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[Rockets.com]: 2005-2006 Houston Rockets Season Preview/Position Analysis

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Varunan, Sep 30, 2005.

  1. Varunan

    Varunan Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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    Don't know if it was posted. If so, lock'er up!


    2005-2006 Houston Rockets Season Preview

    Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." The Houston Rockets have a history of winning. The Rockets are owners of two NBA championships, four NBA Finals appearances, and have reached the NBA playoffs in 23 of their 34 years as a representative of Houston, Texas, for the National Basketball Association. The Rockets have maintained a measure of stability within their front office. Carroll Dawson is entering his 10th season as general manager of the Rockets, and George Postolos will be taking part in his eighth season as president and CEO of the Rockets. The Rockets have had only two head coaches within the last 13 years with former Rocket legend Rudy Tomjanovich and current head maestro Jeff Van Gundy. Any opportunity for long-term success and chemistry starts at the top, and the Rockets have embraced that approach. Each season, management has set out with the purpose of putting together a competitive team that can not only win games and be successful on the court, but also be solid citizens of high character off the floor.

    The 2005 offseason was no different. While the Rockets made tremendous progress last season, achieving a 51-31 record (their first 50-win season since 1996-1997) and a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference, Dawson saw some areas where the Rockets could be even better. The team played hard and with an abundance of heart in their first-round playoff series against Dallas, yet they lost the series in seven games. The team was praised for its resilience and hard effort, but the absence of starting power forward Juwan Howard due to a viral infection termed as viral myocarditis, which causes irregularities to the heart's rhythm, hurt the team against the Mavericks.

    Howard had provided the Rockets with a proven low-post scorer all season. He saw a team that had a need for a frontline player who could run the floor and be a backstop for Yao, as well as provide defensive frontcourt help both on and off the ball. Dawson also felt that the team could afford more depth and stability in the backcourt. While the needs were few, management saw them essential in order to maintain progress in a Western Conference that gets more and more competitive each passing season. Dawson started addressing these needs on June 29 with the 2005 NBA Draft. Owning the 24th selection of the first round, Dawson chose 6’4” combo guard Luther Head, a senior out of the University of Illinois. The Rockets had been enamored with Head's athleticism (he boasts a 39-inch vertical leap and was one of the top athletes at the pre-draft NBA Chicago Combine), basketball smarts, versatility, and winning attitude.

    “We were looking for a player to help this program, and I think that’s what we’ve done,” Dawson said shortly after drafting Head in June. “Losing is not something he knows, and that’s always great. One of the things you have to do in the NBA is teach people how to win. If they are on track when they get here, it’s going to make it that much easier. Being a tremendous athlete, with speed and quickness, he finishes when he gets to the rim. He just does a lot of things we really like. Being from a winning program helps. But he was selected because we think he can help this program.”

    “We were looking for a player to help this program, and I think that’s what we’ve done,”As soon as teams could start negotiating with free agents in early July, Dawson sought after free-agent forward Stromile Swift. A 6’9” leaper out of Louisiana State University, Swift was a great attraction to Houston because of his vast athleticism and energy. He also was capable of providing the type of player that most teams in the NBA already have: a young forward who can run the floor, shoot, and knows his way inside around the basket. When Swift verbally committed to the Rockets on July 19, guard Tracy McGrady was elated to hear of his new teammate.

    “That’s real, real big for us," McGrady, who worked to recruit Swift, told the Houston Chronicle from Czechoslovakia. “I’m going to do my best to turn him into an All-Star player, too. I thought that he was the guy we were missing. He’ll add more depth, more athleticism.”

    On August 2, Swift officially became a member of the Houston Rockets. Swift’s signing gives the Rockets two power forwards who complement each other very well. Howard is more of a mid-range shooter at this point in his career, and thrives off Yao Ming’s post-ups and McGrady’s penetration. Swift, on the other hand, is a dunking mastermind. He loves attacking the rim and thrives off getting out on the fast break and finishing with authority. Fortunately as well, Swift also has a nice jump shot from mid-range, though not nearly as efficient as Howard’s. The two forwards will give defenses a different look each time one or the other takes the floor.

    “We think he can come here and recapture some of the things he used to do,”Rockets loyalists felt that the acquisition of Swift was exactly what the doctor had ordered for the Rockets’ offseason. Dawson and Rockets management thought otherwise. The team’s next mission was to re-sign the Rockets’ own free agents: guard Jon Barry, forward Ryan Bowen, and center Dikembe Mutombo. The veterans proved to be essential to team chemistry and were very productive with their minutes on the court. Barry shot 45.1% from 3-point range and contributed 7 points per game off the bench as the team went 38-15 in his 53 games as a Rocket. Mutombo added a tough defensive anchor inside for Houston, and was a solid screen-setter for the team’s array of perimeter shooters. Bowen provided endless hustle and defensive energy for the Rockets, and portrayed a key role in slowing down Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki in the playoffs.

    On August 5 the Rockets re-signed Bowen to a contract. Six days later, they took care of Barry’s contract situation, re-signing the Georgia Tech grad to a one-year deal.

    “I knew I wanted to do it again (come back and play for Houston), immediately,” Barry said when talking with the media following the signing of his new contract. “I’m thankful to CD for bringing me back and I’m looking forward to a better year.”

    One blockbuster free agent acquisition paved the way for another. On August 23, Houston introduced the newest member to their backcourt, guard Derek Anderson. Anderson, a 6’5”, 190-pound graduate of the University of Kentucky, can play three “I knew I wanted to do it again (come back and play for Houston), immediately,”positions for the team. His size, athleticism, and versatility appealed greatly to the Rockets. Anderson has posted career averages of 13.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He’ll provide the Rockets with a smart player who knows his role, and contribute in all facets of the game. While many observers felt that it was his scoring and athleticism that garnered the Rockets’ full attention, it was actually his willingness to share the ball that seemed to captivate the Rockets’ staff.

    “We think he can come here and recapture some of the things he used to do,” Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle. “I do love the way he passes the ball. I think one of the things we did last year ... because of the changes in personnel, was become a much better passing team. And I think Derek is a tremendous passer as well. That’s the one skill I don't think you can ever have enough of.”

    A mere three days later, the Rockets re-signed Dikembe Mutombo to a multi-year contract. Last season, at 38 years old, the wily veteran was able to produce 4.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.26 blocks per game in only 15 minutes per contest. Yet his presence is not felt by his numerical statistics. “Mount Mutombo” provided the Rockets with an interior defensive presence unseen since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon.

    “First I want to say thank you to Les (Alexander), my boss, and then the Rockets organization for bringing me back,” Mutombo said. “It was like a dream. I felt that this team gave me a lot of opportunity last year by trying to do their best over the summer to bring me here. To be reunited with Patrick and to get the opportunity to play (again) with Yao, Tracy, and Juwan, I think it gave me a great chance to know those guys very well and to develop a great (team) chemistry that will make us the team of the future in the West, and we’re about to become now the dominant team in the West. I’m glad to be back.”

    However, despite all the change, it was a tribute to Rockets’ ownership and management that the team did not suffer any large losses with their roster. Veteran forward Clarence Weatherspoon was released by the team under the NBA’s new, one-time-only Amnesty clause. The provision allows a team to remove a player’s contract amount from the team’s salary cap for purposes of calculating the luxury tax. Weatherspoon had averaged 4.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 15.2 minutes per contest during his 77 games the past two seasons as a Rocket.

    "These types of moves are never easy," said Dawson. "We really appreciate what Clarence did for the organization the past two seasons. This decision was made in order to give us more financial flexibility under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement."

    The Rockets also saw forward Scott Padgett opt out of his contract to sign a more financially lucrative deal with New Jersey. During his two seasons in Houston, Padgett posted 3.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, and shot 40.8% from 3-point range in 124 games as a Rocket.

    On September 8, the Rockets signed power forward Lonny Baxter to bolster their frontcourt depth. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward has averaged 4.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in 121 career games with Chicago, Toronto, Washington and New Orleans. While it is unlikely that Baxter plays a significant role immediately, he will be able to learn the ropes of interior play from such veterans as Mutumbo, Yao, and Howard.

    It has been a productive offseason for the Houston Rockets. The only obstacle standing in their way is if they can place all the pieces together to form a cohesive unit. Fortunately for the Rockets, they have all of their necessary pieces in place. Players are starting to see Houston as a career destination due to the professionalism and values of the organization, as well as the winning product that has become a result from that dedication and commitment.

    “It's unbelievable. The people here in Texas are great,” McGrady said. “They're the nicest people I've ever been around or associated with. It feels good to be apart of this city. Looking back, I wish I could’ve started my career out here because everybody is so nice and it’s a great city.”
  2. Varunan

    Varunan Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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    2005-2006 Houston Rockets Positional Analysis

    The season preview is a highly-anticipated feature that fans have been anxiously waiting for the whole summer. It's an informative, in-depth read that focuses on each aspect of the team as well as which players have come and gone. Through thorough research and studies, Rockets.com has provided a 2005 Rockets positional analysis for our beloved fans. What follows is a detailed report on all five player positions, as well as an evaluation of the bench. It's important to note that lineups are always subject to change and that nothing is set in stone. Enjoy, Rockets fans, and read up on your favorite team and favorite players. Rosters are as of September 15, 2005.

    Point Guard

    If healthy, Bob Sura will be the starting point guard for the Rockets. Sura averaged 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per contest last season. Unfortunately, he only participated in 61 games due to an assortment of injuries. However, Sura provides a gritty toughness that is similar to former Rocket Mario Elie. He’s a stable ballhandler and rebounds extremely well for a point guard. Sura also has the versatility to play the shooting guard spot. He shot his best percentage from 3-point range (35.5%) since his 1999-2000 NBA campaign. While a relatively conservative scorer, Sura showed that he can still get hot at times by hitting 6-7 from downtown and scoring a career-high 35 points in early January 2005. The Rockets love Sura’s veteran leadership and his professionalism in how he approaches each game. Unafraid to stand up for his teammates or challenge opponents, the 6’5”, 200-pound Sura is a Van Gundy favorite for his relentless attitude.

    Shooting Guard

    Veteran guard David Wesley will return to claim his starting “2” spot for Houston. Wesley came over in an early trade with New Orleans last year and put together 10.9 points per game, while shooting 38% from 3-point range. He was most valuable as a defensive guard. Wesley, by using his bulk and strength despite being only 6’1”, was able to hold his position and use his wily veteran skills to make life tough for some of the better offensive guards in the league. Due to the Rockets adding more backcourt depth in the offseason, Wesley will likely see fewer minutes this season. However, that’s not a bad thing as the team hopes Wesley will be fresh for playoff action. His shooting is an asset that the Rockets need.

    Small Forward

    The fact that McGrady is slotted at the “3” spot may raise some eyebrows, but it is a position that McGrady has had success with. McGrady played the small forward spot most of last season following Wesley’s arrival to Houston. Also, the shooting guard and small forward spots are largely interchangeable. McGrady came over to the Rockets in 2005’s blockbuster summer trade and immediately gave the Rockets a spark and identity. McGrady posted 25.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game, and had countless memorable moments in his first Rockets season. Who could forget his improbable scoring burst of 13 points in the final 35 seconds of the game against the Spurs? Fans are still numb over just the mere thought of such a happening. It’s likely that McGrady will see his scoring drop a little due to the offensive talents that the Rockets have acquired this offseason. However, whether he’s averaging 26 or 20 points per game, there is no question as to who the Rockets will go to in clutch situations.

    Power Forward

    For the first time since the days of Charles Barkley and Otis Thorpe, the Rockets have some stability at the power forward spot. Stromile Swift gives the Rockets an athletic, quick forward whose forte is blocking shots and utilizing his athleticism to run the floor and score in transition. As a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, Swift averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 21 minutes per contest last season. His aerial acrobatics will engage Rockets fans. Aside from his assortment of dunks, Swift also owns a nice midrange jumper which will open up the post for Yao to dominate. Swift scored 23 points on two separate occasions off the bench last season, and snared a season-high 12 rebounds versus the Golden State Warriors.


    It was the first summer that Yao Ming had been able to rest and not compete for China in basketball tournaments. Yao spent the summer practicing and training with former Rockets strength and conditioning coach Anthony Falsone. In his third year in the league, Yao averaged 18.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks per contest. He also shot a career-high 55% from the floor. Yao continues to show more aggressiveness and ability as he accommodates himself to the grind of NBA play. Yao has seen his shot-blocking numbers rise each season, and he is getting better in going straight up for a shot and utilizing his height and strength instead of pump-faking and waiting for the defender to come to him. With Swift as a weakside defender, Yao will have help in guarding the basket, which will allow him to gamble more and play more intensely on defense.


    With Swift and Anderson now donning the red and silver of the Rockets, the bench will now be among the finest in the league. Either Mike James or Derek Anderson will be the sixth man at the guard spot. James came over in a trade from Milwaukee last February and gave the Rockets an explosive spark off the bench. While not a “true” point guard in that he has a scoring mentality, James logged 12.4 points and 2.9 assists a game as a Rocket, and shot 39% from the land of plenty. Anderson will be the spark off the bench, alongside James, and he’ll be able to use his height and scoring ability to help the Rockets’ transition game. A smart player who knows his role, Anderson claims career numbers of 13.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He can pass, shoot, and score, and is looking to have a bounce-back year after spending the last few seasons with the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers. Guard Jon Barry is back to provide veteran leadership and shooting. Barry set the Rockets’ franchise record for single-season 3-point percentage by knocking down 45.1% of his treys. He is also a smart passer who can get his teammates involved.

    As far as the frontcourt is concerned, last year’s starting power forward Juwan Howard will likely be the first forward off the bench for Houston. In 61 games last season, Howard contributed 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in just over 26 minutes per contest. Should Houston choose to go with Howard off the bench, his midrange jumper and veteran influence will be appreciated. Veteran Dikembe Mutombo returns as the backup for Yao Ming. Mutombo got along well with Yao and helped tutor him on the finer aspects of interior play. Deke averaged 4 points and 5 rebounds in limited time, but was invaluable as an inside defensive force and a capable backup for Yao. He blocked six shots against Memphis in November 2004, and had a season-best game of 15 points and 10 rebounds in a victory at Portland. Forward Ryan Bowen returns as a spot player for Houston. Bowen was praised for his defensive skills in the playoffs, and Van Gundy loves him for his willingness to scrap and hustle every minute that he’s on the floor. His length and relentless tenacity on defense frustrates opponents. Rookie Luther Head will likely see little time this season since veteran contributors are ahead of him in the rotation. Head is quick and extremely athletic, and was rated as one of the top two athletes at the pre-draft NBA Chicago Combine. He showed veteran defensive instincts as a member of the Rockets’ entry in the 2005 Minnesota summer league, averaging 3.3 assists and a league-best 2.5 steals per contest. Fan favorite Moochie Norris and Charlie Ward will be the third and fourth guards, respectively. Forward Vin Baker, acquired from New York last season, remains on the roster and may prove to be of service if healthy and in condition to play. Fourth-year forward Lonny Baxter had an outstanding summer league for the Rockets in Minnesota. Baxter averaged a league-best 23.3 points per game, and was second in the league with 6.8 rebounds. The team feels he can become a nice defensive player under Van Gundy’s tutelage.
  3. Varunan

    Varunan Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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