The Rockets are mired in a five-game losing streak and slumping their way towards the NBA trade deadline next week. They lost two overtime heartbreakers to the Clippers and the Celtics and dropped an uninspired road loss the the abysmal Toronto Raptors. The Rockets aren't exactly free-falling, but their schedule is only getting tougher with the majority of their games to end the season on the road.
I was listening to a discussion about the Rockets trade possibilities -- and their apparent continued hard-on for Pau Gasol -- on sports radio the other day and I began wondering how the Rockets' starters actually line up against the best teams in the Western Conference. I've been saying on this blog that they are a mediocre team lacking stars, and they are, but are they really that much worse off than the better teams in their conference? So, I took the current division leaders, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Clippers, and compared them. Let's see how the Rockets fare.
Rockets: Kyle Lowry Thunder: Russell Westbrook Spurs: Tony Parker LA Clippers: Chris Paul This is a very tough category. Some have suggested we are in a golden era for point guards like what we saw in the late '80s and early '90s for centers. As a result, Lowry doesn't fall into the realm of the elite point guards in the NBA. In this comparison, only the Spurs would consider swapping ones with the Rockets. Rockets Ranking: 3rd
Rockets: Kevin Martin Thunder: Daequan Cook Spurs: Danny Green LA Clippers: Randy Foye This is the one area where the Rockets match up well. It's a shame, however, that with someone as offensively talented as Martin, he seems to have a season stuck in neutral. It's no surprise he's been sitting long stretches at the end of games, but it's a mystery as to why this slump has been so pronounced. It might be the misfire on the trade that included him in the offseason has him sulking, but no one really knows for sure. Still, in this group, Martin is the clear frontrunner, particularly since Manu Ginobili has been out most of the season with injuries. Rockets Ranking: 1st
Rockets: Chandler Parsons Thunder: Kevin Durant Spurs: Richard Jefferson LA Clippers: Caron Butler God bless the rookie for working his ass off out there and providing some defense, as shocking as that may sound. But, he's a rookie and plays with the kind of consistency -- that is to say, none of it -- that you would expect from a first-year player. It doesn't help that arguably the best player in the NBA plays your position. Rockets Ranking: 4th
Rockets: Luis Scola Thunder: Serge Ibaka Spurs: Tim Duncan LA Clippers: Blake Griffin Fans of basketball should love guys like Scola. He works hard, never complains and is a real offensive weapon on the floor. But, he has serious defensive shortcomings and little to no athleticism. Ibaka has come out of seemingly nowhere to be a huge part of the OKC fortunes and the other two include one of the all-time greats at the position on the downside of his career and a young phenom taking the league by storm. Rockets Ranking: 4th
Rockets: Samuel Dalembert Thunder: Kendrick Perkins Spurs: DeJuan Blair LA Clippers: DeAndre Jordan If there is a word that best define Dalembert, it's inconsistent. He has many of the tools you look for in a center: shot blocking, rebounding, athleticism. But he can't put together a full season of solid play. He will go on tears like the two-game, post-player-only meeting run he had this week, but then disappear as he did against Toronto. Among these centers, he probably is about even with this group considering it's a pretty underwhelming bunch. Rockets Ranking: 2nd
Rockets: Kevin McHale Thunder: Scott Brooks Spurs: Greg Popovich LA Clippers: Vinny Del Negro It wouldn't be fair to rank the players and not take a look at the coach. McHale has barely racked up enough total games coached in his entire career to make one full season, so it's tough to gauge him exactly, but he's clearly a tough, hard-nosed guy who demands effort from his players. He also sticks with the hot hand regardless of who that player is, which sometimes might be cutting off his nose to spite his face. His peers in this group include one of the all-time greats in Popovich and a former Rocket player, Brooks, who has become one of the hottest coaching commodities in the league. Del Negro keeps lucking into jobs with great players. We'll see if he can hang onto this gig. Rockets Ranking: 3rd
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While they manage to rank at or near the top in a couple of categories, they fall down the list quickly in others. If I were to go to, say, the top eight teams in the west, my guess is they would fall even farther down the ladder.
It's a league dominated by great players and the lack of truly great players is going to continue to hurt the team until they can finally land a star that doesn't spend most of his season on injured reserve.