NBA Franchise Power Rankings: #24 – Houston Rockets
#30 - Charlotte Bobcats (+ introduction) #29 - Phoenix Suns #28 - Denver Nuggets #27 - Detroit Pistons #26 - Milwaukee Bucks #25 - Philadelphia 76ers
#24 – Houston Rockets
Total Trade Value Ranking: #24 (Feb. 2011 ranking: #23)
Best assets – SG Kevin Martin (borderline all-star), PF Luis Scola (legitimate starter), PG Kyle Lowry (borderline starter), PF Patrick Patterson (young, projects as borderline to legitimate starter), SF/PF Marcus Morris (rookie, projects as borderline to legitimate starter), 2012 NY 1st (top 5 protected), PF/C Donatas Motiejunas (rookie, projects as borderline to legitimate starter), SG/SF Chase Budinger (borderline starter), PF/C Jordan Hill (borderline starter), SG Courtney Lee (borderline starter), PG Goran Dragic (young, projects as bench player to borderline starter), PG Jonny Flynn (young, projects as bench player to borderline starter), SF Terrence Williams (young, projects from non NBA player to bench player), C Hasheem Thabeet (young, projects from non NBA player to bench player)
Assets owed: 2012 Hou 1st to New Jersey (top 14 protected through 2016)
Financial Grade: A-
Managerial Grade: A-
Overall synopsis: The Houston Rockets are like the “high brow” version of the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. All 3 teams appear mired in mediocrity, yet it’s the Rockets who specialize in intelligent management, advanced statistics, financial prudency, and stress of character players. Daryl Morey has run the Rockets like a small market MLB team, selling older players and soon to be free agents for young prospects and secondary assets. But a small market MLB team would know what to do next more than the Rockets appear to do: Kevin Martin and Luis Scola need to be dealt for future assets, just as a baseball team may deal a Shawn Marcum for a Brett Lawrie or a Matt Garza when the time is right. Martin and Scola need to be traded because of the concept of marginal benefit. The marginal benefit of keeping Martin and Scola is low – It gives them a slightly better regular season next year but an unlikely playoff spot after easily missing last season, it may sell a few more tickets but surely not that more. Meanwhile they risk the two player’s values dropping due to age or a worse season and more importantly, risk serious injury – particularly to Martin who has often been injured. Meanwhile trading those 2 players would allow the Rockets to not only get prospects or draft picks as valuable as legitimate starters (thus, lottery pick value), but would also ensure a high pick in 2012 and allow them to give burn to Chase Budinger, Terrence Williams, Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, Donatas Motiejunas, Jordan Hill in the SG and PF spots. Unless Daryl Morey has orders from above about winning now, trading Martin and Scola immediately is a no brainer in my opinion.
Nevertheless even pre-dating those moves, the Rockets have a number of solid young players as is. Kyle Lowry showed signs of breaking out as a legitimate starter last season, Patrick Patterson had some of the best advanced statistics of rookies last year and appears to have a future starter’s pick and roll/finishing at the rim type game, Jordan Hill can rebound the ball and Chase Budinger can shoot it, ensuring long time NBA rotation minutes. Hasheem Thabeet, Terrence Williams, and Jonny Flynn are former lottery picks with 2 years in the NBA played - While they may flame out of the NBA, having all 3 on the team exponentially increases the chance that at least one of them turns their careers around. I loved both the Marcus Morris and Donatas Motiejunas picks in the 2011 draft. Both have a guaranteed NBA ability: Scoring skill. Sometimes the biggest steals are players who just offensive skills already ingrained in and whom teams don’t find sexy enough athletically. I would say both Morris and Motiejunas have potential to score over 16 points a game in the league, if they aren’t likely to. All these players are solid value picks, to the point where it seems like the Rockets might have *too many* players to fit them all without their value dropping – they’re like a baseball team who collects a large number of #3 and #4 pitchers and future .750 OPS batters, albeit unlike in baseball there’s no farm system to stash them and give them minutes. In spite of all this, the Rockets need future all-stars and future legitimate starters. Having so many decent prospects raises the chance a few break the glass ceiling and become those legitimate starters or all-stars, but still. What the Rockets really need is a top 5 draft pick and the best way to do that is to trade Martin and Scola immediately (and this would also widen their prospect pool).
Finances/Management: Daryl Morey is one of the most widely regarded and respected managers in the business. He’s the type everyone hates making trades with, because he usually wins. Getting a 1st round pick and Hasheem Thabeet for Shane Battier, getting a 1st round pick for soon to be overpaid Aaron Brooks is another. And he did that just this trade deadline. Financially, the Rockets keep their books in order as well as anyone. Kevin McHale is a question mark at coach following Rick Adelman, but young players seem to like him and the Wolves played decently with him as coach. If the Rockets are going young, he could be a better choice than Adelman.
Next season: For now I’m assuming Martin and Scola stay. Therefore I see a 35 to 40 win team, with two legitimate starting players, a strong system and commitment to both ends and rebounding, and lots of young, hungry contibuters. This is the team the Rockets have been the last 2 seasons. Projected DRTG: 15th, projected ORTG: 15th. Projected record: 39-43
Projection: Upwards, because I see the Rockets trading Scola at Martin at some point. If not this season, then surely next summer. As soon as they do that, their next 2 draft picks will become extremely valuable, which will push their overall hand in the league up.