Fighting Words looks ahead to the Rockets’ offseason

Joachim Clarke: Tighten up the D

It has been another disappointing season for the Houston Rockets, but hope is on the horizon.

It is obvious that defense has been the Rockets’ glaring weakness since the McGrady trade in mid-February. Although their offensive numbers have been good, the Rockets have given up 107.2 points per game since the trade and really need to tighten up defensively. Thus far, the added firepower of Kevin Martin has not translated into as many wins as I would like.

On paper, the Rockets look like a team with a strong chance of making a postseason run. The challenge now is to keep our players on the court. If the Rockets can keep Yao, Martin and Brooks healthy, the core of support players like Scola, Ariza and Battier will be able to fill in the gaps. I think next year might be the year that we return to the playoffs.

Our draft number will be fairly high this year, so the Rockets should draft someone with strong defensive capabilities. The Rockets do not need better players. They just need to find a way to put up the same offensive numbers while tightening up on the defensive side.

Jason Ovalle: Get, and keep, Yao healthy

It all starts with Yao. In a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, a reporter asked Yao if he would opt out of his contract this offseason and he said he didn’t know.

Yao is the top priority for the Rockets. The organization needs to figure what they want to do with him, re-sign him to another contract or do what I think is best and let him play out the final year of his contract and see if he can stay healthy for most of the season, something he has been unable to do for the past four years. All other moves this summer will fall into place after the Rockets figure out what they are going to do with Yao.

The good news is that the Rockets have a lottery pick and there will be several good players available if they do decide to keep it, players like Ekpe Udoh, Monroe and Xavier Henry.

Ultimately, I think the Rockets will trade the pick and package it with Scola, Brooks, or their other assets for a big time player like Bosh, Amare or Joe Johnson.

Maurice Bobb: Bosh or bust

For me, the Houston Rockets have been scrapping and overachieving for far too long. It’s time for massive overhaul. They started things off on the right foot by shipping off Tracy McGrady; now they have to shuffle the rest of the deck.

I like Yao Ming a lot, but he can’t stay healthy. He’s not going to opt out this summer, so the Rockets can only hope he bounces back to All-Star form sometime next season. But the Rockets can get him some help down low in the form of coveted free agent forward Chris Bosh. Bosh is a force to be reckoned with in the post, and he would definitely take some of the pressure off of Yao.

The Rockets may have to move quite a few pieces to free enough cap space to sign him, but it will be worth it. With Yao and Bosh in the post, the Rockets’ spot up shooters will flourish. And Bosh is quick enough to run with Aaron Brooks on the break.

Summer homework assignments for the Rockets? Sign Bosh, let Yao fully recover and pick up a marquee rookie in the draft. Simply put, for the Rockets, it’s Bosh or bust. If the Rockets make these key moves, they’ll finally move from overachiever to contender.

Judge Higgs: End of an error

Being a massive Spurs fan at heart, I want to say something snide about how regardless of the offseason moves the Rockets make, they’ll always be trailing the Spurs. But with Tim Duncan’s career winding down, and the twilight of the Spurs golden age approaching, I feel I must be humble. Nothing lasts forever.

And I think the same must be said for Houston’s love affair with Yao. When I first came to Houston in 2004, the city was abuzz with expectations for their dynamic duo, Yao and Steve Francis. My first game at Toyota Arena was Game 4 of their first round series against the Lakers. Even as LA pulled away at the end, there was an amazing energy in the building, as if things were only beginning.

A few months later, the Rockets had moved onto a new guard to pair with Yao, and we all know how that turned out. Its time to move on again, this time with their big man. Yao’s untradeable, and there’s no way he walks away from the $17 million he’s owed next year. There’s also little chance the Rockets will be able to swing one of the big free agents of the much-vaunted 2010 offseason.

So the biggest off-season priority for the lottery-bound Rockets is to prepare for life without Yao by drafting a solid big man that can give them consistent play at the five. Ekpe Udoh from Baylor, who averaged an impressive 3.9 blocks per game, would be a good choice, as would Donatas Motiejunas, a true seven-footer from Lithuania.

Verdict: Jason gets the facetime, because he’s the only one who managed to include one with his argument!

Facetime: Congrats to Coach K. First championship since 2001, when a young Shane Battier was pumping up all the Cameron Crazies with his outstanding play. Too bad we can’t go back in time.

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