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Houston Sports Blog - Real sports cities have TWO Conference USA teams

Monday, October 30, 2006

2006-2007 - The Year of Yao

The Texans continue to be a franchise in disarray. The Astros sputtered all summer long thanks to inconsistent pitching and terrible hitting. The Comets are for sale. The 1836 was disbanded before it ever got off the ground (wait, it wasn't?), and the Katy Copperheads offense shows no signs of improving without Bam Morris getting off the leaf. Will this fair city ever see a championship again? Yes, and soon.

The Houston Rockets are going to win the 2006-2007 NBA Championship. Carroll Dawson and Daryl Morey had a splendid offseason, adding Shane Battier, Bonzi Wells and Steve Novak without disturbing the core of their talented team. T-Mac and Yao are reportedly as healthy as could be hoped for. On paper, I do not believe that there is a single team that is unquestionably better than this year's edition of the Rockets. Battier and Wells are great fits, and those two plus Novak and Padgett will provide a quartet of much needed perimeter threats to open up the lane for T-Mac and Yao to go to work. There are questions, naturally, but such is the case with all teams heading into their seasons. Here are three that come to mind.

1. Can T-Mac and Yao stay healthy? Who the hell knows. But if they do, the Rockets have the best inside-outside punch in the league. D-Wade is special, but Shaq's no Yao at this point in his career. Yao is the best center in the league, and T-Mac is without question one of the most versatile talents in the league.

2. Who will back up Yao? This is the one position that I would really like to see the Rockets upgrade before the trading deadline passes. The triumverate of Dikembe Mutombo, Juwan Howard and Chuck Hayes should be able to get the job done, especially on the defensive end, but it would certainly be nice to see a solid big added at some point prior to the playoffs. I expect that if Bob Sura's valiant attempt at a comeback falls short, his roster spot will be used to bring in a veteran big man to help back up Yao.

3. Will Bonzi and JVG be able to co-exist? It's all on Bonzi. I'm admittedly a big-time fan of JVG, but even a more objective observer realizes that JVG has been able to get quality play out of knuckleheads like Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley. Bonzi, much to his own regret, was forced to take a one year deal with the Rockets for about 5% of the money that he was guaranteed to receive in Sacramento. He has much to prove, and he was smart to choose the situation that he chose in Houston. JVG is a player's coach, albeit a tough one, and Bonzi is going to get the opportunity to play a valuable role as the third scorer on a championship contender. If he plays to his capabilities this season in Houston, the sky's the limit for his free agent negotiations next season. But teams around the league are likely to become quite cautious if he is unable to succeed in Houston this season, surrounded by circumstances that appear to fit his role quite perfectly.

I don't know who they'll have to beat to get there, but I do have a feeling that after three tough years, Van Gundy and the Rockets' front office have finally assembled the pieces just right. Everything is in place, and I am very excited to watch them as they begin their long journey to a ring.

3 Comments:

Blogger Tim said...

Interesting assessment. I'd agree that the Rockets are as good as anyone if healthy, but that last qualifier renders me less optimistic than you. Yao's foot and T-Mac's back are enough to keep me up at night. Throw in my fear of Bonzi blowing up, and I'm just hoping for a shot at the O'Brien Trophy.

Mon Oct 30, 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Tragically, I have been informed that Katy lost the Copperheads to Cypress and that the team has been renamed the Texas Copperheads. Why is it that every football team I love has to leave me? Why, God? Why?!!!!!?

Tue Oct 31, 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott,

I agree that, player for player, the Rockets do have as much talent and depth as any other team coming into the season. However, there are a few major oversights contained within your optimistic prediction of a championship.

First off, we all know that attempting to predict an NBA champion is nearly impossible, even for the most informed analysts. Most average fans can fairly easily rule out maybe 40-50% of the league before opening night but among the remaining teams, it is borderline useless to try predict who will walk away as NBA champions.

Secondly, your prediction is largely based on what you view as individuals with potential versus proven team quality. That must be the basis of your prediction since the Rockets, once again, overhauled their roster over the summer to replace aging, overpaid veterans and disappointing, overpaid acquisitions with better pieces. The reality is that to reach the level of play exhibited by the Pistons and Spurs and more recently, the Mavericks, Suns and Heat, it is essential to develop a foolproof, team concept and mindset that is shared by the entire team in addition to having talented players and a deep bench. Those teams that are fortunate enough to end up realizing this state of basketball Zen and bond their common minds together end up looking much like the Mavs and Spurs and win lots of basketball games. You can not achieve this state of mind by getting healthy and adding a few new players to your team during the off-season no matter what those players bring to the table when you start with the mess that has been the Rockets organization now for several years. Chaos rarely becomes organization overnight.

The elite level of team play and cohesiveness displayed by teams like San Antonio and Detroit develops gradually over a number of seasons and it requires some level of consistency from season to season throughout the organization. The Rockets have faced more inconsistencies over the last four years than any other team in the league. A lineup of Francis/Moochie, Mobley, Posey/Thomas, Griffin, Cato coached by Rudy Tomjonavich has transformed into a lineup of Alston/Spanoulis, Snyder/Head/Wells, McGrady, Battier/Howard, Yao/Mutombo coached by Jeff Van Gundy over the last 30 months or so and Carroll Dawson is leaving next summer while new faces are popping up in management every other day. This may be the best Houston team in 10 years in terms of talent and depth, but the chaos is still present and there has been no consistency in several years to this day. It is a testament to our new coach and some of the players that we even made the playoffs two seasons in a row prior to the disaster of 2005-06.

As a whole, pathetic mismanagement has created a literal mess over the past decade. Van Gundy and a few others have given us the possibility to restore some consistency in Houston. As I stated earlier, consistency is a prerequisite to success as much as the talent of the players and the depth off the bench. A team can not learn to think as one amidst such turmoil. The premier teams in the NBA had to avoid such chaos to become champions. The Spurs wouldn’t have won a thing with the same core of players (Parker, Ginobili, Duncan) if they didn’t have Popovich and a good environment to develop what has become Spurs basketball. This same is true that if Popovich and management didn’t have those talented core players, there would not be 3 banners hanging in the Aladome. If management had continue made bad decisions financially and positioned the wrong players around those guys, the Spurs would not have become what they are today, what you want to believe the Rockets will magically become this season - champions.

Beyond consistency and good management, the process of evolving into a premier NBA team requires a base of talented basketball players, the right combination of players, good coaching and good health not to mention the intangibility of good fortune. If you are able to combine consistency and good decision making at the top with these elements, then you have positioned yourself as an elite NBA team and still only given yourself a chance to win a championship. The Rockets made great strides during the off-season, especially when considering the draft pool was relatively weak this year and that, once again, we were faced with minimal cap space. In early summer, we actually thought Mike James, a player who we sent packing just a few months earlier, would be our best and only move of the off-season. James rejected our offer and headed off to KG Land.

This mysterious process of becoming the best team in the NBA (not just having the best individual players), and possibly setting the stage for a dynastic years of excellence, involves several components that do not yet exist in Houston. You can buy the best processor, memory, hard drive, motherboard, etc... known to mankind but you can’t build a supercomputer unless you know how to put the parts together and make sure they are compatible with one another. Some of the parts may not even work once you take them out of the box. Even if the parts are good, you don’t know if it is the great machine you envisioned until you have put it together and tested it. Eventually, you may feel confident that you built a great machine.

Anything is possible and optimism is a great thing, but if you are truly a JVG fan, it is time to borrow a tablet of pessimism from him and come down from the clouds to see the reality of the situation. Pessimism can be a virtue. JVG has proven that by making a career out of it. JVG was always missing some pieces of the puzzle whether it was talent, good management or players with the right attitude. Throughout his career, he has consistently maximized the potential of teams with mediocre talent and questionable management. If there is a coach in this league that deserves to experience leading a team to the Promise Land, it is Coach Van Gundy. So, borrow some of his healthy skepticism for a minute before you start planning a celebration 98 games in advance.

I agree that the Rockets have the most talented group of players and deepest team Houston has seen in years, but unfortunately that is all they have for sure at this point. We have yet to even see Bonzi in uniform and preseason games are hardly reflective of regular season competition. I don’t think the Rockets themselves even know how good they are and I think we will find out along with them over the next couple of months.

There are a lot of new faces, again, on this 2005-06 version of the Houston Rockets. I am not convinced that Spanoulis even knows everybody on the team by name. Battier was in Memphis just a few weeks ago. Where the hell is Bonzi? Kirk Snyder almost attacked our bench last season and now he is looking to be our starting shooting guard. Did Juwan really steal those sunglasses several months ago and why has he seen all of five minutes of action this preseason? Is McGrady’s back really going to hold up this season and, more importantly, but over the rest of his career? He is our franchise player and deservedly if he can stay on the court. Does Yao have chronic foot problems? He wouldn’t be the first giant with that condition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spanoulis walks up the wrong tunnel at the Toyota Center during halftime against Dallas on Nov. 4th. How many Red Bull energy drinks does that Lucas kid drink right before game time? I thought he was on PCP a few games ago, not that I know what it feels like to be on that stuff.

I am starting to believe that Houston may really turn the corner this time. I believe this could be the beginning of something good for the Rockets, but I do not believe this season will culminate in downtown Houston as it did over a decade ago. Maybe JVG is starting to rub off on me through the TV and I have become overly pessimistic or maybe I am just willing to face the facts of what it takes to become an NBA champion. For the Rockets, it will take some time and patience. The team needs us as fans. They know we want them to win the championship every year but we need to be realistic as well as supportive.

I hope things go well for our team this season and we continue to make the right moves on and off the court. That way, when I come across a random article next year at this time written by a random Rockets fan that talks about championship contention, I will be able to believe it wholeheartedly. I can truly see the Rockets contending in 2007-08. Things are definitely going in the right direction but given the way last season went, I am content for now with enjoying the upgraded Houston Rockets one game at a time. I just want to see some good basketball and consistency on the court. We the fans haven’t seen that in a long time.


-Mark
Rockets Fan

Tue Oct 31, 02:00:00 PM  

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