Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Out of Fuel

So my Rockets lay an egg last night against the Nets and may have pulled the plug on their postseason chase in the process.  It was already a steep hill after wallowing at the bottom of the conference for much of the year, and it may finally be lights out.  The Rockets would need to go 14-4 the rest of the way to garner a tepid 43-win season and maintain a sliver of hope that the Lakers might fall apart, but it’s doubtful either scenario will unfold.  The Rockets face harrowing matchups against their conference leading in-state rivals next without Tracy McGrady, who is possibly done for the year because of a bulging disc in his back.

In any case, I figure I may as well not put off writing the obituary.  The obvious is that Houston’s season was essentially over by January, marred primarily because of injuries to McGrady and Yao that were both major and staggering, leaving the roster one-handed for over half of the year.  Still, why did no one seem to step up?  Was the roster that shallow?  Was the coaching not up to the task?  Wait…hold on…it’s….REPORT CARD TIME!  

I would not incriminate:
-Dawson: a GM is your negotiator that finalizes deals. The coach has a large amount of input on what type of players to bring in, and the GM needs to make it happen for value (contract or trade). CD has done a fine job, IMO. The only bad contract on the roster (Juwan) came as part of the price for McGrady.  B+

-Yao: growing into an elite center, not just relative to today’s players, but historically (PPG per season: 13.5, 17.5, 18.3, 21.8). He's not far away, and the Ric Smits stuff can be tossed in the trash pile.  Leads the league not only in scoring at the center position (yes, that includes Shaq) but as the target of critics that talk out of both sides of their mouth.  A

-McGrady: you can't play through a slipping disc in your back. Anyone that thinks he could or should needs to moonlight in an orthopedic clinic for a week. My only hope is that he properly treats it before he walks down the path of Larry Johnson.  B

-Alston: he's done a great job since getting over his fibular fracture. Mike James can pile up points and 3s, but he can't run an offense.  Skip can.  B-

-Howard: been playing smart and effectively all year, with nothing but professionalism and stepping up with some 20-point nights when we've been decimated.  B

-Hayes: scrappy guy who's playing above most expectations. By rights, he should be a practice only guy, but his hustle on the boards has been fantastic.  B-  

-Wesley: his wheels have fallen off, but he's given everything left in the tank.  C+
-Barry, Anderson, Sura: Likewise, when you're done you're done.  INC

In between:
Luther Head - he's a rookie, so he gets a pass, but he's got to smooth out his game. Avg'ed 8 PPG, but he isn't a 8ppg guy: he's 15 ppg combo guard that is a ghost for week+ long stretches. Part of that is his youth, part of it is indecision on JVG's part regarding his role as a 2 or a 1. He's a keeper either way, but his progress will determine if he's a bench guy or future starter.  C+

- nothing impressive either way. Good defense, limited offense, can't comment on his character yet.  C

- minutes are declining, but that's mostly because Yao's been so hot. C+

Focus of my disappointment:
Stromile Swift - the only good thing about him right now is his contract is a good value. The majority of local fans were determined to keep their heads in the sand regarding his Memphis track record, but lo and behold he's every bit the tantalizing talent & underachiever here. Minutes are on par with his time in blue, but his numbers are barely on par with his career averages. Absolutely disinterested in hitting the boards. Meanders on defensive rotations and switches. But puts down one or two terrifying slams a game to keep half of the fanbase thinking that making him a starter with big minutes is the only thing keeping him from being Amare Stoudamire.  D

Jeff Van Gundy
- Let's start off by noting my absence in any in-game Fire Gundy chants at the Toyota Center. That said, a ton of blame lands on his shoulders for this season. Two general reasons why I feel so:(a) his push on Dawson for older players. Rudy was obsessed with bigs that played on the perimiter like himself, JVG wants grizzled vets for role players. Unfortunately, this saps the team of athleticism and quickness, sticks us with guys that are out of gas, and has taken precedence over real niche needs (shooting). As a result, McGrady (when 100%), Head (maybe), and Alston are the only players on the roster able to get around their man or hope to stay in front of him on the other end. Our defensive rotations are horrible because guys just don't have the footspeed to make them. Our scoring hits a brickwall when there is no one on the court that can create their own shot, let alone for others.(b) resistance to adjust to his roster. There are two kinds of coaches in the league - ones that install a system with the postseason in mind (JVG, Phil, Pop, Brown) and those that focus on maximizing the strengths of the roster (Don Nelson, Doc Rivers, etc). JVG is therefore stubborn to allow adjustments that go away from what he feels is necc for a championship (ex. his reluctance to put Yao in the high post as a passing center). That stubborness contributed to the collapse when Yao and McGrady missed so many games. He is adverse to bandaid solutions, even short term, and it may have cost us the few games we need for an 8th seed.  D+

All that said, I can live with writing this season off as snakebit. Bring in some fresher legs, especially a SG that can drill with range, and we should be just fine next year. There's little you can do when your top two players both miss a third of your games.


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