the Rockets in a very short amount of time. Including Patterson, just Marcus Morris (14th overall pick in 2011), Chandler Parsons (38th overall in 2011), and Greg Smith (undrafted rookie in 2011) remain on the team from last season.
Houston is pinning huge hopes on Harden in announcing that they will give him a max contract (four-years, around $60 million). This is on top of sizable contracts given to Jeremy Lin (three-years, $25 million) and Omer Asik (three-years, $25 million) this summer. Will it all work out?
In late September Wizards owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog:
“Can one of the great bloggers or fans out there do some homework for me and tell me if any other team has had this amount of massive roster change in two seasons?”
He re-submitted the request halfway into training camp:
“To start the season with basically not a single player on the roster when we bought the team is just one of those, you kind of say, ‘Has anybody else ever tried that?’ I put on my blog the other day and no one answered my question, and I’m too lazy to do the research, but I don’t know if there’s another team in the NBA that’s had that kind of roster turnover and done it as quickly, and frankly, all within budget.”
With their acquisition of Harden, the Rockets have answered Leonsis’s question. But not completely. We still don’t know if a team has done something like this before (although the Miami Heat experienced a lot of turnover after 2009-10). And “within budget” is all relative. Still, Houston has done it faster than the Wizards and without suffering embarrassment for losing on a national scale. Houston finished 43-39 in 2010-11 and a respectable 34-32 last season.
With the exception of Shaun Livingston, Carlos Delfino and Daequan Cook, everyone on Houston’s roster is on a rookie contract or making the minimum. The Rockets will likely have added 10 years and $110 million to their books via Harden, Lin and Asik. The Wizards currently have eight total years and about $95 million tied up in Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
Now, certainly which roster you would take going forward from this point is debatable. My bias sway might choose the Wizards. I like the ‘fastest, strongest point guard in the league with the ball’ (Wall) surrounded by shooters (Brad Beal) and big, bruising defenders (Booker and Seraphin) plan more than relying on creation spawned by Lin and Harden with Asik plodding around the paint. Experts might feel otherwise.
In their “NBA future power rankings” back in August (ESPN insider), John Hollinger and Chad Ford ranked Houston 13th and Washington 28th (a drop off from their previous ranking of 22). The analysts wrote:
Washington does, at least, have some good young players: John Wall, Brad Beal, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker are a solid base, and Nene gives the team a strong veteran center. Also, the draft should contribute more young talent in the next couple of years, as we don’t expect the Wizards’ win total to take off with this crew.
After the Harden acquisition, Hollinger writes this (via ESPN Insider):
And here’s the really scary part: Did you know that Houston still has max cap room next year, even after giving a max deal to Harden? You don’t think the Rockets might be an attractive destination with a Harden-Lin backcourt and all those kids (Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Royce White, Patrick Patterson, Chandler Parsons)? Yowza.
The Wizards and Rockets are trend-setters in fast-tracked rebuilding, that’s for sure. But who will get to the promised land first? Who is more likely to achieve a sustained run as a winning franchise? Which roster would you rather have? Vote below.