Rockets
Rockets

2011 NBA Season in Review: Houston Rockets

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We are introducing a new bit here at Heart of a Champion called 5Q’s where we’ll be answering relevant Rockets questions.  Want to ask us something for our next segment?  Comment on this article and we will try to include your questions in our next 5Q’s.

“How would you grade the Rockets season?”

Matt:

C-…You can’t blame their mediocre season on Yao’s injury, because they should not have banked on him being healthy for a full season. Brooks’ injury early on and attitude problems didn’t do them any favors, but it took the team way too long to develop chemistry and play competitive basketball. They get bonus points for finishing strong after the break, developing their younger players and gaining draft picks for Brooks and Battier but lose points for falling apart their last few games and for their acquisitions of Miller and Williams, neither of which were major factors.

Nick:

D…This was supposed to be the year the Rockets got back on track in the increasing competitive Western Conference.  Not only did Yao have another season ending injury, but the Rockets failed to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season.  They lost a great coach in Rick Adelman (who will probably end up in L.A.) and also surprisingly failed to make a splash at the trade deadline.  The franchise is at a cross-roads and unfortunately will not be in the market for a top name in free agency for the next couple of years.

Julian:

C+… Another season in the books, another missed playoffs. This season felt eerily similar to the 2009-2010 season, with a small improvement of one more win. The Rockets became accustomed to another season without the Great Wall, and relied on the Scola and K-Mart duo to will them towards victories. Once again, Houston had no problem scoring but when you are in the bottom third in the NBA in scoring defense, it’s usually an uphill battle. So despite nagging injuries and a few trades, I would rate this Houston season a C+. With more than the half league making the postseason, I can’t justify any grade higher.

Thomas:

D-…I can’t easily defend my choice in giving a winning, competitive team a failing grade but I’m going to try.  If I were to grade the two halves of the season, it would read more like an F for the first half and a B- for the second half.  On the whole, we spent way too much time trying to mold this group of young role players into something that they weren’t and we didn’t figure out the error in that until the all-star break.  I’m giving the Rockets a D- primarily because we are no better off right now than we were a year ago.  More trade assets, new roles, worse defense and a depressing reluctance to move past the possibility that Yao Ming may never play again.

“Was Adelman leaving the right move for the franchise?”

Matt:

Yes. I liked Rick and I wanted him to stay if this team was going to be competitive next season, but I think it’s fairly obvious that he and Daryl did not see eye to eye on the future of this franchise. Morey is always going to look to make deals to improve the team, while Adelman was always going to want to go with the guys he trusts. This franchise might not yet be at the point of a complete overhaul, but that may be the route Morey eventually takes and it’s clear Adelman was not prepared to make that kind of a drastic change.

Nick:

The Rockets need to bring in a fresh face in to lead (coach and star player).  Morey and Adelman’s disagreements in basketball philosophy were apparent and took a toll on the team by the end of the year.  I really like Slick Rick but if had to choose between him and Morey I would go with Dork Elvis.

Julian:

Simple answer: Yes. Adelman has always been the great offensive guru, but that can only take you so far. I know the injuries and trades may not have been Adelman’s fault, but Houston needed to make a change to avoid another lottery season next year. Think about it; was there any real change from last season to this season? If anything, Houston’s defense declined, and it is time for a new era in Houston. Think back to the Van Gundy days. Houston may not have been a NBA powerhouse, but they were a perennial playoff team (not much to argue with that) and call me crazy, but doing the same thing over and over again to expect different results is the definition of insane. Morey and the Rockets made a good move for now in their decision to let go of Adelman, it just depends on who will replace him.

Thomas:

Yes.  Clearly the management and the head coach were not on the same page.  Adelman knows how to win games and he’s a skilled offensive and (dare I say it?) defensive teacher.  He watched a star studded playoff contending team crumble to pieces during his tenure as head coach and he simply isn’t the kind of guy we need right now.  Even if Houston has less wins at the end of next season I’ll be content as long as there is a discernable motion towards the future and not a death grip on the past.  Rick will win you games but he’s not going to play nice with young egos.  We’re rebuilding and we have been for a couple of seasons now, it’s time to pick a coach who is on board with that.

“Who is your pick for Houston’s head coach next season, and why?”

Matt:

Lawrence Frank. I’d be find with Frank or Casey. I would have preferred Mike Budenholzer or Brian Shaw, but I think those guys are out of the picture. Frank has previous experience, has a defensive mindset that this franchise needs and has some playoff experience with the Kidd, Jefferson, Carter Nets. If he can get Vince Carter into the second round of the playoffs multiple times, he should be able to get this roster with one or two improvements into the postseason.

Nick:

Dwane Casey.  He made a name for himself being the Mavericks defensive specialist this season, which was the achilles heel for the Rockets this year.  When they needed big stops down the stretch, they often weren’t able to come up with them.  The Mavs were one of the top defensive teams in the NBA holding opponents to under 96 points per game this year.  Out of all the candidates I think Casey has the highest ceiling but also is the highest risk.  He didn’t have a great record as the head coach of the T-Wolves from 2005-2007 (with KG) but he is a stats guy which would fit perfectly with how Morey is trying to transform the team.  Could he be the next Thibodeau?  I sure hope so.

Julian:

Staying on the theme of defense, Houston needs a coach with a strong defensive pedigree. A name that quickly comes to mind is former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. A pawn of defensive guru, Gregg Poppovich, Brown is one of the best defensive minds in the league. Forget the Lebron saga in Cleveland, and look at the stats. Under Brown’s years in Cleveland, the Cavs defense ranked 10th, 5th, 9th, 1st, and 5th in the NBA in scoring defense. Now folks, Brown didn’t have Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, or Marcus Camby on his team. Think more along the lines of Varejao, Illgauskas, Williams, and Eric Snow. What also goes unnoticed is how Brown has developed Lebron James into a great defensive player.  Lebron had gone from barely playing defense in his first few years to a current three-time consecutive NBA First-team Defense. I may be overplaying my hand a little here, but with the current Houston Rocket’s firepower, a defensive coach would fit in nicely. Brown, who is currently being pursued by the Lakers, would make a great match for this Rockets team.

Thomas:

Kevin McHale is my pick for the job.  He’s not the most obvious moneyballer and he doesn’t have an established reputation for winning (39-55 as head coach of the Timberwolves) but he is exactly what Daryl Morey has been searching for; a “leader of men”.  The Rockets don’t have a consistent voice right now other than Chuck Hayes.  Lowry is new to being the voice of the team and Battier/Yao are gone for the immediate foreseeable future.    We need a coach who is going to grab this offensive minded team by the balls and hold them accountable for their flaws.  We need somebody who is going to work with Morey’s trades.   I think McHale could be that guy and I think he might also be the leader this team needs right now.  He’s not the sexy ‘Thibodeau’ choice but he’s a basketball player’s coach with the heart of a champion.

“How will you remember the Rick Adelman era?”

Matt:

His offense was fun to watch and he got the best out of the hand he was dealt. He’s the offensive version of Jeff Van Gundy, a guy who was promised a healthy McGrady and Yao, did the best he could, but was never given a fair shot by fate. It will be hard to forget the 22-game winning streak or the team’s second round series against the Lakers. Since the Rockets playoff appearances in the late 90s with Dream and Barkley, I can’t remember more memorable seasons than both of those.

Nick:

Turtlenecks.

Julian:

The Rick Adelman era can be summed up by the past two Rocket’s seasons. Great offensive and scrappy team that hovers around .500 but nothing more. I will also not forget the lack of Yao Ming during the Adelman era, and would a healthy Yao have changed anything? It is unfortunate Adelman didn’t have similar luck as Rocket’s coaches that had come before him, but at some point you have to cut your losses and move on. Change is always a good thing!

Thomas:

There are some moments that I will forever associate with the Adelman era: the 22 game winning streak, defeating Portland in the playoffs and taking the Lakers to 7 games without Yao.  More recently, however, I’ve been enamored with his offense.  That beautiful, fluid, Princeton offense that we never really saw reach its full potential until we had guys like Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin in the starting line up.  No coach we hire is going to come close to that for a very long time.

“Who should the Rockets take (w/o trades) with the 14th pick?”

Matt:

Assuming Kawhi Leonard, Tristan Thompson and  Bismack Biyombo are gone (they could possibly slip), I’ll go with Chris Singleton. Aside from Kanter, none of the center prospects are enticing in the lottery. I can’t imagine Singleton being a star in this league, but he’s been called the best perimeter defender in this draft and that’s clearly a need on Houston’s roster.I wouldn’t mind Jordan Hamilton, Donatas Motiejunas or Kenneth Faried at No. 14 based on talent, but I’m not sure they fill a need. I think Singleton could have an impact similar to Patterson’s rookie year, a good defender who can work his way up to bigger minutes and show potential starter quality for the future.

Nick:

As I wrote last week, I like Chris Singleton for the Rockets.  Especially if they hire Casey, he could become a top defensive player in the NBA.  He would definitely fill a void that Shane Battier left when he went to Memphis.

Julian:

To be quite honest, this 2011 NBA draft isn’t going to shake up any teams. When the top pick is a freshmen point guard who only played one-third of his freshmen season, it doesn’t look like there are many (if any) “sure things” in this upcoming draft. Now given Houston decides no to trade this pick, there is an obvious selection… a center. A defensive center is an absolute must for this Houston team. If Morey declines to explore this option via free agency, then look for Houston to pick up a big defensive body down low. I haven’t delved into the world of NBA draft research quite yet, but a name that would be a solid fit is Jayhawk’s junior Markieff Morris. a 6’10 PF/C, 245 physical frame is just Houston needs. In a draft of great uncertainty, it is always best to take the veteran college player who has proven himself time and again at the college level. There are also many possible international prospects that could make great fits for Houston, but I wouldn’t risk another foreign bust if I was Houston’s front office. Despite some of the few outliers in the NBA, American prospects are always more reliable.

Thomas:

There are a lot of ways I can see this pick going but what I’m hoping for is something untraditional.  Morey made the safe pick last year with Patrick Patterson.  I’d like to see him take a chance on a guy who may or may not develop.  I’ve been pushing for Donatas Motiejunas since last year before he pulled his name from the draft.  He’s a seven foot southpaw with a beautiful stroke that extends out to the NBA 3 point arc.  He gets compared to Dirk occasionally but he’s far from lotto pick.  Donatas has some ego issues and leaves a lot to be desired on defense.  Another un-Morrey-like pick would be Bismack Biyombo.  He’s a shotblocking, defensive minded big man who looks like he could be the next Serge Ibaka.  If you’re not sold on his skills watch this video.  Neither pick is likely though as both players could easily be busts but I would love to see the Rockets take a chance on a wild pitch and knock it out of the park.