By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:31PM
The Rockets have a new marketing slogan for this season.
"A new age."
That's the average years of NBA experience by the 20 players on hand for the start of training camp.
If their roster were any younger, coach Kevin McHale would probably have to spend practices teaching them how to fingerpaint and not eat the paste.
It wouldn't have been this way if Orlando would have been willing to accept any of the assorted Rockets packages for All-Star center Dwight Howard instead of packing him off to L.A.
"We're an inexperienced team," said general manager Daryl Morey. "We have talent. We have potential.
"What we don't have are answers. I think we might be the hardest team to predict in the standings of any team in the league."
That, at least, would be a change from the past three seasons when the Rockets were stuck stagnantly smack in the middle, the last team to miss the playoffs and the team with the best record in the draft lottery.
In swimming parlance, the Rockets have been treading water since the high-profile, All-Star and underachieving pairing of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady literally broke under the weight of knee and foot injuries.
Over the past three summers, the franchise has pursued every big-name free agent or discontented All-Star that was put onto the trading block with no success.
So to hear Morey tell it, this season's raw youth and complete unpredictability is far preferable to being a known, but incomplete quantity.
"Championship or real playoff contenders need certainty," he said. "You want to go into the start of a season feeling that you know your players and have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen over the course of a season.
"But if you're a team like us, if you've been out of the mix and are trying to get back to being a contender, I think you would rather have a lot of unknowns. We all know that the worst thing you can be in the NBA is a 35 to 40 win team that can't realistically compete for a championship. That's not a level that we have ever accepted here. Our goal is to contend for a championship. How hard is that? Very. But it won't stop us for aiming that way.
"I think we take our steps in that direction by seeing who can step up and step forward from the players we've brought in. We do have a lot of young players. But every one of those players has shown some kind of elite skill somewhere. What we need are for them to expand on those skills."
Carlos Delfino is the only player on the roster who has reached his 30th birthday. Kevin Martin is the only player with at least eight years of experiences. The Rockets took seven rookies to camp and three other players with only one year of NBA experience. They spent $25 million on a point guard in Jeremy Lin, who has only 64 NBA games under his belt, and another $25 million on center Omer Asik, who has played 30-plus minutes only three times in 148 career appearances.
"I think our goal for this year, without any other big changes, is we fight for a playoff spot. I think that's a stretch goal, but I'm not gonna say it's not possible. Of course, to do that mean we need Lin, Asik or some other guys on the team to emerge and become an All-Star player.
"On the other hand, what we've done and will continue to do with every move we make is get players who can move up to that elite level or to have players and contracts that give us the flexibility to get an All-Star, either through free agency or a trade."
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has told Morey that he does not want to write off an entire season to a rebuilding effort in order to secure the highest draft pick as possible in the hope of getting another foundation player for the franchise.
"I'm a competitive guy and Mr. Alexander is a competitive guy," Morey said. "The fact is the NBA rewards losing like no other league. But that's not a path we're ever going to choose. We're going to try to win."
Yet with an opening night roster that is likely to include eight players in their first or second pro season, that could prove quite difficult.
"If we make the playoffs, it means one or more of our players has emerged," Morey said. "If players are not as good as I think, then we do probably have a high pick. In either scenario, we get close to a becoming a title contender."
1. Will GM Daryl Morey ever be able to pull the trigger on a deal that will land the Rockets a legitimate All-Star to build around?
2. Can a guy who's logged 30-plus minutes only three times in 148 career games be a full-time starter at center? Ask Omer Asik.
3. After several fun-filled weeks as a phenom in NY, real pressure for Jeremy Lin is having full-time responsibility to run an offense.
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LAST YEAR: 34-32, 4th in Southwest
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
JEREMY LIN, POINT GUARD
14.6 | 3.1 RPG | 6.2 APG
"Linsanity" is over. Now he's got to prove he can deliver every night as face of the franchise as well as atone for his defensive flaws that were exposed last season.
KEVIN MARTIN, SHOOTING GUARD
17.1 PPG | 2.6 RPG | 2.8 APG
A bad fit with coach Kevin McHale, Martin is the most likely Rocket to be traded by the February deadline. Few in the NBA can score as efficiently as he does, though.
CHANDLER PARSONS, SMALL FORWARD
9.5 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 2.1 APG
The high-flying rookie Parsons helped usher Chase Budinger out of town. With the gig all his, he'll continue to shine as a hustler and shooter with range.
PATRICK PATTERSON, POWER FORWARD
7.7 PPG | 4.5 RPG | 0.6 BPG
Finally out of the shadow cast by the departed Luis Scola, the third-year Patterson has to step forward and show he can handle the load as Houston's new starter.
OMER ASIK, CENTER
3.3 PPG | 4.7 RPG | 1.3 APG
After two years as a reserve in Chicago, Asik must justify a $25-million deal here. Houston's staff is working hard to polish his mostly unseen offensive game.
|Carlos Delfino||6-6||230||SF||At just 30, he's the oldest player on the roster.|
|Donatas Motiejunas||7-0||222||C||Lithuanian big man is a foundational hope for the future.|
|Shaun Livingston||6-7||175||PG||Seven teams in 10 years, still looking for a home.|
ADDED: C Omer Asik, F Carlos Delfino, F Gary Forbes, F. Terrence Jones, G Jeremy Lamb, G Jeremy Lin, G Shaun Livingston, G Scott Machado, F Donatas Motiejunas, F Royce White
LOST: G Kyle Lowry, G Goran Dragic, G Courtney Lee, C Marcus Camby, F Luis Scola, F Chase Budinger, C Samuel Dalembert, G Earl Boykins, F Terrence Williams, G Jonny Flynn, C Hasheem Thabeet
JEREMY LIN, POINT GUARD
Now that Linsanity is returning to Houston, the out-of-nowhere sensation becomes the face of a franchise in complete rebuilding mode. Lin is entering just his third NBA season, but he will be looked upon for leadership on one of the youngest teams in the league.
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