State of the Cap: Houston Rockets
By Josh Redetzke
2007/08 Houston Rockets Payroll: $62.6 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $7.6 million over cap
[img_assist|nid=3857|title=Yao Ming|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=320]The Good: Much of the Rocket’s success this season can be attributed to the acquisition of Shane Battier during last year’s draft. By getting rid of the underperforming Stromile Swift and adding the veteran Battier, the Rockets received one of the best team players in the NBA. He doesn’t require a lot of shots, hits 42% from three, rebounds a little, plays good defense, and always seems to do the right thing on the court. Battier has four years and about $26 million left on his contract, a nice sum for a player that brings so much harmony to the team’s line-up. If only Houston had more players like him.
Luther Head made some major strides this season to really improve his game. After struggling with his shot last year, Head improved his shooting percentage to 43.7% and catapulted his three point shooting to 44.1%, leading the Rockets in that category. With a center like Yao Ming in the post, good outside shooters are a must. For $1.1 and $1.9 million the next two years, it looks like this team found one for a very cheap price.
Houston took a chance on Chuck Hayes and it has paid off handsomely. Hayes was overlooked as an NBA forward because he is only 6’6” and has no jump shot. However, his non-stop hustle and nose for the ball make him an excellent bench player (or part-time starter). Hayes was second on the team in rebounding at 6.7 per game despite playing just 22 minutes a night. Like Battier, Hayes is the right kind of complementary player you want on your team. He is a free-agent this summer, but the Rockets would be foolish not to keep him after his recent performance.
The Bad: Starting point guard Rafer Alston has a pretty cheap contract that pays him $14.6 million over the next three seasons. But, at this point, you have to wonder whether Alston is the right man for the job. His shooting percentage continues to hang around the 37% mark and his assists were down to 5.4, his lowest total in three years. Alston’s decision making and play making abilities have come into question, especially after totaling just 7 assists in 87 minutes of play during their last two losses to the Jazz in this year’s playoffs. If Alston can’t help the Rockets get over the hump, they will have to look elsewhere.
The Bonzi Wells experiment was a complete bust. He only played in 28 games because of a combination of injuries and poor attitude. The team didn’t gamble much money on Wells, but he was supposed to be a key player to help the Rockets get out of the first round. Instead, he was a no-show.
The Future: Houston has two of the best players in the NBA; Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Unfortunately, the duo hasn’t been able to stay healthy or achieve any postseason success. This year, Yao missed nearly half the season with an injury and managed to get back in time for the playoffs. His stats were great once again and he’s approached dominance at times in the post, but this makes two seasons in a row that he missed significant time. McGrady stayed reasonably healthy and played a good all-around game, averaging a career high 6.5 assists. However, McGrady still has not won a playoff series and this is his tenth season in the league. For two players who will earn over $100 million dollars combined the next three seasons, the Rockets haven’t yet received a great return on their investment.
Part of their problem is that they are in the Western Conference. Teams like Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio dominate because they have great supporting casts around their stars. Houston isn’t quite there yet. Battier is a good start, and guys like Hayes and Head are developing into key role players. Longtime vets Juwan Howard and Dikembe Mutombo aren’t what they used to be, but they can contribute here or there. With two stars hogging all the cash for the time being, any improvements will have to come by trade or exception. If Yao can stay healthy for a full season, perhaps the Rockets can establish the consistency and chemistry needed to break out of their first-round slump.
Free Throw: It’s not often that 52 wins will get a coach fired. That’s exactly what happened to Jeff Van Gundy after another playoff disappointment. In comes former Sacramento Kings coach Rick Adelman. While Adelman doesn’t have any championships under his belt, he has won a few playoff series in his lifetime. If Houston can win just one next season, they’ll be very happy.