Wednesday, July 10, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 154


Rockets shooting for the future

Sports Opinion

Christian Schmidt

The Rockets finally look like they are making some progress toward being a decent, perhaps even a playoff, team.

After three lottery years, this year is the one the Rockets have a chance to make a big step forward. Whether that big step forward is a
playoff berth, or just flirting with a .500 record, remains to be seen.

After all, once you get past "Stevie Franchise," there are some serious questions about this ballclub. Cuttino Mobley has still not
proven that he is more than a slightly above average two-guard on a bad team. Mobley takes too many bad shots, and defense is
often the last thing on his mind.

The team still has a gaping hole at small forward, with too many options and not enough production. Kenny Thomas is a great
backup at both forward slots, but he shouldn't start. Eddie Griffin is young, and he isn't really a small forward. Bostjan Nachbar, the
Rocket's recent draft pick, just isn't ready yet. And Glen Rice, who should be the answer, is overpaid and injury prone.

At power forward, Maurice Taylor is average at best. He'll struggle, coming off a serious injury and a drug suspension.

At center, Yao Ming is the answer, maybe not this year, but a year or two down the road. In the meantime, Kelvin Cato is a big body
who can take up some minutes, even if he is overpaid.

A trade proposal

With all this in mind, it's time for the Rockets to make a trade, one that will make them better now and in the future.

Three years ago, the team passed on a local high schooler named Rashard Lewis. Seattle took Lewis, and the 6-10 small forward
has blossomed into a star.

Here's my proposal for a trade that will bring Lewis to the Rocket franchise. The Rockets trade Rice, Taylor and Griffin to the
Supersonics for Lewis, power forward Vin Baker, and backup guard Shammond Williams.

This trade can actually work. Seattle doesn't want to pay Lewis big bucks, and they would love to get rid of Baker. Griffin has loads of
potential, so Seattle should be intrigued. The Rockets want Lewis, and they would be happy to get rid of Rice and Taylor's contracts.

Yes, Houston will have to give up the highly regarded Griffin, but look what they get in return. Lewis will soon be a superstar, and can
be the Rockets' small forward for the next decade.

Furthermore, the salary cap numbers line up. Rice, Taylor and Griffin's salary this year will be about $18.4 million, pending
performance bonuses. Lewis, Baker, and Williams will make about $19.3 million. With the salary cap, teams have to make numbers
line up, and this trade does that.

Vin Baker is at least as good as Taylor -- their production over their careers and in recent years is nearly identical. Added to that,
Baker is a bigger body, and will help solve the Rockets lack of overall size.

Having Lewis also makes Glen Rice totally expendable, along with his contract, which would pay Rice $9.2 million this year.

Shammond Williams is just a throw-in to make the money numbers work, but he can help the Rockets this season, and then his
contract will be up, allowing Houston to use his $2 million in whatever way they wish.

The only problem with this trade comes a year or so from now. Houston could probably convince Lewis to take less money this year
with the promise of a big contract a year from now.

That means that with Francis making about $14 million, Lewis making somewhere around $12 million, and Vin Baker making $11.5
million, the team will have $27.5 million tied up in just three players. The team will have to hope that the salary cap rises somewhere
near $60 million dollars or the team will have to enact drastic cost-cutting measures.

The Rockets should make this trade, both for the immediate future of the team and for the long term.

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