With the recent comments made from Rockets’ staff regarding Yao’s minutes (see Thomas’ post below), and rumors that Houston is interested in Erick Dampier and Kyrylo Fesenko, there are a few things you could take away from what has transpired over the offseason at center.
First, I don’t think we can assume Yao isn’t going to be effective or that the staff is worried about Yao’s abilities (for the Rockets’ sake, that better not be the case), but I certainly think they’re taking his injury problems seriously. Do I buy the whole “if there’s eight seconds remaining and he’s played 24 minutes I’m pulling him” comment? Of course not. You’d need a bulldozer to pull the Great Wall from a clutch moment. That being said, I think it is smart to watch his minutes and see how his legs hold up for the first few weeks (maybe months) of the season.
That being said, I think it’s safe to say Adelman and Morey aren’t exactly comfortable behind Yao if they’re going after Dampier and Fesenko. While many would say that Miller is an ideal player in Adelman’s offense (he is) and he will likely play much better on that end of the floor than he has in years (he will), most people overlook his faults on defense, mainly that he’s never been a great shot blocker or rebounder and he’s slower than molasses (I hate it when the Southerner in me kicks in). And I think it’s safe to say that they have no faith in Jordan Hill at the 5, whatsoever.
Dampier is everything Miller is not and vice versa. While Dampier has shot at least 62 percent from the floor the last four seasons, from outside of seven or eight feet, he might as well be shooting a bowling ball into a thimble. He gets a lot of points from put backs, as he’s an exceptionally good offensive rebounder and a superior rebounder to Miller. His 15.0 rebounds per 48 minutes would be 9th best in the league if he had qualified last season while Miller’s 9.8 is good enough for 58th best. Dampier is also the shot blocker this team desperately lacked last season and still lacks while Yao is on the bench, averaging 2.89 blocks per 48 minutes (14th best), compared to Miller’s 0.71 (91st best). Miller averages fewer blocks than 6-2 guard Jeff Teague!
All that being said, is it wrong that my natural hatred for the Mavericks is kicking in a little bit and the thought of seeing Dampier in a Rockets’ uniform makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth? And I don’t know that I feel comfortable with three 30+-year-old centers. In a year or two the 34-year-old Miller and 35-year-old Dampier will need walkers to get around the court and Houston will lack depth at the 5 again. Instead, why not take a shot on Fesenko? The Russian is only 23 (same age as Jordan Hill), and while he has only played about eight minutes a game for his career, he could turn out to be a very good backup center in a couple of years, and Houston won’t have a frontcourt full of senior citizens.
Personally, I think Fesenko is the safer pick in the long run, but Dampier would help the team more this season, so it’s a toss-up, though the Jazz will likely match whatever the Rockets offer, so it’s probably a moot point.
If someone does get added, who’s being subtracted? We can obviously assume that (barring trades) the starters will still be here:
- Aaron Brooks
- Kevin Martin
- Shane Battier
- Luis Scola
- Yao Ming
After that, Houston has some bench players that will certainly make the cut:
- Kyle Lowry
- Courtney Lee
- Chase Budinger
- Brad Miller
The leftovers are either young and haven’t done anything or are limited veterans, so I could see any of them moved to the D-league, cut or traded (note that I’m not taking Ishmael Smith, Mike Harris or Alexander Johnson into consideration, as there’s no way they make the team):
- Jordan Hill
- Patrick Patterson
- Chuck Hayes
- Jared Jeffries
- Jermaine Taylor
Adding Dampier or Fesenko gives Houston 15 players, with 10 of them locks and those remaining five guys fighting for roster spots. I’ll go ahead and confidently say Hill will make the lineup and Taylor will be in the D-league again. That leaves us with two savvy defenders and a rookie. Houston has already tried to move Jeffries, but if they can’t do it, I really like his versatility as he can pretty much guard any position from SG-PF and he’s not inept offensively. Patterson was Houston’s first round pick, so I have a hard time moving him to the D-league, and who wants to be the guy to cut the Chuckwagon? I’m just glad I don’t have to make those decisions.
And now (way to bury the lead, Matt), I’ll address the elephant in the room. What if Houston is trying to acquire more front court depth because Morey is trying to package Yao in a trade? If you’re Denver, and you knew Melo wanted out, wouldn’t you love to rent Yao Ming for a season and get $18 million off the books at the end of the year? If the Rockets packaged Yao with a couple of young players (Bud, Hill, Patterson or Taylor) and draft picks, I think that’s a pretty impressive offer that few other teams could match.
Is it likely? No, but I take nothing for granted when Daryl Morey is involved. Houston is obviously in the hunt for Melo, Yao has serious value as an expiring contract and a very talented center, so I rule nothing out at this point. I just hope the Rockets can acquire another big if they’re serious about making this move. I shudder at the thought of this frontcourt without Yao (and I still taste vomit from the thought of Dampier as a Rocket).