Posted: Monday July 24, 2006 12:09PM; Updated: Monday July 24, 2006 3:19PM
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Assuming everyone stays healthy, Houston's biggest issue after an up-and-down offseason would seem to be whether or not Shane Battier and Tracy McGrady can play together. Both are unselfish wing types who will try their damnedest to make it work, but Battier can't play shooting guard (he didn't spend a minute at the position last season, according to 82games.com), and McGrady hardly seems up to chasing off-guards around. Playing Battier at power forward for stretches would help alleviate some of these worries, but that would come at the expense of minutes for promising rebounder Chuck Hayes -- who appears to be the next Danny Fortson, minus the crazy.
We're not saying Rudy Gay would be the answer in this instance (the Rockets traded Gay, alongside disappointing power forward StromileSwift, to Memphis for Battier), but with a lottery selection in hand, we would have liked to see Houston pry a bit more from the open market for the duo. Nothing against Battier -- he's a wonderful player to have on your team and is owed just under $32 million over the next five years. (Compare that to Mike Dunleavy Jr., who will make $12 million more over the same period.) It's just that we question his and McGrady's ability to ham-and-egg it together, and wonder if this is more of an insurance move in anticipation of another trip to the injured list for T-Mac.
This could still be a 50-win team, even with its thin bench. Rookie guard Vassilis Spanoulis can play, and he's a mess of fun to watch. The Rockets missed out on reacquiring Mike James, but getting Kirk Snyder (a potentially starting-quality off-guard) for next to nothing was a solid move. Still, they're well short of their division rivals, San Antonio and Dallas, clubs the Rockets at least seemed on par with this time last summer.
New York Knicks
In many ways, the Knicks took a huge step forward in finally making Isiah Thomas accountable for the mess he's created and giving him exactly one season to turn things around. Based on their raw talent and the hope that Isiah will cut Larry Brown's dubious '05-06 record of 42 different starting lineups in half, they should at least make a six- or seven-win improvement in the standings. Internal development will result in solid seasons from Channing Frye, David Lee and Eddy Curry -- and though we harbor huge misgivings regarding Isiah the Coach (hefty personnel changes or not, his Indiana teams hideously underachieved), any warm body on the Knicks' sideline will be a significant improvement upon the destructive Brown.