Who needs Yao?
That was my first reaction to the news that the Rockets might lose Yao for all of next season -- with the ominous suffix "maybe longer" attached to every blog post about it.
But without Yao (or T-Mac, for that matter), the Rockets nearly knocked off the Lakers -- and gave the champs their toughest series of the playoffs.
It was a testament to Houston's thinking-man's approach to the NBA, and it leads today's SN column, if you want to check it out.
So: Do the Rockets need Yao to be playoff competitive? Obviously not.
Do they need Yao to actually BEAT the Lakers (or whoever) and win a championship? I would argue that the playoffs proved otherwise, but -- yes, sure -- Yao would certainly help.
Then again, the team was better without McGrady. And far better with the addition of Ron Artest, whose re-signing should be a priority for the Rockets.
Do the Rockets need a quote-unquote "superstar?" I don't think so, just based on their style and what happened last month in the playoffs.
That said, the Rockets are trying to win a championship -- one of a handful of teams actually more concerned with winning now than rebuilding for later.
It might be the case that Houston is the NBA equivalent of the early-00's "Moneyball" A's: For now, the Rockets are able to arbitrage inefficiencies in NBA team analytical proficiencies.
That would be enough to get them into the playoffs -- with the right matchups, even winning a few series. The odds are long that a team of journeymen can hold it together against superstar-powered juggernauts for 3 months. That said: Look what they did against LA.
Richard Justice had an interesting take on my "Who needs Yao?" theory in today's Houston Chronicle: He says that the Rockets should target Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.
It is actually a pretty smart idea: I wouldn't consider Bosh a true put-team-on-his-back superstar like Kobe, LeBron or Wade. But I would consider him a terrific top-tier talent to mesh within a system as sophisticated as Houston's.
The point of "Who needs Yao?" is that Houston has built a system that works without superstars. Bosh is not a superstar -- just a terrifically talented 6-11 player.
It is hard to imagine that Yao's NBA career is over -- arguably, before it even really began. But the reality is that Houston doesn't really need him.
Complete column here. More later.