NBA Draft is Tonight, But Rockets Real Draft Begins Monday

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Hours before the start of the NBA Draft, one of the most anticipated nights for basketball fans, a large majority of those following the Rockets are yawning. At the moment, the Rockets do not have a pick in the first round of the draft -- though that may change -- and despite the fact that starting forward Chandler Parsons was a product of the second round, the chances of landing a rotation player, let alone a good starter, once the first 14 picks in the "lottery" are over is slim. In this draft, teams outside the top 5 might not even be drafting starters.

Over the past decade, the draft has been diluted by underclassmen. In the past couple drafts, the league has leaned heavy on foreign players and even that store seems depleted this year. No one thinks there is a consensus number 1 and the Rockets aren't even number 31. They could get to as high as 19 if they do in fact trade Thomas Robinson, but that is just a precursor to an offseason the Rockets hope will be a big step forward in their development. But the draft is not a part of that plan...not much.

Even if the Rockets do move up to 19, chance are they will draft a player they can stash in Europe for a year. GM Daryl Morey is hell bent on maintaining cap flexibility, particularly as they approach free agency, which opens Monday. That's when the Rockets are looking to hit the jackpot because that is when free agent center Dwight Howard hits the open market.

For weeks stories have been floated that Howard is interested in Houston. The Lakers put billboards up all over LA this week trying to convince Howard to stay, but his disastrous season in the Staples Center combined with what is thought to be a rocky relationship with star guard Kobe Bryant makes a return doubtful.

Still, thanks to league rules, moving on could cost Howard as much as $20 million over the life of his contract. That's a lot of money to leave on the table even for a multi-millionaire. But, the two teams that appear to be on his radar are both in Texas where there is no state income tax, a big reason some of that lost cash could be recouped if he played here.

The latest reports say he likes Houston but is concerned about playing an up-tempo style of basketball. But, it shouldn't be hard to point at the long list of centers who have played in Houston and ease his doubts. From Elvin Hayes to Moses Malone to Hakeem Olajuwon to Yao Ming, few NBA franchises can boast the kind of track record Houston has with big men. Add to it Kevin McHale, one of the best big men of all time as coach and it would appear Houston has the inside track.

But Dallas, with Dirk Nowitzki and Marc Cuban's vast stores of cash that bring with them the kinds of luxuries few teams can afford, is lurking.

So, with all due respect to the NBA Draft, Rockets fans are hoping for a quick, uneventful end to the evening and the rapid approach of the real draft day for Houston, Monday.

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