Rockets Have Look of Possible Title Contenders After Bringing Back Underrated Luis Scola

Ask yourself this: Why would anyone not want a versatile, energetic power forward who always gives his best effort and never misses a game?

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey is one of the most intelligent executives in all of sports, and it's absolutely no surprise that Morey saw the value in keeping 30-year-old power forward Luis Scola on his roster for next season. The only question is — what in the world took so long?

It wasn't until Thursday evening, a full two weeks after the start of NBA free agency, that the Rockets sat down with Scola and hammered out an agreement to keep the Argentina-born veteran in Houston. Scola's now ready to sign on the dotted line for five years and $47 million, and it's about time.

Scola's been a star for longer than most basketball fans stateside are aware. He was the Rookie of the Year in the Spanish League in 2000. He later became a two-time MVP across the pond, and he helped his club team Saski Baskonia win three Spanish Cups and three Spanish Supercups. Before anyone here in the United States even knew Scola's name, he was already a champion.

Then he came to the States and got even better. He's undersized for an NBA big man at 6-foot-9, but he's still one of the best rebounders in the game. He defends. He creates shots. He operates within the team concept. And in three seasons with the Rockets, he's played in all 82 games of each season, never taking a night off.

Scola's Rockets have been to the playoffs twice in three years, once pushing the Lakers to seven games in the second round of the West playoffs before being eliminated in 2009. Over the course of the past year, the Rockets have been working toward building a strong nucleus to contend for a championship.

Last summer, they signed Trevor Ariza to replace Ron Artest as their top wing defender. Ariza is a younger, more energetic version, and the kid can shoot, too.

In February, they added Kevin Martin, a consistent 20-plus scorer that the Kings gave away for pennies on the dollar at the trading deadline.

Yao Ming is on the mend after undergoing foot surgery a year ago. He'll be ready to play soon.

Kyle Lowry is staying in town, as the Cavaliers showed the 24-year-old guard an offer sheet this week before Morey matched their offer and ensured that Lowry's restricted free agency would end with him remaining in Houston.

And now, Scola.

Piece after piece is falling into place for the Rockets.

Are they a title contender? This might sound silly, but yeah, maybe. The Rockets won 55 and 53 games in Yao's last two healthy seasons. Add in an explosive young guard corps in Martin, Ariza, Lowry and Aaron Brooks and an awesome defensive role player in Shane Battier, along with two more years of NBA experience for Scola, and you're looking at a team that's made some serious upgrades.

With Luis Scola back, the Rockets are better positioned to make a run in the Western Conference playoffs, and ultimately get another crack at the mighty Lakers. For that reason alone, Daryl Morey has to be feeling pretty good about the next five years. But one can only wonder how he wasted the last two weeks.

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