When you consider that the Houston Rockets lost their All-Star big man for the season, traded an elite scorer at the trading deadline for nickels on the dollar and battled countless injuries all year, you have to be impressed that they managed a winning record last season. But this is the Western Conference, and just eking out an over-.500 mark isn't going to cut it. The Rockets have some work to do if they want to be contenders again.
2009-10 Record: 42-40 (third in Southwest Division, ninth in Western Conference, missed playoffs)
Celtics' record vs. Rockets: 85-41 all time, 1-1 last season
Familiar faces: None, really. These Rockets are from all over the globe — everywhere except New England.
Key additions: Courtney Lee (acquired from Nets in four-way trade), Patrick Patterson (draft), Brad Miller (free agent), Alexander Johnson (free agent)
Key losses: Trevor Ariza (traded to New Orleans in Lee deal), David Andersen (traded to Raptors)
Burning question: Will Yao's supporting cast be good enough?
There's little doubt that if Yao Ming stays healthy, he will be an elite big man once again this season. He's still only 29 years old, and he has all the tools to be a superstar again in the NBA.
But if the Rockets are going to really make some noise, they need everyone else to step up.
Aaron Brooks has to keep growing into one of the game's best young guards. Kevin Martin has to be a true leading scorer. Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes all have to bring defense and rebounding help to Yao's cause.
If all of these things happen, the Rockets are in good shape. But that's by no means a slam dunk — a couple of the Rockets' cornerstone players are still a bit young and a bit raw. Yao might have to carry all the weight on his shoulders, and that's asking a lot of a guy who's had surgery to repair a broken foot. If this team wants to turn some heads in 2010-11, it's going to take a team effort.
2010-11 outlook: The Rockets are getting there, but the Western Conference is as cutthroat as ever, and making the playoffs will be an uphill battle. A year ago, with a healthy Yao and a clicking supporting cast, the Rockets won 53 games and advanced to the West semifinals against the Lakers. If the Rockets reach that level again, they can consider this season to be a success — but even if they don't, they've still got a solid pair of guards to build around in Brooks and Martin. Life could be worse in Houston.
Did you know? 2010 was the first year that Yao Ming failed to start the All-Star Game for the Western Conference. The global icon was voted into the starting center role by the fans in each of his previous seven seasons.