Houston Rockets

The Rockets last first round selection was Yao Ming, the top overall pick in 2002.
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No. 24
Jon Barry (unrestricted)
Ryan Bowen (unrestricted)
Torraye Braggs (unrestricted)
Dikembe Mutombo (unrestricted)
Scott Padgett (player option)
2004: 55. Luis Flores, Manhattan
2003: 44. Malick Badiane, Germany
2002: 1. Yao Ming, China
15. Bostjan Nachbar, Italy
38. Tito Maddox, Fresno State
2001: 13. Richard Jefferson, Ariz.
18. Jason Collins, Stanford
23. Brandon Armstrong, Pepperdine
2000: 9. Joel Przybilla, Minn.
38. Eduardo Najera, Oklahoma
By Bill Evans

When the 2004-05 season began: After a 45-37 mark in 2003-04, the Rockets made noise in the off-season with the acquisition of Tracy McGrady, giving the team one of the league’s most fearsome inside-outside combinations. Jeff Van Gundy’s squad entered the season vying for the title of best team in Texas.

What happened? The Yao and Tracy show was a success in Houston, where the Rockets won 51 games, turning it on in the second half with a 31-12 mark in their final 39 games to earn the fifth seed in the West.

McGrady led the team in points (25.7), assists (5.7) and steals (1.73) and was the team’s second leading rebounder (6.2). The demonstrated the rare ability to carry the Rockets single-handedly at times, never more evident than on Dec. 9 vs. San Antonio when he scored 13 points in the final 35 seconds to steal an 81-80 win over San Antonio.

Yao Ming continued to improve in his third season as the centerpiece of the Rockets franchise, notching career-highs in points (18.3), blocks (2.0) and field goal percentage (55.2 percent, third in the NBA).

It is a testament to the coaching of Van Gundy and the prodigious skills of Yao and McGrady that the Rockets won 50 games, because there was a sharp decline in talent after Yao and McGrady and zero roster continuity.

The Rockets dressed 23 different players. Besides Yao, Clarence Weatherspoon and Scott Padgett were the only players on the end-of-season roster who had been with the team in 2003-04.

Choosing to rely on declining veterans instead of grooming young talent, Houston acquired eight players before or during the season who will celebrate their 32nd birthday before the end of the summer.

The only exception was Mike James, acquired from Milwaukee in the first-year of a three-year deal. He was the team’s third leading scorer (12.4 ppg).

What now? The win-now philosophy backfired when the Rockets were stymied by Dallas, 4-3, in the first round. Now they’ll try to reinforce a roster that has only two players – albeit it two great ones in Yao and McGrady – under the age of 29.

They’ll have the 24th pick in the first round, and no pick in the second, so adding immediate help won’t be easy. The best hope they have of filling a need is finding a backup center. Mutombo is a fossil, and Yao only averaged 30.6 minutes per game a year ago.

Though the team needs to upgrade its guard rotation, it may be able to get by with another year of James, Bob Sura and David Wesley. The power forward spot, manned by Juwan Howard, also needs more production.