The Houston Rockets didn't dip into the superstar market in the off-season but they did strengthen their second line of defense, the bench.

"A lot of people look at our division and say that they are improving," forward Otis Thorpe said. "All we need to do is improve from within. We've got the talent here, it's just a matter of putting it together."Last season, the Rockets never quite did that, especially in the fourth quarter and more especially on the road where they suffered numerous flameouts.

Houston won only 10 road games last season and had road losing streaks of 10 and six games. They needed help to make the playoffs on the final day of the season and were eliminated by Los Angeles in the first round.

A stronger bench will help on the road and in the fourth quarter, Coach Don Chaney says.

"When you're on the road, you really need your bench because your starters will not always perform the way they usually do," Chaney said. "You've got to have that flexibility. Hopefully, we've selected players that will help us in that area."

Houston's primary off-season acquisition is guard Kenny Smith, expected to assist Vernon Maxwell and Sleepy Floyd in the back court.

Smith came to the Rockets from Atlanta, which made him the sixth player chosen in the 1987 draft. Smith averaged 14.4 points and 6.8 assists in 221 games for the Hawks.

"I'm excited about getting him," Rockets center Akeem Olajuwon said. "I've seen him play and I know what he can do.

"He can shoot or drive and he can penetrate and see the floor."

And he can also pass, something that catches Olajuwon's eye. Olajuwon complained last year about Rockets guards getting the ball inside to him.

"There's no question in my mind that he will be an asset to this club," Olajuwon said.

"Right now, we feel like we can put together a nine-man rotation that will be solid and productive," Chaney said. "We didn't acquire any superstars but that's not always the answer."

The Rockets started fall practice without No. 1 draft choice Dave Jamerson and Maxwell, both in contract disputes.