Rockets Offseason Edition: Talk is Cheap, Money Buys Victories?
Rockets Spending Spree Spurs Playoff Talk
In the midst of a disappointing 28-54 season, the Houston Rockets made wholesale changes at the trading deadline moving Rasheed Wallace, Sam Cassell, and Cuttino Mobley for younger players, expiring contracts, and draft picks. When the season was over, the Rockets were left with five players on the roster, first round picks, and 30 million in cap space. The off-season provided the team with plenty of options to decide which direction to go to in the present and future. With the drafting of Manu Ginobili with the 5th pick and spending 28 million in free agency, including star point guard Damon Stoudamire, the Rockets are hoping that the playoffs are on the horizon.
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Manu Ginobili and Damon Stoudamire were two of the acquisitions this off-season.
Before last season, the Rockets were coming off a successful season winning 47 games, finishing 3rd in the West, and making the playoffs. Led by veteran stars Rasheed Wallace and Sam Cassell, the Rockets were again expected to be a playoff contender. However, the team started 1-8 and with Wallace missing over 25 games in the first half to recurring injuries, the Rockets were already out of the playoff race by the All-Star break. Both the GM and head coach Rudy Tomjanovich were under fire for a disastrous start. Boasting one of the worst records in the league, the team had to decide what direction to go at the trade deadline. Realizing the team had little cap room to improve in the off-season, the front office decided to completely start over. Wallace, Cassell, and shooting guard Cuttino Mobley were traded at deadline. The team acquired young players such as Wally Szczerbiak and Etan Thomas as well as expiring contracts and multiple 1st round picks. Szczerbiak and Thomas played well after the trade and the team played respectable down the stretch. However, both players were free agents at the end of the season and the team was left with only 5 players on the rosters.
With plenty of cap space and draft picks, the Rockets had many options for this off-season. On draft night, the team passed up point guard Jay Williams to select Manu Ginobili from Argentina. Many felt the Rockets should have gone for the younger Williams in their rebuilding efforts, but the Rockets believe Manu was pound for pound, the best player in the draft. They then traded up to acquire power forward Drew Gooden from Kansas who the team felt could start right away in case Thomas signed elsewhere. The Rockets added point guard Dan Dickau at the end of the first round, but released both of their second round picks to save up more cap space for free agency.
Rookie PF Drew Gooden from Kansas
The Rockets were not done with just the draft. The team knew free agency would be unpredictable due to multiple teams having plenty of cap space. Demand would be high for many players. However, the Rockets had targeted 6 free agents to fill multiple needs. While other teams started out low-balling free agents, the Rockets from day one offered big contracts to multiple players including Thomas, Szczerbiak, and center Bryant Reeves who were all acquired from the Toronto Raptors for Wallace. They also offered Stoudamire, point guard Speedy Claxton, and veteran shooting guard Voshon Leonard to fill their remaining needs. A bidding war ensued for Thomas with the Phoenix Suns, but the Rockets offered slightly more and in the end signed all 6 players targeted including Thomas. In all, the team committed 28 million this season in free agency, and close to 120 million over the next few seasons.
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Bryant Reeves and Speedy Claxton
Training camp has ended with rotations being set. Stoudamire will provide the team with a play maker at the point who can score and create. Reeves beat out incumbent center Brad Miller and will provide inside scoring. Thomas remains the starting power forward with the rookie Gooden beating out Cal Bowdler for the backup spot. Szczerbiak will start at small forward to give the team another scorer to complement Stoudamire. Lenard gets the nod at shooting guard due to his ability to shoot and defend while Ginobili will become the 6th man to provide scoring off the bench. Claxton will be the backup point guard to lead a strong second unit that includes Miller, Gooden, and Ginobili. The regular season begins next week and the team is optimistic that the new group can lead the organization back into the playoffs right before the team moves to the Toyota Center in 2003.