HOUSTON (AP) — About 1,000 Houston Rockets fans showed up at the Toyota Center on Thursday night to watch the NBA draft on a giant screen, poised to celebrate a franchise-changing move.
It didn't come.
The Rockets drafted Connecticut guard Jeremy Lamb, Iowa State forward Royce White and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones in the first round, but didn't make the blockbuster deal many anticipated after a week of rumors and speculation. Houston had no second-round picks.
"There were a lot of things in the hopper, I could tell you that, a lot of different things we were looking at," coach Kevin McHale said. "Ideally, it would've been nice to be able to pull off a trade that really would've helped the team, pretty much immediately. But when those (trades) kind of fell through, we took the players we felt were the best there and we're really happy with the draft.
"Am I disappointed?" McHale said. "There were a few trades that I was excited that we might be able to do. But when they fell through, you move on and you draft and I thought we did a nice job on the draft."
Houston was the most active team leading up to the draft, trading swingman Chase Budinger and center Samuel Dalembert to acquire two picks in the first round. The Rockets were reportedly building a package to offer a team in exchange for a superstar, possibly Orlando's Dwight Howard.
Something big could still happen after free agency begins on July 1. It just didn't on Thursday night.
"Things were just drying up, as it usually does," McHale said. "Maybe down the road, something could get resurrected again. But as of right now, I would say that we're going to move forward with the team."
Houston went 34-32 last season and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey started this week with the 14th and 16th picks, then traded Budinger to Minnesota to acquire the 18th pick. On Wednesday, Houston dealt Dalembert and the 14th pick to the Bucks for the 12th pick, a future second-round pick and three players.
Houston has lacked a formidable inside presence since former top overall pick Yao Ming started having leg and foot injuries and finally retired last summer. Before last season, the Rockets were ready to trade forward Luis Scola, shooting guard Kevin Martin and point guard Goran Dragic for the Lakers' Pau Gasol, but Commissioner David Stern nixed the trade on behalf of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets.
By the end of the draft, the Rockets are still looking for that transforming star player. If they intend to keep their three draft picks — and McHale says that's the current plan — the Rockets would enter training camp with 10 players under the age of 25 and eight who are 23 years old or younger.
"It's going to be a challenge, there's no question," McHale said. "Historically, the NBA is not kind to young guys. There's such a learning curve and it's so hard to explain to people. I can't even explain what a big jump it is."
North Carolina big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller were still available when Houston made its first pick, but the Rockets took the 6-foot-5 Lamb at No. 12. Lamb entered the draft after just two college seasons. He averaged 17.7 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Huskies last year and became just the sixth sophomore in Connecticut history to score 1,000 career points (1,060).
Houston took the 6-8, 270-pound White with the 16th pick. White initially enrolled at Minnesota, then left the program last year and eventually transferred to Iowa State after pleading guilty to theft and disorderly conduct in an incident at the Mall of America. White, who suffers from bouts of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, averaged 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and five assists per game last season.
The 6-9, 252-pound Jones was the Rockets' third pick, at No. 18. Jones played only two college seasons, and averaged 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds last year, helping the Wildcats win the NCAA championship in the spring. Houston added two more forwards in the draft after taking Kentucky's Patrick Patterson in 2010 (14th pick) and Kansas' Marcus Morris in 2011 (14th pick).
McHale stopped short of saying the Rockets may slip into "rebuilding mode," though.
"We're a young team," McHale said. "But our goal is to make the playoffs. We've got to find a way to do it. It's going to be a challenge, I can tell you that, but we've got to go out there and find a way."
Kyle Lowry remained a Rocket amid reports that the team was gauging other teams' interest in him leading up to the draft. Dragic is an unrestricted free agent and said after last season that he'd like a more permanent starting role in the NBA.
Lowry missed 19 games, mostly due to a bacterial infection that required hospitalization, and he reportedly developed a rift with first-year coach Kevin McHale. Dragic played well in Lowry's place, averaging 18 points and 8.4 assists in 28 starts.
Houston picked up point guard Shaun Livingston and forwards Jon Brockman and Jon Leuer in the trade with the Bucks. The 6-foot-7 Livingston sustained a catastrophic left knee injury in February 2007 and couldn't resume basketball activities for more than a year. He played in 58 games for Milwaukee (27 starts) last season, averaging 5.5 points and 2.1 assists per game.