Dave from BlazersEdge has a nice little casino metaphor for the Rockets' situation:
Covering the Summer League team in Las Vegas for the first time three years ago I got to dabble in a little bit of recreational gambling. I wasn't getting second mortgages from Louie "The Lip" or nothing, just a couple bucks here and there. As it turns out, no matter what game you play and no matter how good you are at it, there's a pattern there. You can keep betting incrementally, trying to maximize your play time, staying at the table as long as you can. The result is always the same. You'll win some, you'll lose some, but even if you get ahead for a while it's never enough to make a huge difference. The only thing you're buying is a little more time to play. Eventually your stack dwindles until you can't take it anymore (or you go broke) and then you go home.
As it turns out, there are only two real choices: Bet big and try to get lucky and break the bank, or don't play.
It feels like the Rockets have reached this conclusion as well.
For years they've been good at their game. They appear to have it all. Their defense is always at the very top of the league. They're a good rebounding team. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are two of the more unstoppable players at their positions on offense. Every year they build on this base, tinkering with a point guard here, a small forward there. Every year a turn of the cards -- an injury here, an unlucky playoff draw there -- hamstrings them and sends them home empty-handed.
After so many backs and feet going south you legitimately start to wonder how long their stars can hold up. Their stack can start dwindling at any time. What are they buying with these incremental changes besides another good year and another disappointment? So it's time to roll the dice and break the bank.
Enter Ron Artest.