Daryl Morey has long been given the benefit of the doubt during his tenure with the Houston Rockets. He's built teams that are always intriguing, always fun, and always fatally flawed. Through no fault of his own, the primary flaw for many seasons were injuries to Yao Ming. It's tough to win when the franchise centerpiece is in a suit on the bench. For the longest time there was always a clear reason you could point to, a clear reason to explain why the Rockets fell short. But what now?
Well, last season you could argue that Morey was derailed by the failed trade to acquire Pau Gasol. Morey has stated numerous times that his goal is always to acquire pieces that allow him to acquire a superstar, while remaining competitive. That last part is important, as Morey is one of the main examples of a GM who hasn't tanked to acquire stars. And just when it seems that Morey would pull off his vision and acquire a legitimate centerpiece, the deal fell apart.
So what do we make of Morey now? Last season was a painful year for the Rockets, being just good enough to miss the lotto, but bad enough to miss the playoffs. Losing Kyle Lowry midseason certainly didn't help, but Goran Dragic took the reigns and excelled enough that coach Kevin McHale certainly wasn't championing for Lowry to hurry back. In fact, Lowry and McHale clashed so much that the Rockets traded Lowry to Toronto, despite Dragic leaving for Phoenix in free agency.
All that remains for Houston are questions. Can Jeremy Lin replace Dragic and Lowry? Can the Rockets trade for a star? How can Houston possibly develop all of these young players? Can the Rockets actually stay competitive? Is Morey as good as we've given him credit for?
I don't have all of the answers, but I do have thoughts. I think Lin is the most intriguing part of this season. What he did last season for the Knicks was truly a historic run. It was sustained over a long enough period to make you believe it wasn't a fluke. Even if Lin didn't maintain his impossibly high averages, he still proved worthy of getting a shot at running a team. That said, he still need to work on his turnovers and his decision making. He could be a fine piece, but I'm not sure he'll be enough to salvage Houston's season.
Despite all of the focus on Houston's wings, I'll be watching Houston's centers. Omer Asik, signed as a restricted free agent with a back-loaded offer the Bulls declined to match, is an excellent defender, but is a huge liability on the offense end. But Houston's centers are interesting because of Donatas Montiejunas. When Montiejunas arrived for Vegas Summer League, he looked nothing like the scrawny kid Houston originally drafted. He's obviously worked on his conditioning, and looked ready to play with NBA bigs. While he may not have an immediate impact, he'll be fun to watch develop.
The Rockets forward positions are filled with fun players. The guys the internet loves to follow. Terrence Jones, Royce White, Marcus Morris, Chandler Parsons, these are all guys who are interesting. Several of them could develop into above average talents. Or none of them could. That's the problem with Houston right now. While these pieces could someday be used to land a superstar, Houston is holding a handful of lottery tickets and calling it a retirement plan.
Barring a significant trade, I believe Houston will contend for the worst record in the West. I fear they'll be a frustrating team full of fun players who just can't quite get on the same page.