Rockets Mediocrity: Blame the Strategy of the Owner

Categories: Basketball, Sports

rockets-endseason.jpg
Photo by Marco Torres
A Luis Scola (right) is great, but what the Rockets need is a Blake Griffin (left).
There's something unholy about a team playing out the string of games knowing it won't make the playoffs. It's even weirder when said team felt its season end with a thud after a horrid stretch of games that lasted right up until the second-to-last game of the year. Going one step farther, that game was Sunday and the Rockets have to wait around until today to mercifully finish out another lottery-bound season.

I've said numerous times here on Hair Balls that this was a mediocre team, and their record is perfectly reflective of that at 33 wins and 32 losses with one game to go. With a loss to New Orleans, they will go a perfectly mediocre .500 and hit the lottery for a third straight season, likely selecting around 14th in the first round, right where they were last year. They will also have the Knicks' pick, which should be around 16. Ho hum.

But, before you go off on your regular tangent about the mediocrity of a team that hasn't gone past the first round of the playoffs more than once since 1997, be sure to focus your aim in the right place. In this case, it's on Les Alexander.

I have never been one to question Alexander when it comes to his basketball decisions. The guy has been balls-out daring for many years, encouraging and even taking the reins in blockbuster deals involving Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen (ouch), Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady. If there is one thing you could never question about him, it was that the guy wanted to win, desperately.

But that strategy has backfired, much the way it did with his friend and now-former co-owner of the Astros Drayton McLane. Both have said they believe they can continue to win while rebuilding, that it isn't necessary to sink to the bottom to reach the top.

In certain cases, they are right. They frequently point to Boston, but they are a product of substantial trades and solid draft picks and they wouldn't have been able to facilitate those trades had they not had Paul Pierce already in place, who they drafted after a disastrous season under then-coach Rick Pitino.

Just a quick look around the Western Conference bears out the reality that you must draft well and high in order to succeed. San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan number one and then surrounded him with smart lower first round picks in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Dallas Mavericks picked up Dirk Nowitzki in a draft-day trade after he was selected 9th by Milwaukee. The Lakers traded for Kobe Bryant when he was drafted. Oklahoma City drafted Kevin Durant 2nd overall in 2007 and Russell Westbrook 4th in 2008.

Once you have a young, established star on your roster, then you can recruit other talent to you (see: James, LeBron), but without it, you better be New York or Chicago or Miami or LA if you want players flocking to you.

I admire the tenacity of Alexander's conviction, but his approach is just wrong. Even if you don't advocate losing for a higher draft pick -- I don't, by the way -- the desire to win is what causes the team to do things like sign Samuel Dalembert and trade for Marcus Camby. Injuries are the only thing that leads to minutes for young players because it's playoffs or bust no matter if the team has virtually no chance of doing anything even if they get into the first round.

There is no question fans are restless. Most would be happy to stink for a year or two if it meant a real chance at something great down the road. But Alexander sees the beating the city's newest owner, Jim Crane, is taking at the ticket booth this season and, no doubt, he winces. The Astros have had some of the smallest crowds in 30 years this season because they are playing guys no one knows (yet) and, as a result, they stink.

Of course, the Astros aren't doing it to shoot for a high draft pick. That's not how baseball works. But, what they are doing is evaluating and developing young talent in the hopes that they might find some home-grown magic à la Craig Biggio and Roy Oswalt. The Rockets must do the same or risk continuing to limp along competing, but not ultimately winning.


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8 comments
Shari Greer
Shari Greer

I agree the ownership is an issue... but so is engagement.  Our Houston fans are great and they will stand by their teams... but you have to spend some money to market the teams and create opportunity OUTSIDE the basketball court to engage the fans.  If the Rockets were winning... yeah fine... fans would come out.. but when you don't hear anything about a team, and there is nothing that ties them to anything but wins, you don't get the public pumped up. If we were pumped, the team would be pumped and play better.  I have not seen a billboard, or an event that promoted the Astros or the Rockets.  The rich get richer, sure.. but these owners need to understand the power of the fan.  Until they do... mediocre teams will continue to be in Houston.  I worked for the Oilers in 1980 with Bum Phillips and Luv ya blue.  We were turning away money to promote the team...we were sold out.. everything was sold out.. then they firedBum.  End of reign for the fans, and end of winning for the Oilers.  I believe with all my heart and soul, teams play better when the fans EXPECT it.  Astros and Rockets don't have the fan base they should. And THAT is due to ownership and lack of promotions for the teams.

Omar
Omar

The NBA draft, for the most part, is garbage.  Pulling out a few (old) examples is not exactly meaningful.  Go look at the drafts from 2009 - 2012.  Its littered with washouts in the lottery, even in the top 5.  To get those high picks, you have to tank hard.  Which means you have absolutely no talent, so even if you get a high pick, you'll probably get it again the next year.  And probably the year after.  OKC had to be in the top 5, 3 years in a row to get their current stars of Durant, Westbrook and Harden.  And that's a high rate of success for the draft.  I think as mediocre as they are, its better than sustained awfulness.  In the mean time, they can be opportunistic with flexible cap room and no large contracts.  Eventually some team with financial issues or on the cusp of losing a player for nothing in a contract year will want the assets.  Lowrey, Lee, Budinger/ Parsons, Nene and Gasol would have been a great line up (with Lin on the bench).  Its too bad David Stern is a giant tool.

bigc
bigc

Winning has never been the owners goal

It is all about the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Starting when HE was caught tampering with Barkley and had to give up Horay and others to sell merchandise.  They never recovered from that bone head move!

Dowdywins
Dowdywins

Oh how I long for the days of Carol Dawson and Rudy T.

Omar
Omar

Carol Dawson of the Matt Maloney/ Maurice Taylor/ Kelvin Kato contracts?

Guest
Guest

He did pull off a trade for Gasol, which allegedly would have also resulted in Nene coming to Houston.  If it wasn't for David Stern, we might have had a legit team this year.

Copa
Copa

I don't disagree with you, but the Lakers are a pretty terrible example.

They hovered around .500 for three seasons, doing pretty much what the Rockets are doing now. Smartly building a team with good players, but no superstars. Then they made one great trade (Vlade Divac for Kobe), and they've contended ever since.

That is exactly the lightning in a bottle that Les thinks he can capture here. The Lakers are not a cautionary tale for him.

Copa
Copa

I'm not sure the Mavs are a great example, either. They tried accumulating a lot of high draft picks, and their team perpetually sucked. Not counting all of the championships won by Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson, and Jamal Mashburn.

Their big breakthrough came not when they used a high draft pick, but when they traded DOWN in the draft to pick up Dirk Nowitzki. It was Don Nelson's smart scouting, not great draft position, that landed them their franchise cornerstone.

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