One thing that average teams tend to get into is a process of denial about just why they're not championship-caliber. While the Rockets have some very intriguing pieces and have accumulated (to use GM Daryl Morey's least favorite phrasing) assets, they've been a .500 team for awhile now. With head coach Rick Adelman out the door, the Rockets are free to officially move on from the Yao Ming-Tracy McGrady era.
The awkward thing about that is that really, the Rockets have been changing this way for the better part of the last year. That's why Kyle Lowry is now the building block, that's why they dealt Trevor Ariza for Courtney Lee, Shane Battier for a first round pick, and Aaron Brooks for Goran Dragic. The Rockets have been in the business of developing a new generation of talent for a while now. Adelman's departure is only a re-assurance of the direction the Rockets are headed in:
"The mistakes that are done across the league are teams that stabilize on a foundation that wins you games and maybe preserves jobs, but they're not making the tough choices with either players or in other areas that give you the change you need to get you where you want to be," Morey said. "There's going to be change coming - more change. We believe in the plan. The plan is to try to continue to bring in quality players who are improving versus declining ... and continue to work to use trades.
"We're going to be a team that's young and improving, and we're going to be a team that tries to trade our way to improvement. At the end of the day, judge that. If you're ready to judge that we're already not sort of executing on the plan, that's fine. We're going to continue to execute on it until it works. Stability is a factor in teams that win the championship. But if you stabilize on a team that's going to end up short of that, then all you're doing is spinning your wheels in the 45-win range."
What would be the best way to start this "new" change? Probably a new center. Here's an interesting tidbit from Jonathan Feigen's chat yesterday:
Yao is in Beijing and is still not cleared to begin on court workouts. The Rockets might sign him as a free agent if all goes well, but they will absolutely look to sign a free agent center to start. Yao's recovery and return would be gravy, but they will not count on it.
That, friends, is our clearest sign yet that Yao is not in the long-term plans. The Rockets no longer see him as someone they need a contingency plan for, but a contingency plan for a better option. A bench player.