Crystal Ball: Looking Ahead to 2013 Houston Sports, Texans/Rockets Edition
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For the last few years, with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming both breaking down and moving on, hardcore fans have been clamoring for the Rockets to enter a long overdue rebuilding. But team owner Les Alexander has appeared to have different ideas. Much like former Astros owner Drayton McLane stubbornly continued to decimate the team's farm system to load the major league club's roster with well-known veterans, Alexander held strong to the idea that all the team needed was to migrate from signature star to signature star.
Then, fate intervened. The NBA nixed the Pau Gasol trade last year and the team was unable to land Dwight Howard, either through trade or free agency. Both moves would have certainly made the team better in the short term, but Gasol is on the wrong side of 30 with a long, cap-heavy contract, and Howard seemed to have no inclination to sign with the Rockets after his remaining contract ends next season.
With that and a middling roster filled with good but not great players, the changes came fast and furious. In fact, only two players remain on the roster from last season and only one current Rocket is over the age of 24. With a young team, anchored by James Harden, the long-term future of the franchise is looking up.
The immediate future is a little rocky, however. This is a fun team to watch. They lead the league in scoring and have become about as efficient on the offensive end of the floor as they can be. But like many young teams and players, they struggle to keep the intensity at both ends of the floor and their transition defense is some of the worst in the NBA.
They are very good against mediocre talent and the Eastern Conference -- an astounding 12-2 against teams from the east. But, their own division and conference are loaded with talent and they struggle mightily against the best teams on this side of the Mississippi.
Their goals for 2013 will be quite different from 2012, but it's hard to imagine them not making a run at the playoffs. My guess is they'll fall well short and the sooner that happens, the better chance some of the young talent like Terrence Jones and Dontas Montejunas can get time outside the D-League. The team will also have to address the lingering issues with Royce White, who, by the day, seems less and less likely to play for the Rockets and perhaps anyone in the NBA.
Barring a trade at the trading deadline, expect it to be a busy but perhaps slightly different offseason. With the team set with some of its core, a final piece of the puzzle will no doubt be on GM Daryl Morey's agenda, perhaps a power forward in the vein of Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge. They will also no doubt try to move up in the draft yet again, particularly with this year expected to have far less depth than 2012.
Entering the 2013-14 season, I would have to guess they'll be in significantly better shape, with a good full year of experience for the young guys and an offseason of preparation. If the team falters next season, the next changes to come might be in the front office or with the coaching staff.
The biggest question is whether or not the Rockets broadcast affiliate, CSN Houston, will be able to work out deals with other cable providers. My guess is that will happen as the Astros season approaches and fans of two teams begin to exert their pressure on all parties involved.