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.
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.”