Thursday , Oct , 12 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

The Houston Rockets’ Saviour?

Watching the path Tracy of McGrady’s career is entertaining. I remember first reading about him in SLAM magazine: He was featured in their Punked column and SLAM made some reference to him predicting his own win at that year’s Slam Dunk contest. Everyone knows the story of his subsequent trade from Toronto to Orlando. The acquisition of Grant Hill was Orlando’s watershed move, and McGrady was brought in to be the sidekick. We all know how that turned out. Hill has played about two minutes of game time since, and McGrady became one of the most dynamic offensive forces in the game. Doc Rivers summed it up: "We knew he would be good. No one knew he would be this good, this soon."

Orlando slowly disintegrated, and so McGrady headed to Houston to team with international sensation Yao Ming. The sky was the limit for those Rockets, but injuries to the pair, and Yao’s patchy form and tired legs, derailed the Rockets slightly. Last season provided a glimpse of their potential as, although they floundered without their two stars for much of the season, they got up to finish the year an impressive 35-14.

Which leads us to this season and the Rockets’ acquisition of Bonzi Wells. Is it a gamble? Will Bonzi get on with JVG? Can Bonzi stay out of trouble? The tone of many Rockets fans and observers is one of cautious optimism, and wisely so. Once again the potential is there for them to make a lot of noise in the West this season, but there are a few issues that come into play. Injury is the number one concern. Yao’s legs and McGrady’s back. The Rockets really can’t afford to have either of those guys out of the starting lineup for more than maybe ten games apiece, and that will be the challenge for the Rockets’ trainers as well as Yao and McGrady themselves.

They will also need their role players to step up and shoot consistently from the outside as their stars give them space. They need for Battier and Howard to really fill in that PF spot on defence as that is a big hole for them. They need for JVG to give the guys a little more room to run and gun, if only now and then. They need for McGrady to bust his ass on defence in every game.

But on top of these bread-and-butter basketball issues, the Rockets desperately need a leader. I know McGrady is a great scorer and Yao has a ton of international experience, but what the Rockets lack is a guy on their team with a killer instinct, a guy who takes losing personally – a guy who will take his team mates on his shoulders night in and night out. At the moment Tracy McGrady is not that guy. He doesn’t have that fire in his eye, or the sneer on his lips, and in order for the Rockets to ever achieve anything with him he needs to turn that corner.

This is the reason I was excited to hear about the acquisition of Bonzi Wells. I really think Bonzi could be the guy that sparks an emotional fire within these Rockets. It helps that he’s one of the best back-to-the-basket guards in the league and is good for 15, 8 and 3 and a couple of steals, too. But the addition of Wells to the Rockets has given them a chance to be great. A chance for their two stars to play with bonafide, gutsy support. They now have a guy that I believe will, by his play, encourage Yao and McGrady to get angry and take losing personally. With their hearts and minds in the same place, and a furious desire to win, the combo of Yao, McGrady and Wells could be a frightening basketball force in the NBA. But by themselves Yao and McGrady are only good for a first round knockout.

Could Bonzi Wells be the saviour of the Houston Rockets?