Rockets move ahead after trade collapses
HOUSTON -- It was a deal designed to propel the Houston Rockets toward the top of the Western Conference.
The Rockets were willing to deal away top scorers Kevin Martin and Luis Scola and backup point guard Goran Dragic to land Pau Gasol. The four-time All-Star would be the anchor to a revamped lineup that might have also included coveted free agent Nene.
Instead, the NBA killed the three-team deal and the Rockets were forced to prepare for the season with much of the same team that missed the playoffs last year with a 43-39 record.
So that means point guard Kyle Lowry and swing forward Chase Budinger will rejoin Martin and Scola in the starting lineup. It means Jordan Hill or Patrick Patterson are the likely candidates to fill the power forward spot vacated when the team couldn't re-sign workmanlike Chuck Hayes.
"We feel comfortable going into the season with this group," general manager Daryl Morey said. "We've got a lot of young players who might be able to prove something, and get us to the next level. We really believe in many of the guys and we've got a lot of really talented players.
"We're going to need our vets, like Kyle or Luis or Kevin or Courtney or Chase, we need them to step up and take it to the next level. A lot of them have that ability."
The Rockets are breaking in a new coach trying to mix it all together.
Houston parted ways with Rick Adelman and turned to Kevin McHale, the former Celtics great who has two partial seasons coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves on his resume. Lowry, beginning his fourth season with the Rockets, said he hasn't noticed much of a difference in their coaching styles after a week of training camp.
"It's not rocket science," Lowry said. "It's simple plays, simple offense, simple movement. We've just got to go out there and execute. We've got good offensive players, so it's always going to be hard to stop professional athletes from getting to the hole."
The Rockets ranked third in scoring last season (105.9 points per game). McHale said he sees plenty of offensive talent, but wants crisper execution.
"These guys can make plays," McHale said. "What we don't do, and what we've got to get way better at, is a lot of little stuff. We've got to cut harder, we've got to set better screens. These guys make shots and plays, they can play offensive basketball. We've got to do all of the little things, because when you get in dogfight games, when the ball's not going in the hole, you've got to do all of the little stuff that's going to help you win games."
Houston ranked 22nd in total defense (103.7 points per game) last season and McHale emphasized team defense during the first week of practice. McHale said the Rockets made basic errors in their preseason opener, even though they held San Antonio to 35 percent shooting in a 101-87 victory.
"Our defensive mistakes are all correctable," McHale said. "Making a better close-out, chucking out on the boards to make sure we don't give up long offensive rebounds, better stunting, better positioning in the post, all that stuff is correctable."
The schedule is demanding from the start, with seven of the first 10 games on the road starting with Monday's opener at Orlando. The Rockets will play 23 back-to-back sets in all, and conclude 14 of them on the road.
McHale and the players are all just glad they can concentrate on basketball after the tumultuous first few days of training camp. Martin, Scola and Dragic awkwardly returned to the team after the trade fell through and met with McHale.
Martin, last year's leading scorer (23.5 points per game) seemed frustrated by the chain of events, while the good-natured Scola, last year's top rebounder (8.2 per game), laughed it off.
A week later, everyone seemed to have moved on.
"I think we've got a good team," Scola said. "We may be one or two pieces short. Maybe, maybe not. But we have a lot of players who can play, and we have a lot of players at different positions, which is good. We've got depth.
"We've got a lot of young guys, that you never really know if they're going to flow or not," he said. "Hopefully, some of these guys surprise us."