Website: Rockets Blast
Author: Kurt Nordquist
Last Year’s Record: 34-48
Key Losses: Stromile Swift (trade), David Wesley (FA)
Key Additions: Shane Battier, Kirk Snyder, Bonzi Wells, Vassilis Spanoulis, Steve Novak (draft)
Rockets Preview: The Houston Rockets need a lot of things to go right for them to finally reach the potential most expected from them at the beginning of last season. Riddled with injuries throughout the year, Houston never really challenged in the West, much less the Southwest division, but the inside game of Yao Ming finally grew into one of determination and dominance at the center position. He and fellow superstar Tracy McGrady absolutely must stay healthy this year, and learn to play with some new key additions to return Houston to the playoffs. TMAC says he feels zero pain in his back and is poised and ready to return to an MVP-level of play. His off-season workout routine dropped 15 pounds off his body and strengthened his core muscle groups to better withstand the rigors of an 82 game schedule.
At this years NBA draft, the Rockets stunned the league by trading away a suspected sure thing with Rudy Gay – trading him to a division rival in Memphis for proven defender Shane Battier. Battier has shown his value to the Rockets already in the summer World Championships, even taking a crucial charge from Yao Ming of the Chinese team that dropped jaws from both sides of the world. Jeff Van Gundy must figure out how to share the ball between guards Rafer Alston, Luther Head, Kirk Snyder, Vassilis Spanoulis (coming over from the Greek leagues), and hopefully Bobby Sura if he can return to the team healthy after missing all of last year. Second round pick Steve Novak should find himself in as a role player with his shooting accuracy from behind the arc where he’s just nasty good. In the frontcourt, Dikembe Mutombo returns with Juwon Howard and youngster, but battler, Chuck Hayes. Sparkplug John Lucas III was signed in the summer after showcasing his skills reminiscent of his Oklahoma State form when he dominated offensively in the Big XII and NCAA Tournament during his college years. Just recently, Houston bolstered their lineup with much heralded free agent Bonzi Wells to a 2-year $5M deal to give them a supremely deep and veteran backcourt that should provide for some interesting competition at that position. Scott Padgett also signed with Houston the week before training camp just one year removed from leaving the team to play on the east coast.
With Dallas and San Antonio still providing tough competition in the division, and Memphis and NO/OKC being no pushovers themselves, it’s going to be a series of tough battles in the Toyota Center that should provide plenty of excitement for Rockets fans this year as Yao and Company try to bring to the city of Houston a return to the glory days.
Keys for the new season:
Major issue for the team will be its ability to avoid the critical injuries that have plagued this franchise over the last few years. While Tracy McGrady’s back problems seemingly to be a part of the past, already this year we’ve seen the toe issues with Yao Ming take him out of the preseason lineup for 7-10 days. The deal with his shoes is causing a war of words between TMAC and the fellahs at Reebok, as this particular big toe issue has been going on well over a year. The Great Wall of China has over a billion followers, so you would think the footwear people would have been on this and taken care of the issues by now. Every day Yao is nursing his toenails, is one more day away from getting into gameday shape to start the season. Judging from last year’s record, the Rockets can ill afford to miss any time with the likes of the Spurs and Mavericks battling for Texas supremacy.
Projected 2006-07 Record: 57-25
Top 4 finish with first round home playoff series