It's been a tough start for the hapless Rockets. With early injury problems, a trade that didn't happen in the lockout-shortened offseason and a new, unproven coach, it's no wonder the first few weeks of the season have been somewhere between "OH GOD NO!" and "Just shoot me."
This, of course, makes it highly unfair to compare them to one of the greatest teams in the history of the franchise, the 1993 championship winners. But, I thought it was an exercise worth doing if for no other reason than to illustrate the ladder this current team has to climb.
I should point out that I like a lot of the players on this team, but it takes stars to win. As Rockets superfan site ClutchFans.net pointed out just before the season started:
Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and now Dirk Nowitzki. The harsh reality (and poorly-kept secret) about the NBA is that one or more of these 11 superstars have been on the roster of 31 of the last 32 Championship teams. Which current Rocket would you put in that class? Having a superstar isn't a luxury -- it's mandatory.
So, unfair as it may be, here's a look at how the two rosters compare.
The Bench Most great teams shorten their bench to about eight guys during the playoffs, but they almost always rely on ten or 11 during the season. In the case of 1993, there were ten guys important to the Rockets' success. This year, who knows. It could go out to 12, 14 or 16 with all the various lineups they'll need to try. For now, I chose the five guys getting the most time.
Scott Brooks vs. Jordan Hill Hill began the season starting, but is now in a back-up role. Brooks was an integral part of the rotation until rookie Sam Cassell started playing well. Hill has all the upside here, but doesn't appear to be able to harness it. Brooks had no size and not a ton of skill, but worked his ass off. Today, he's the coach of the best team in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Advantage: Brooks
Carl Herrera vs. Patrick Patterson Carl "Amigo" Herrera was a tough-minded lefty power forward who could have occasional flashes of offense. Patterson has substantially more upside and is already a far more developed offensive player. Advantage: Patterson
Matt Bullard vs. Chandler Parsons This is an interesting matchup. Both are tall, offensive-minded white guys, but Bullard was clearly the better shooter and Parsons clearly the better athlete. Given the look at just the one year, it's tough to argue over Bull with his experiences and occasional late-game heroics, but Parsons could develop. Advantage: Bullard
Mario Elie vs. Courtney Lee Perhaps the closest matchup of everyone on this list. Both are hard-nosed defenders who can sink an outside shot, but prefer taking it to the hoop. Lee is the more polished player on the floor and likely the better athlete, but Elie was the emotional center of both championship runs and gave us the "Kiss of Death." Advantage: Elie
Sam Cassell vs. Goran Dragic Cassell started out his rookie season buried on the bench, marked as an unreliable wildcard. As the season progressed, he got more minutes and eventually became a huge part of the Rockets playoff rotation. Dragic has shown, when given the chance, he can be a triple threat as a scorer, rebounder and assist man. Advantage: Cassell
Starting Lineup It's pretty tough to compare a championship-caliber lineup to a lottery team, but there are some similarities...with one massive, glaring exception.
Kenny Smith vs. Kyle Lowry People forget just what a great shooter "The Jet" was back in the day. Yes, he had lulls, but Smith was an elite-level shooter. He also was an All-Star by this point and someone who was routinely putting up 20 points per game. Lowry is a bulldog. If you don't love him, you probably don't love basketball. Advantage: Smith
Vernon Maxwell vs. Kevin Martin It's easy to romanticize Mad Max if you watched him prior to the game in Portland when he ran into the stands to punch a fan. The guy was a defensive beast and a clutch shooter. Michael Jordan has told people that no defender gave him more grief than Maxwell. Martin is a scoring machine and one of the most efficient scorers in the league. Advantage: Maxwell
Robert Horry vs. Chase Budinger Horry's selection by the Rockets in 1991 was met by boos from a raucous Houston crowd. They wanted Harold Miner. Right? In 1993, "Big Shot Bob" was an athletic small forward with big upside trying to learn to shoot the three and develop consistency. Budinger, like Horry, is a great athlete, but with a much better shot. He doesn't have Horry's size, but he's a much better scorer. Horry later became a playoff legend and from a career standpoint, there is ZERO comparison, but in 1993, he was just an inconsistent kid with flashes of brilliance. Advantage: Push
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Otis Thorpe vs. Luis Scola One of the forgotten men from the Rockets' first title was OT. A hulking giant of a power forward who could grip the ball like most of us hold a baseball, Thorpe was a tenacious rebounder and better-than-average scorer. Scola is a fan favorite and a fantastic low-post scorer. Despite his lack of speed and athleticism, he's also a solid rebounder at his position. Advantage: Thorpe
Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Samuel Dalembert The only things these two guys have in common is they were both born in other countries and they both like to block shots. One is the best Rocket ever, the other is a guy named Dalembert. Advantage: Olajuwon