SI Vault
 
No. 3 HOUSTON ROCKETS
Kelli Anderson
November 10, 1997
As he gazes around the Rockets ' locker room after a preseason game, rookie guard-forward Rodrick Rhodes can't believe his good fortune. Not only is he a first-round draft pick, but he also gets to rub elbows with living legends. "When Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon or Clyde Drexler says, 'Good job, rookie,' that's the best feeling in the world," says Rhodes. "It may not mean anything to them, but it means a lot to me. I mean, I've been watching those guys play since I was seven!"
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 10, 1997

No. 3 Houston Rockets

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 57-25 (second in Midwest)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

Rockets

100.6 (5)

.468 (7)

42.6 (6)

16.6 (26)

Opponents

96.1 (13)

.443 (11)

41.0 (15)

14.3 (27)

As he gazes around the Rockets ' locker room after a preseason game, rookie guard-forward Rodrick Rhodes can't believe his good fortune. Not only is he a first-round draft pick, but he also gets to rub elbows with living legends. "When Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon or Clyde Drexler says, 'Good job, rookie,' that's the best feeling in the world," says Rhodes. "It may not mean anything to them, but it means a lot to me. I mean, I've been watching those guys play since I was seven!"

Rhodes, who is 24, exaggerates; he was eight before any of the current Rockets were playing in the pros. But it's hard not to share his wonder. Houston has five players who will be 35 or older before the season is out. "Yes, we are all a year older," says Barkley, 34, "but there's nothing we can do about that, is there?"

Not really. Still, the Rockets should give the Jazz, which has its share of oldsters, a run for the Midwest Division title. Houston may be long of tooth, but it's also long on talent. That's important, because last year forward Barkley, guard Drexler and center Olajuwon missed 48 games due to injury. "At some point you'd like to think the law of averages will even out and we'll see our health improve a little," says coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

In their favor the Rockets have a lot of young legs this year—more, in fact, than they can use. Late into the preseason they were staging a four-man battle at point guard. Rhodes and second-year men Emanual Davis and Matt Maloney (the incumbent starter) got the three roster spots, while Randy Livingston was cut loose, with Tomjanovich's regrets. In a show of depth, on Oct. 11 the Rockets beat the Mavericks' best 104-103. Houston was playing without Olajuwon, Drexler, ace swingman Mario Elie and, for most of the game, the out-of-shape Barkley, who was so winded after eight minutes that he barely was able to utter sufficient expletives to get himself ejected. All in all, it was a tough preseason for Sir Charles, who was chastised by the league following an incident in Orlando in which he tossed through a restaurant window a patron who allegedly was harassing him. Barkley briefly considered retirement but relented and came off the bench during last Friday's season opener, scoring six points and grabbing eight boards in a 94-86 win over the Cavaliers.

Barkley picked the wrong year to show up at camp 10 to 20 pounds overweight. Unlike Houston teams of the past, this one plans to run. "We're as good as anybody in the half-court game," says Tomjanovich. "What we would like to do is get more easy baskets with fast breaks and offensive rebounds. Transition is a little more difficult with an older team. But all those guys can run, and they have high-energy guys backing them up."

Tomjanovich is also looking for more penetration, and that's where Rhodes comes in. One of the top high school players in 1992, Rhodes finished his college career at Southern Cal last year after fizzling earlier at Kentucky. Most experts predicted he would be a late second-round pick at best, but Tomjanovich snatched him up with his first selection, the 24th pick. "We wanted to add another dimension," says Tomjanovich. "He's a penetrator and creator on the floor, he has a feel for where people are and for delivering the ball. He can get to the basket just about whenever he wants to. He looks like he could be a factor for us."

No one on the Rockets will say that this is a do-or-die year. Not even Barkley, who caused a flap at the end of last season when he said on TV that unnamed teammates weren't playing with the same "sense of urgency" that he was. (He was referring to some of those who, unlike him, already had a championship ring.) Now Barkley says that winning a title is not his driving force. "I don't put as much emphasis on that as people want me to," he says. "I want to win the championship, don't get me wrong, but I don't think I'm going to go crazy if I don't."

This is a good thing, because the company he is keeping now includes some very impressionable youngsters.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1