News and Notes: Rockets ready for regular season finale

Wednesday April 25, 2012 4:24 PM

News And Notes

Rockets ready for regular season finale and the offseason ahead

Jason Friedman

HOUSTON - The Rockets hit the practice court for the final time of the 2011-12 regular season Wednesday morning as reality began to fully set in among players and coaches that their roller coaster and whirlwind of an NBA campaign was truly coming to a close.

For many, that thought was still difficult to fathom given the prime playoff positioning the club had secured for itself just two weeks ago. But an ill-timed slide saw Houston drop from the race, leaving the Rockets to lament the long summer that came upon them far sooner than anyone would have wished.

"I was really disappointed, and all my teammates and coaching staff (were, too)," said Goran Dragic after Wednesday's workout. "Maybe three weeks ago we were in really good position, the sixth spot, and for sure everybody was believing that we were going to make the playoffs. And then I don't know what happened. We lost six games in row and it was frustrating for fans, for players, for everybody. The only thing I can say now is hopefully we learned something from that and in the future we're going to play different."

To that end, this is already shaping up to be a fascinating offseason for Houston as the team will have a pair of first round picks in the upcoming draft, plenty of cap space available, and key decisions to make with regard to free agency beginning with a trio of its own players set to hit the open market. Dragic and Marcus Camby will both be unrestricted free agents starting July 1, while Courtney Lee is a restricted free agent, meaning the Rockets will have the right to match any offer he receives. Each player stated his desire to stay in Houston Wednesday, while Camby took it one step further, expressing not just his hope to remain in his adopted hometown but also his belief that bringing back Dragic should be one of the team's top priority.

"I would like to be here but I understand the NBA is a business," he said. "I know a lot of teams are going to reach out but this is where I want to be so hopefully we can make something work.

"I like the guys we have on this team. I like our nucleus. I think it's important to us to bring Gogi back. He's a big part of what we're doing around here. Anything can happen in this league. I've been around long enough to know things like that and understand the business aspect of it, but I like the pieces that we have and signing back Dragic is key."

The meaning behind Camby's message did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by Dragic.

"It means a lot," Dragic said, when told of Camby's comment. "When Kyle went down, I was surprised that all my teammates came together and gave me the role where I can be a leader. Marcus being in the league 16 years, when that player says something like that it means a lot to me and hopefully in the future we're going to be together.

"I was working for that moment for four years in the NBA, trying to establish my name here in the league and someday to be a starter and to lead the team. I'm really happy that happened but it's still not over. You still have to work hard. Every day somebody new is coming for your spot.

"Houston Rockets are a great organization, great people, great city. I think Houston is going to be on the top of the list for sure."

As for the regular season finale itself, fans should expect to see plenty of the Rockets' young players on display Thursday night when the New Orleans Hornets invade Toyota Center. Head Coach Kevin McHale said starters Camby (back) and Chandler Parsons (shoulder) would not play, joining Kyle Lowry (sports hernia) and Kevin Martin (shoulder) on the sidelines. That should mean ample action not just for the likes of Marcus Morris, but perhaps players like Greg Smith, Courtney Fortson and Diamon Simpson as well.

Regardless of the rotation or the end result Thursday evening, however, the Rockets are already looking ahead. The mourning period is over. It's time to move on. And that means taking a long hard look in the mirror, figuring out what went wrong, fixing the issues that exist and, most importantly, putting in the hard work necessary to make sure the club maximizes the offseason opportunity to regroup, retool and rebound in a big way.

"We had one goal this season and that was to make the playoffs and we didn't do it," said McHale. "We fell short and that's the bottom line; we didn't have a successful season. Now everybody's got to figure out what we can all do to get better. We're going to have to look at everything we put in offensively and defensively, and how many things we have to modify.

"We have to make the playoffs, that's the first thing. You always have to add talent, that's just the way this league is. Then you have to develop the guys you have. Chandler Parsons has got to be a better player next year. Goran's got to be a bit better. Patrick Patterson's got to get healthy this summer so he can get a big summer of work in. So you develop from within and then hopefully you add pieces that mesh and you get better.

"The bottom line is we have to get better and the easiest way to get better is from within. The most sexy way is (to get better from) without, where you go sign Player X, Y or Z. Well, yeah, there's only one of them and fifteen teams are trying to get him. The unsexy way is to improve from within and hard work."

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