Southwest Division update: Houston Rockets

Friday, August 15, 2008
Posted by: recently enlisted the help of our colleagues from around the Southwest Division, to provide updates on the major offseason news involving each club. First up is’s Jason Friedman, who joined the Rockets this summer after covering the team for the Houston Press newspaper.
Tell us what you think about the Rockets and their offseason, as well as how they match up against the Hornets, by leaving a blog comment in Big Easy Buzz. We’ll have more updates next week as we make our way through the division.

By: Jason Friedman,
Major moves

Obviously, this category can best be summed up with one name: Ron Artest. His addition to the team addresses nearly every need the Rockets had entering this offseason. First and foremost, he instantly becomes the third scorer Houston fans have been craving for the better part of a decade; thereby relieving Rafer Alston (and his .394 shooting percentage) of that responsibility. Factor in his toughness, versatility and defensive prowess, and it’s easy to see why giddy Rockets fans are going to sleep these days with visions of banners and parades dancing around their heads.
Of course, one can’t discuss Artest anymore without uttering the word “caveat.” It might as well be his middle name at this point. His well-publicized bouts of boorish behavior and questionable decision-making have burned many a bridge throughout the course of his tempestuous career, and no doubt plenty of people expect Houston to be added to that list by the time all is said and done. But here’s the thing: The Rockets gave up very little to acquire Artest and, if he does go off the deep end again, they’re only on the hook for this season. Throw in the fact that Houston’s window to win with Yao and McGrady is RIGHT NOW and it’s clear that this was a gamble the Rockets absolutely had to make.
Artest aside, it’s important not to overlook the addition of free agent Brent Barry. Sure, the 36-year-old guard is a bit long in the tooth, but his outside shooting stroke and championship experience should prove invaluable to a team with a desperate need for both.

Summer league synopsis
The most notable event which took place during the Rockets’ summer league schedule was the dynamic 40-point debut by rookie Donté Greene. How much did that offensive explosion factor into Greene’s inclusion as part of the Artest swap? Would the Rockets still have been able to swing the deal if the sharpshooter from Syracuse had not been able to light up the Las Vegas scoreboard? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Either way, the Rockets dealt Donté while his stock was high; a smart move considering that, for all his offensive gifts, he remains a project who likely would have been buried on the Houston bench this season.
As for summer league players who actually will wear Rockets red this season: Joey Dorsey lived up to his promise to be “Ray Lewis with a basketball,” bounding and bullying all over the court. He should have no problem racking up rebounds and fouls once the real games begin. Meanwhile, second-year guard Aaron Brooks produced mixed results in his campaign to claim the Rockets’ back-up point position, while his former Oregon teammate Maarty Leunen opened eyes with his steady, heady play. Leunen likely will spend next season in Europe, but the Rockets’ brain trust is excited about his future.

This may seem bold considering the Rockets haven’t experienced the second round in more than a decade, but anything less than a Western Conference Finals appearance this season would have to be seen as a massive disappointment. Put simply: Houston didn’t go all-in with Artest just to get past the first round. On paper, all the pieces are in place for the team to make a serious title run. The key, as it always is with this club, is staying healthy – both from a physical standpoint and, with Artest now in tow, a mental one, too.