(Sports Network) - The Houston Rockets swung for the fences in the Dwight
Howard sweepstakes last summer and fell just short of the warning track.
Their consolation prize?
The cash cow known as Jeremy Lin.
Lin became an international star in 2012 when he came out of nowhere and
turned the New York Knicks' season around. Despite star forward Carmelo
Anthony being sidelined, Lin took over the starting point guard role and led
the Knicks to seven straight wins when he played extensive minutes. New York
was 8-15 before the Harvard product suddenly transformed the Big Apple into
"Linsanity," the media-driven slogan for the rags-to-riches story. But there
was no fairytale ending for Lin, who missed the postseason after undergoing
surgery in April to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Now, Lin must bear the burden of a big contract after the Rockets, who cut Lin
in training camp last year, signed the restricted free agent to a three-year,
$25 million deal -- an offer the Knicks failed to match despite his obvious
drawing power. Lin must again wield his magic with a roster that underwent
drastic changes in the offseason.
The Rockets, in Kevin McHale's first year as head coach, missed the playoffs
for the third straight year as its 34-32 record put them in fourth place in
the Southwest Division. Cursed with a deep yet mismatched roster, general
manager Daryl Morey acquired a plethora of assets in order to land Howard from
the Orlando Magic, but to no avail. The All-NBA center was eventually dealt to
the Lakers, and the Rockets were left with Plan B.
The roster purge saw the departure of regulars Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, Goran
Dragic and Luis Scola -- all double-digit scorers last season. In their place,
the Rockets were left with a slew of young talent, including three 2012 first-
round picks, looking to make their mark.
With those selections, the Rockets chose UConn shooting guard Jeremy Lamb
(12th overall), Iowa State forward Royce White (16th) and Kentucky slasher
Terrance Jones (18th). Lamb and Jones each won a national title while they
were in school, and White showed flashes of brilliance in his only year with
the Cyclones, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and
blocks. White, however, is stricken with an anxiety disorder that heightens
when he flies, an issue that kept him from reporting to training camp on time.
The big holdover is Kevin Martin, who has never met a shot he didn't like but
has averaged at least 17 points the last six seasons. The 29-year-old shooting
guard is in his third training camp with the Rockets and is the elder
statesman for this unpredictable bunch.
Joining Martin as a veteran is Carlos Delfino, a much-needed free agent
acquisition who will provide stability off the bench. Delfino, entering his
eighth year, has averaged at least nine points per game the last four seasons.
"We have a lot of young guys. We have to find a rotation, so we have a lot of
stuff to do," McHale said. "It's going to be a hell of a challenge...but we
have to find a way to get it done."
2011-12 Results: 34-32, fourth in Southwest; Missed Playoffs.
ADDITIONS: C Omer Asik, C Donatas Motiejunas, G Jeremy Lin, G Shaun
Livingston, G Toney Douglas, G/F G Carlos Delfino, G/F Jeremy Lamb, F JaJuan
Johnson, F Royce White, F Terrence Jones
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Jeremy Lin
SG- Kevin Martin
SF- Chandler Parsons
PF- Patrick Patterson
C- Omar Asik
KEY RESERVES: G Carlos Delfino, G Shaun Livingston, G Toney Douglas, F JaJuan
Johnson, F Marcus Morris, F Royce White, F Terrence Jones, G/F Jeremy Lamb.
FRONTCOURT: In the first year A.Y. (After Yao), the Rockets had Marcus Camby
and Samuel Dalembert fill in at the center position. But both defensive
stalwarts are gone and in comes third-year pro Omer Asik, a 7-foot free-agent
signing from the Bulls. The Turkish big man saw less than 15 minutes per
game in his two seasons with Chicago, but his height should allow Houston's
guards to cheat a little more defensively as he occupies the middle.
Joining the raw Asik in the frontcourt are Chandler Parsons and Patrick
Patterson -- both of whom will turn 24 during the season. Parsons started 57
games in his rookie campaign and nearly averaged double-figures (9.5 PPG)
while shooting an efficient 45 percent from the field. The Florida product has
a nice outside game, but can be a liability on defense.
Patterson, a first-round pick two years ago, is another 6-foot-9 forward who
can be overmatched on the blocks but can play an up-tempo pace that McHale is
looking to implement.
BACKCOURT: Martin will be the beneficiary of Lin's slash-and-kick game. With
the Knicks, Lin allowed the likes of Landry Fields and Steve Novak open looks
on the perimeter and will do the same with Martin, who can also create his own
shot and take it to the rim. Martin has made only 38 percent from behind the
arc over his eight-year career, a percentage that may increase with Lin
creating more space.
The one aspect of Lin's game that calls for legitimate questioning is his
decision making. His 3.6 turnovers per game would have ranked as the fifth
most in the league if he played enough games, and his 1.7 assist-to-turnover
ratio needs improving. A third offensive system in three years (Lin played
with the Warriors his rookie year) will likely slow his development, but a
full offseason knowing he has secure roster spot will prove vital for the
"I looked at my stats and figured out what I'm bad at, what I'm below average
at and how can I make myself better," Lin said. "Every day I make a lot of
mistakes in practice. So as I continue to cut down on those and grow my game,
hopefully I'll be able to evolve as a player."
BENCH: Delfino, Shaun Livingston and Toney Douglas are the only known
commodities coming off the pine for Houston. Livingston, the fourth overall
pick in the 2004 draft, has battled back from an infamous knee injury in Feb.
2007 that limited him to 48 games the next three seasons. He put up
respectable numbers (5.5 points, 2.1 assists) in a backup role for the Bucks
last season and will be asked to provide similar production behind Lin and
Martin. Douglas, acquired in a July trade that sent Camby to the Knicks, is an
inconsistent shooter, but gives the Rockets another option on the perimeter.
No one else on the roster possessions more than three years of NBA experience.
Forwards Marcus Morris and JaJuan Johnson look to build off so-so rookie
campaigns, so the club hopes it hit the jackpot with either Lamb, White or
Lamb and Jones were among the scoring leaders in Summer League play and have
developed a winning pedigree under the tutelage of their collegiate coaches.
White, if he can somehow manage his anxiety issues, may be a draft-day steal
with his all-around game.
Donatas Motiejunas is another rookie from Lithuania who figures to see
extended minutes behind Asik. The 7-footer was selected with the 20th
overall pick in 2011, but opted to play in Europe last season and led his team
to a Polish League title.
COACHING: McHale took over for the reins from Rick Adelman and guided the
Rockets to an over .500 record in his first season. Anything less than the
playoffs this time around will likely be viewed as a step backwards, but an
entirely new roster has changed McHale's blueprint.
The former Celtics great, known for his prowess in the post in his playing
days, will try to run his opponents off the floor, especially in a Southwest
Division filled with veteran clubs.
OUTLOOK: Expect the Rockets to come out of the gates slow, but Morey, one of
the prominent users of advanced metrics in player analysis, will help McHale
figure out Houston's optimal lineup by the turn of the calendar year. The
Rockets may be out of the playoff hunt relatively early, but will be very busy
at the trade deadline considering their depth across the board. So stayed
tuned in Houston, win or lose.
The Sports Network