The Young Ones: Rockets Season Will Be Infused With, Complicated By Youth
Back in the late '90s, when the Rockets had real championship aspirations, the team was consistently one of the oldest in the NBA. They routinely filled the end of the roster with guys like Charles Jones, who Rockets TV play-by-play man Bill Worrell affectionately called "Old Man River." By contrast, the 2012-13 Rockets roster is so filled with young players, there are guys from those '90s teams that could literally be the grandfathers of current players.
The team marketing slogan for this season is "A New Age," a play on both the turnover of the roster (there are only two returning players who spent significant time on the roster last year) and the fact that this is the youngest team in the NBA. With the swapping of Kevin Martin for James Harden in a trade yesterday, the gap between them and the rest of the league in terms of youth grows even larger.
With youth comes athleticism, energy and excitement. It also brings inexperience, inconsistency and the occasional train wreck. All of the above will no doubt be on display for the Rockets this season.
Fearing the beard.
Before getting too deep into the roster and prospects for the season, it is worth noting that the Rockets' recent trade for James Harden is a significant move, arguably the biggest since trading for Tracy McGrady. Harden was the NBA Sixth Man of the Year last year. He averaged almost 17 points while shooting 50 percent from the field in only 30 minutes per game. Oklahoma City couldn't afford the luxury tax hit they would take signing Harden to a max deal, so they sent him to Houston for the veteran Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb.
Harden can score with the best of them and is an excellent ball handler and playmaker, which should allow Jeremy Lin to spend some time playing off the ball where he could excel. At 23, Harden is still young -- witness his frustrating disappearance during the NBA Finals last year -- and has a lot to learn, particularly defensively, but even after the team signs him long term, they will still have money available to go after yet another max dollar player.
If Lin can live up to even moderate expectations, they could create a dynamic backcourt tandem for a lot of years in Houston and form at least the beginnings of a serious nucleus of talent for the Rockets. If they play well enough, don't be surprised if they get a shot to play in the All Star game in Houston in February.
Out with the old...literally.
Gone from last year's roster is, well, almost everybody. The team's starting and reserve backcourt including Martin, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee. The team's starting front court of Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert is also gone along with rotation players Chase Budinger, Marcus Camby and Jordan Hill. Those players combined for an average age of 29 (of course, that includes 38-year-old Camby). The guys that replaced them combine for an average age of 22, with the oldest of them at the ancient age of 30.
This is all in addition to the fact that basically the entire roster was turned over this summer. It's tough enough to make massive changes, but to do it with youth is going to make for a very interesting and complicated season. No doubt Coach Kevin McHale and General Manager Daryl Morey will do a lot of cheering and a lot of hair pulling before it is all said and done.