For a second consecutive year the trade deadline has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Houston Rockets fans, who steadfastly maintain a dream to see their team play and perform at high levels again—sooner rather than later.
Houston finds itself in this situation primarily because of bad luck, since the franchise seemed to be built with all the right pieces to make a serious title run. The Rockets barely won a playoff series (Portland, 2008), and that team was even able to accomplish the feat without McGrady's services. Ming went down right in the middle of the next round against the Lakers.
That squad never retained the necessary toughness to advance beyond the playoffs' first round. The two superstars were often injured, lost for significant portions of different seasons and never showed a winning mentality.
All the sacrifices made to bring that tandem in town, a first round pick overall and a blockbuster trade with Orlando eventually led to nothing. McGrady was sent packing a year ago after being snubbed by Adelman, and Ming is nothing but a fat contract to possibly ship elsewhere before his career turns to an end because of his fragile feet.
The new edition Rockets seem to have no choice but to spend a long period of time rebuilding again, and they actually don't know when they will be able to try to climb to the top again.
Daryl Morey, one of the best GM's in the business, did everything he could to receive something in exchange for a chronically injured player like T-Mac. Unfortunately, he landed neither the superstar-caliber player, nor the difference maker, that the team needed.
McGrady, despite being young, was already declining because of his infamous back issues and no potential trading partner could be found willing to risk it on him. People who were expecting a big time player in exchange for McGrady were simply dreaming. History repeated itself when people envisioned Carmelo Anthony or Deron Williams suiting up in a Rockets uniform.
Let's be honest: Houston didn't have the right pieces to trade for a big player.
Houston is not now, nor during last summer's free agency period, an attractive destination for great players. If you recall, the franchise was snubbed back then by Texas native Chris Bosh, who paid a visit seemingly for political reasons. We now know he had already decided to join Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami.
Houston, for the second year in a row, has given up its already thin postseason hopes. The team cut ties with two important pieces of the team (and fan favorites) that actually won a rare playoff series in Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks.
One year ago McGrady was sent to New York in a trade that brought Kevin Martin to Texas, along with a young developmental player in Jordan Hill. This year found the GM in an all too familiar role for Rockets fans—forced to rebuild the team once again and having to sell that scenario to the fans, once again.
What we have is another year of a GM constricted by team management to start from scratch, more pleading to the fans for patience for another run at something bigger than the first round and more blatant attempts to rekindle the memories of the mid-90s magic flavor.
Battier returned to Memphis, the same team that originally drafted him in the first round in 2001. Houston will remember him as the warrior that left all of his sweat on the floor trying to limit the opponents' best offensive player.
He was a great defender (the best the Rockets featured in these recent times), dangerous from behind the arc and a great leader as well. In short, an extremely intelligent person that made everyone around him better.
Brooks was a sort of little hero, a guy who often played beyond his physical attributes, displaying a heart much bigger than his size, or second-rounder fame. He contributed significantly in the last playoff series.
The depleted squad relied on his quickness to overcome its stars injuries. Brooks contributed so much in forcing the Lakers to a game 7, a mission that at the time seemed impossible. Now, in Phoenix, he will play in an ideal scheme for his skills, and will be groomed to eventually succeed Steve Nash.
Houston brought in Goran Dragic and Hasheem Thabeet—not exactly two game changers. Dragic did not improve significantly behind Nash, forcing the Suns to make him available for a trade. But in any event, the Rockets acquired a mentally strong player that showed great fundamentals, great ball-handling skills and a backup to Kyle Lowry.
Thabeet would like to avoid being remembered as one of the greatest busts ever, since he was chosen second overall in the 2009 Draft and showed next to nothing after being so dominant at UConn.
Morey was desperately searching for a true center for a long time, since the Rockets constantly played with Chuck Hayes and Luis Scola in that spot, not exactly the tallest players available. Sure, they left their hearts out on the floor every time they challenged bigger players, but in the end they were often outmatched.
Thabeet, a Tanzania native, has African origins—just like another Rockets center that you may remember—but will be a long-time project. He's much taller than his new teammates (7'3''), but he must improve his game technically and show his desire to play in the NBA.
He must get away from the loudmouth figure that surrounded him in his college days (when blocking shots and getting rebounds was much easier), and he must prove that he belongs in basketball's professional world. It would be great if he could take a lesson or two from an all-time great like Hakeem "The Dream" and develop into the dominant center that many scouts thought he could become.
Morey has talked to the media about a "baby steps" process that involves little but significant improvements that one day will bring the Rockets to compete at high levels. All the youth that has arrived in Houston in the last two years is intended to be the backbone of the team. So Dragic, Hill, Budinger and, who knows, even Carroll, could develop into the right role players for this squad to succeed.
The real question that Morey must ask himself before it's too late is crystal clear: Is the player that will save Houston from falling into the league's basement for the next decade currently on the roster? Are Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and others pieces of a bigger project or are they the key to bring in, via trade, the superstar that the team now lacks? Will the savior come into town with one of the numerous draft picks acquired?
Morey is known as a sound General Manager that always makes the right decision. Now, more than ever, the keys to the Rockets' fast resurgence are in his capable hands.