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The Rockets 19-43 record is 3rd worst in the league. They allow the 2nd most points and the highest field goal percentage in all of basketball. They are below average offensively. Ball don't lie. This team has been bad this season. And this is before the Rockets just traded away Rasheed Wallace (to the Raptors), Cuttino Mobley (to the Timberwolves), and Sam Cassell (to the world champion Mavericks pending approval). Expectations have finally disappeared to acceptance that it is time to start over.
Wallace, Mobley, and Cassell were traded before the deadline.
One year ago, the Rockets were playoff contenders led by Wallace and Cassell surrounded with solid veterans in Kelvin Cato, Brad Miller, George Lynch, Brent Barry, and Mobley. However, while battling for the 2nd seed in the west, Wallace injured his wrist in the final week of the season forcing him to the miss the first round of the playoffs. Despite finishing 3rd in the conference, the Rockets were swept in the first round by the Lakers. The abrupt ending of the season left many in Houston feeling what could have been had Wallace stayed healthy. This season was supposed to provide absolution for diehard Rocket fans. Wallace was back healthy. Cassell was ready to build off his outstanding season and the Rockets upgraded with Brad Miller and Cuttino Mobley. Starters Cato, Barry, and Lynch for draft picks and replaced them with younger players. However, the loss of Cato and Lynch left a gaping hole defensively and the Rockets staggered to a 1-8 start worsened with an early injury to Wallace. In fact, Wallace missed 26 games and the team struggled to compensate. Even with Wallace, the team was well below .500.
Wallace missed 26 games this season.
Questions arouse of what happened this season. General manager Hornets78 has faced heavy criticism. Many speculated on why 3 starters on a playoff team were traded for draft picks in a weak draft. Though Miller and Mobley have been upgrades, the bench became weakened. The small forward position has continued to be a sore spot and the younger players brought in have not supplemented the starters especially during Wallace's absent. Hornets78 faced more criticism this week after two deadline moves which saw Wallace being traded to the Raptors and Mobley to the Timberwolves. While reviews of the Wallace trade have been generally favorable, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN First Take ripped Hornets78 for the trade. However Hornets78 believes he received the best offer. "Both Wally Z and Etan Thomas are young guys who will start right away. We also get two future firsts and an expiring contract. I think this move will help us long-term. We needed to move on, we needed to move on now." Still, many are questioning why the rush to trade Wallace who still has two years left on his contract as well as Cassell who still was signed through next season. Privately, 78 became frustrated with Wallace's injuries and some felt in the organization that Wallace slowly came back from injuries due to the team's struggles. Also, the team felt Wallace was not a franchise cornerstone.
Hornets78 isn't the only one to receive criticism. Head coach Rudy Tomjanovich has shared some of the brunt. He was widely criticized for playing Wallace during the last week of last season leading to the injury and subsequent 1st round exit. He also could not solve the defensive problems and the lack of consistency throughout the season. Many feel he did not exert more pressure on the veterans and instead let the team go through the motions. Though an icon in this city during his time as a player and also leading the Rockets to two championships as a coach, many are speculating he could be let go after the season. To his credit, Tomjanovich has always had the support of the players. However, speculation is brewing that both Hornets78 and Tomjanovich are running out of time. The Toyota Center is scheduled to open in October 2003 and ownership doesn't want the team in a long painful rebuild by the time of the opening. If ownership decides to build a winner by 2003, the question will be which GM and coach will lead the charge. The team has 6 1st round picks in the next 3 drafts as well as ample cap space. Hornets78 feels a winner can be built quickly. He also believes the defense must be the foundation. Though Tomjanovich and 78 have always had a strong relationship, sources believe 78 could move in a new direction this season if given the chance. However, he may have to perform the task of letting go a close friend and an icon in the organization, or worse, be let go himself.
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