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Wednesday June 25, 2008 2:48 PM

NBA Draft Preview


5 Things We Know About the Rockets Draft

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer
HOUSTON - You’ve spent countless hours devouring every mock draft the internet has to offer. You’ve listened to every podcast and watched every interview featuring NBA insiders and wannabe experts. You’ve even subjected your weary eyes to grainy, difficult to decipher video, all in an attempt to determine whether or not your favorite international sleeper is really a boom or bust. So now, with the long-awaited NBA draft just one day away, what do you have to show for all your diligent research?

Not a whole heck of a lot, if history is any indication.

The truth is there are just too many variables, too many inevitable trades and, quite frankly, too many lies for anyone to possess a truly great feel for how things will unfold Thursday night. Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has admitted as much, saying you can only believe about half, at best, of what you’re hearing right now—the rest is just a carefully-crafted smokescreen designed to confuse and confound.

So with that in mind, let’s sift through the double talk and misinformation in an effort to actually figure out what we do know regarding the Rockets’ plans for the 25th overall selection. Hard as it may be to believe, we’re not completely clueless. Here’s a list of things you can take to the bank:

1. Chemistry Matters

Yes, the NBA is a talent-driven league. But teams can’t afford to ignore that mysterious, impossible to quantify force which either binds 15 men together, or breaks them into a dysfunctional bunch of me-first individuals. Rest assured the Rockets are mindful of this as they prepare to tinker with their chemistry set.

“It’s no different—just to make it hit home for those in other industries—than [it is for] those in other industries,” says Morey. “You come in with a resume. The player’s career and what he’s done on the tape and what he’s done over the course of his college or international career—that’s sort of the resume of the player. But even though someone has a resume, you still want to meet them, interview the, get a sense of whether they’re motivated to work, how they’ll work in their locker room. These are probably minor factors in the overall scheme of things, but sometimes they can be tiebreakers. The NBA has the smallest locker rooms in [North American professional team sports] so one or two character issues can really impact play on the floor. So we spend a lot of time focusing on that, we do psychological testing.”

2. Wanted: Skilled Scorer. Apply Within

This comes as no surprise to anyone who watched the Rockets’ offense occasionally struggle down the stretch when facing elite teams. Getting a healthy Yao back in the line-up will do wonders for the team in that area, but it wouldn’t hurt to add another player at the wing position who can put points on the board in bunches. But can that guy be found so late in the first round? That’s the quandary facing Morey and his staff.

“At 25, unfortunately, there is no perfect world,” says Morey. “You’re trading off a few things. One is sort of best talent versus roster fit, versus system, versus do they help you earlier rather than later? You’re not going to get all those things, whereas with a top pick maybe you can find someone who gives you all those things. Similarly, on the skill level, ideally we’d get a player who can shoot, attack the basket, defend, be athletic, be big, be long—but those guys go in the top 15. So you end up having to choose which problem you want. It’s not really about finding the perfect player, it’s choosing what strengths you want in the player and what weaknesses you’re best okay with. Because unless you’re in the lottery or even high lottery, a player is going to have one, two or three major weaknesses.”

3. Immediate Impact Is Nice, But Not Necessary

This goes hand-in-hand with point number two. Every Rockets fan would love for the team to unearth the next Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer or Josh Howard. But history says it’s a long shot to discover those diamonds in the rough. And considering the Rockets are already the proud owners of a talent-laden roster, they don’t necessarily need to, either.

Says Morey: “We view this pick as someone who’s going to help us over time versus next year. I think last year was very unique to have three rookies come in and play minutes and contribute on a Western Conference playoff team. If we can do that again, that’d be great, but I think we’re more concerned with how this pick can help us in the future.

“We’re mostly focused on two things: One, get an impact player in the draft if we can do it, whether it be now or in the future. And two, how do we get better next year and how does this pick feed into that?”

4. Derrick Rose Won’t be Walking Through the Door

The point: Don’t waste too much time expecting the Rockets to pull off a blockbuster deal that lands them a spot near the top of the draft.

“We’re trying to trade up, but getting into the top ten is probably out of the question unless something comes along,” says Morey. “But I am hearing quite a few rumors that make sense about top picks in the three through nine range getting moved around.”

5. Yao Ming Is On The Mend

This news will almost certainly trump anything that comes out of Rockets headquarters during the next 48 hours or so. Houston’s All-Star center is getting closer to full-health and ready to put his world-renowned work ethic to good use.

“He’s getting his final check-up this week,” says Morey. “Everything’s been great, he’s been doing basketball skill work. We expect that final check-up this week to go well, and then he’ll head back to be with the [Chinese] Olympic team. Coach Sikma is gonna go with him, because early on they’ve got some openings in the schedule and Yao Ming, typical to form, wants to continue to work on the Rockets skill work while he’s over there.”