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Southwest grades (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday September 4, 2007 11:27AM; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2007 2:40PM

Houston Rockets

After a decade of stellar play in Europe, Luis Scola (left) joins a retooled Rockets team poised to make a deep postseason run.
After a decade of stellar play in Europe, Luis Scola (left) joins a retooled Rockets team poised to make a deep postseason run.
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What Went Right:

Luis Scola is ready for his close-up.
He's active, aggressive and a two-time MVP of the Spanish League whose passing and rebounding will boost Yao Ming's game up front. And we'll repeat what we said in the Spurs' entry: Butler is going to "get it" one day soon, and the four or five teams that will have moved him along by then will be sorry.

Steve Francis has something to prove.
Like, maybe, that he still is in the league? It was easy to forget at times the past two seasons, with Francis all but vanishing in the quagmire that was the New York Knicks. Traded four times now and bought out once, maybe Francis is ready to fly straight in his return to the market where he made his bones.

New coach Rick Adelman's teams know how to score.
That's a good thing, given the Rockets' weaponry and their overreliance on low scores and defensive tussles. Adelman as a playoff coach doesn't stack up to Adelman the regular-season coach, but we'll worry about that in April. Also, in Sacramento, Adelman got good production out of Bonzi Wells, who was MIA last season for Houston.

What Went Wrong:

Rafer Alston didn't get arrested once.
Nope, he got arrested twice. In August. First after a confrontation with a parking attendant, and then for allegedly slashing a man's throat in a bar fight. He's due back in court on Jan. 3, by which time Mike James, Francis and rookie Aaron Brooks might have crowded Alston out of the Houston picture.

Juwan Howard went to Minnesota ...
... to play with Kevin Garnett. Oops! Howard would have been a better fit right where he was, a veteran frontcourt guy on a Rockets team that is ready to contend. The Wolves seem willing to move him to someone who's not rebuilding so, who knows, he might even return.

Grade: A-

Some key pieces will have to blend and remember to keep servicing Yao and Tracy McGrady. If it happens, the Texas Triangle will be more equilateral than ever.

New Orleans Hornets

What Went Right:

They needed scoring and got it.
Morris Peterson always had to defer to bigger guns in Toronto (Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Mike James), but the hunch here is that he will come out blazing for a team in need of points.

Actually, this one went Wright.
Julian Wright
, the No. 13 pick in the draft, gives the Hornets a rangy wing player who has skills at both ends of the court.

Tyson Chandler continued to grow. Up.
Chandler's rebirth, which began with his trade from the Bulls to the Hornets, stretched right into the summer with his participation for Team USA in the FIBA Americas tournament. Chandler gained confidence and respect last season, especially for his consistency and defense, and should hit training camp with a booster dose.

What Went Wrong:

Desmond Mason went back to Milwaukee.
We include this for the record, but at this point, the idea of losing Mason's potential feels worse than the idea of losing Mason's actual production. He'll be 30 this season so he is what he is.

Grade: B

Several small steps forward and no big misstep backward should stabilize the Hornets in their back-to-the-bayou season.

Memphis Grizzlies

What Went Right:

They drafted Atlanta's point guard.
If ever a team needed a point guard to impose order on a rotation of athletic but undeveloped wing and frontcourt players, it was the Hawks at No. 3. But the Grizzlies grabbed Ohio State's Mike Conley with the next pick, and might get a bigger impact than rookie playmakers typically provide.

Darko indeed has been freed.
Darko Milicic
never was going to blossom in Detroit, not with the Pistons' win-now priorities. Orlando should have been a good spot for him, alongside Dwight Howard. But playing alongside Gasol for a team really focused on the long term is a good fit, too.

Buddy ball pays off.
Gasol's relationship with Juan Carlos Navarro paid off when Washington traded his draft rights to Memphis for a future first-round pick. Navarro is a seasoned veteran with a good shooting touch and ability to pass.

Goodbye, Tony Barone. Hello, Marc Iavaroni.
First, we just like saying that. All coaches should be replaced by guys whose names rhyme. Second, Iavaroni has been getting the next-big-thing treatment for a few years as a Suns assistant, so now we get to find out.

What Went Wrong:

Chucky Atkins earned himself a ticket out.
Atkins had a Mike James-type of season, posting big numbers to enhance his market value. Now he's in Denver, fast-forwarding the hopes for Conley.

Grade: B+

Like Minnesota with Garnett, Memphis might have been better off cutting a deal with Chicago when the Bulls were desperate for Gasol's low-post scoring skills. But it still was an upbeat summer for the Grizz.

Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He served as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2005-2007.

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