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S.I. Rocket Boost

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by jgreen91, Aug 10, 2007.

  1. jgreen91

    jgreen91 Member

    Oct 15, 2002
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    The big news out of China this week involved Yao Ming's marriage to longtime girlfriend Ye Li. The nuptials reportedly took place at a swanky Shanghai hotel, where between 70 and 100 of the couple's relatives and closest friends (but no members of the Rockets' team or front office) gathered amid some 100 security guards. Afterward, the newlyweds were to cruise the Huangpu River in a luxury houseboat.

    The question now for Yao is whether he will he get an NBA title ring next season to go with his new wedding band.

    New Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been aggressive in his first offseason at the Houston helm, adding veteran guards Steve Francis and Mike James as well as Argentine power forward Luis Scola. Along with new coach Rick Adelman and the return of Bonzi Wells, the Rockets suddenly look like a more potent and deeper team -- at least on paper.

    "We definitely felt there was a talent gap between us and [the top] teams, and we wanted to close it," Morey said. "We still have to go out and prove it. But we feel we're at least in the mix now with San Antonio, Dallas and the other top teams."

    The Rockets still have point-guard issues and chemistry concerns, but give Morey credit for trying. While every other top Western Conference contender has played it safe this offseason, the NBA's Mr. Moneyball has done his part to give fans out West something to talk about besides All-Star weddings (Tony Parker, Yao) and a referee scandal. Despite replacing a franchise fixture in longtime GM Carroll Dawson, the 33-year-old Morey has shown no fear in putting his own stamp on the team.

    No player represents that notion more than Francis, a former Rockets standout who will be seeking a career rebirth in the city where he enjoyed his brightest NBA days. Waived last month by the rebuilding Blazers after being traded to Portland by the Knicks, Francis, 30, chose to sign a free-agent deal in Houston over more lucrative offers from the Clippers, Mavs and Heat. Though he's coming off knee injuries and no longer worthy of the Stevie Franchise tag, he is a three-time All-Star with career averages of 18.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists.

    Francis should join with James, acquired from the Timberwolves in exchange for Juwan Howard, in giving Adelman two more ball-handlers who can score, hit clutch shots and apply defensive pressure. Four years ago, James was a key bench player on the Pistons' title team. Two years ago, he averaged 20.3 points and 5.8 assists while on a contract drive for the Raptors. But James is 32 and coming off a subpar season in Minnesota in which he chafed about his role, and it remains to be seen whether he can still hold his own against the likes of Parker, Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Devin Harris.

    The Scola acquisition, meanwhile, looks like a safer bet. The 6-9 power forward, whose rights were acquired along with center Jackie Butler in a trade with the Spurs for backup point guard Vassilis Spanoulis, cash and a future second-round pick, has spent the past seven seasons with Tau Ceramica in the Spanish League. He won two MVPs (2005 and '07) there and became known as arguably the best player in Europe. Scola's mobility, passing and court savvy should make him a good fit for Adelman's system, and he has just enough of a low-post game to make defenses respect him on the block. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old has already played in many big games overseas, including the '04 Olympics, in which he helped lead Argentina to the gold medal.

    Can Scola defend NBA power forwards well enough to enable Yao to stay out of foul trouble and protect the rim? That's to be determined. But Scola at least appears to be an upgrade over last year's starter, Chuck Hayes, who will likely now come off the bench.

    "Luis is a smart, high-IQ player, a great pick-and-roll player," Morey said. "He's crafty around the basket. He moves and cuts well. He has a nice mid-range game. He's a great passer. He has skills that will be at a premium in Rick's offense."

    Adelman no doubt also will welcome Scola's team-first approach. Along with Shane Battier, the Rockets now will boast two solid glue guys to do the dirty work for Tracy McGrady and keep things sane in the locker room. It could be a major factor for a team that will face the usual NBA chemistry issues.

    As much as Adelman might relish the idea of having three proven vets to provide scoring off the bench, he has to be at least a little worried about keeping them all happy. Wells, in particular, is a famous pouter who quit on the Rockets last season before the playoffs after disagreements with then-coach Jeff Van Gundy. The 6-5 bulldog insists he's excited about playing again for Adelman, under whom he enjoyed a productive and peaceful 2005-06 season in Sacramento, but only time will tell.

    "It's obviously a valid question," Morey said. "We've had situations here in the past. But Rick is a guy who has had very talented teams in the past, and he was very successful managing those teams. He's a former player and he's just really good at getting guys to buy into the team concept. He's not 'my way or the highway.' I think his experience overall and his experience managing very talented teams makes that less of a concern for us."

    It all sounds good but the real test will be how all the new pieces fit together. The Rockets already are something of an oddball team, led by two laid-back leaders in McGrady and Yao, who have yet to forge any kind of identity for their team. Houston needs its new pieces to provide scoring and energy without causing headaches in the locker room.

    If Francis, James, Wells and Scola can fill those needs (and T-Mac's balky back holds up), the Rockets just might be able to take the next step in their quest. If not, Morey's honeymoon will be over and Yao's title hopes will be up the Huangpu River.
  2. stanlam301

    stanlam301 Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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