Rockets

Rockets Ready to Run It Back

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Since Daryl Morey took over as General Manager of the Houston Rockets, betting on him to make a big splash in either the free agency or trade market would have been guaranteed money. That is, until this summer – one in which the Rockets hard-capped themselves too severely to make any significant moves. Instead of acquiring a new star or rotational player, the Rockets have, up to this point, retained most of the pieces that led to them to a conference semifinal loss against the Golden State Warriors last season. With the team generally intact, where do the Rockets stand heading into next year? Should they have broken up the core?

Offseason Rifts and Speculation

After the Rockets’ final playoff loss, James Harden had this to say:

While it remains unclear what Harden was referring to exactly, it can be read in one of two ways:

1) Major Roster Change – Jimmy Butler

The first, and generally more accepted belief, is that Harden wanted a major trade to shakeup the roster and bring a new energy to the team. After averaging 34.8 points per game in the series and still losing against the Warriors, perhaps Harden felt that he needed additional help going forward. Quickly, former Philadelphia 76ers forward Jimmy Butler emerged as a candidate.

Butler, who is from the Houston area and is good friends with Harden, would have been brought in to shore up the perimeter defense and to provide another high-level scoring talent. Without the financial flexibility to sign him outright, though, the Rockets’ only path to Butler was through a sign and trade scenario. To do this, they would have had to part ways with some combination of PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela – three players who were vital parts of the Rockets’ playoff run last season and in seasons prior.

Butler ended up signing with the Miami Heat, and the Rockets were unable to make a trade including any of these players. With Jimmy Butler on the Rockets, despite a lot of big personalities in the locker room, I do believe the Rockets could have made it work. The fact that Harden and Butler are friends indicates to me that there would not have been that much drama. A team with Chris Paul, Harden, and Butler would have certainly been able to compete for a championship.

However, that does not mean that this current iteration of the Rockets will fail. The Rockets need to recognize that missing out on Butler is not the end of the world. And that brings us to the second possibility behind Harden’s quote…

2) Run it Back

The last part of Harden’s quote jumps out to me here – “We’ll figure it out this summer.” Perhaps Harden didn’t want a trade at all, but rather wanted the current roster to “figure it out” together and grow as a unit over the offseason. Since he became a Rocket, Harden has been known to organize team events over the summer. Whether that be pickup games in the Drew League, team scrimmages, or even trips to the beach, Harden has proven to be adept at maintaining roster cohesion throughout the offseason.

There has been a lot of speculation this summer that Chris Paul and James Harden do not get along. No one knows the extent of this rift other than those two, but what I do know is that Harden is committed to winning – regardless of personnel around him. Harden is the star of this team and a former MVP; if he wanted Paul off the team, Paul would be off the team. It’s as simple as that. The fact that Morey did not trade Paul, or anyone else for that matter, shows me that Harden is ready to give it another go with the team that has come so close over the last few years. The offseason can be spent repairing relationships and potential hurt feelings from trade rumors.

Despite the fact that the Rockets seem committed to running it back, free agency is not over yet. There are still a few viable names left on the market that the Rockets could pursue.

Filling out the Roster

So far this offseason, the Rockets have resigned the triumvirate of Danuel House, Gerald Green, and Austin Rivers. While none of these names are starters on a championship roster, they are high-impact role players that can provide substantive minutes off the bench. With them last season, though, the Rockets still often suffered from fatigue and a lack of quality bench minutes. The Rockets, simply, need more than just these three to get over the hump. What other players are out there that could provide the Rockets with additional depth and reliable play come playoff time?

1) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Mbah a Moute was one of the more underrated contributors for the Rockets in 2017. A late-season shoulder injury hampered his playoff performance, but he was a major reason why the Rockets got the number one seed in the season. Specifically, his length on the defensive end posed a major problem for opposing players. Mbah a Moute only played four games last season for the Clippers due to injury, but he is someone the Rockets could swoop in and sign on a vet min deal. Even if he’s not the same player he once was, Mbah a Moute would be a great veteran presence for someone at the same position like Danuel House.

2) Andre Iguodala

Iguodala, who has destroyed the hopes of Rockets fans in the playoffs for many years now, has suddenly become a top candidate to join the roster.

Iguodala would be a perfect fit on the Rockets. He is a great defender, can shoot the ball well enough, and has an extremely high basketball IQ. Most importantly, though, Harden would no longer have to deal with playing against him in the playoffs. The only way for the Rockets to acquire Iggy would be through a sign-and-trade, as the Grizzlies don’t appear likely to buy him out. I don’t foresee the Rockets parting with Eric Gordon – nor do I think that’d be a good idea – but perhaps Iman Shumpert and a couple picks would be enough? It is unclear at this point how much the Grizzlies are looking for in return, but if the Rockets can get him for relatively cheap, it’s a no-brainer.

The Rockets’ Place in the League Moving Forward

This offseason has been a fascinating one on a number of levels. Mainly, though, it appears that there will finally be a sense of parity across the league that hasn’t been felt in years. At the moment, there appears to be at least 8-10 teams with a legitimate shot at the championship.

As for the Rockets, they are in just as good of a position as any other contender. Despite all the offseason noise and drama, they still have almost exactly the same team that they have had for the last two seasons now. They have achieved a level of stability that is rare in today’s NBA. In order for the Rockets to be successful, though, they must recognize this fact and utilize it to their advantage. The offseason must be spent repairing relationships and shifting the collective focus toward the future, rather than worrying about the past.

As it stands, the Western Conference is wide open right now. It is time for the Rockets to step up and take control.

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About Zach Zola

Zach Zola is a student at Brown University studying English. He grew up in New York, but has been a die-hard Rockets fan since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He believes that James Harden is the only King James in the NBA.

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