With Daryl Morey Out, What does the Rockets Future Look Like?
The Houston Rockets are in a bit of a perplexing situation as a franchise. The team features two former MVPs in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but fitting the two stars in the backcourt has been awkward and largely ineffective.
The franchises’ longtime head coach and general manager in Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey both stepped down from their roles after a disappointing playoff run, combined with years of playoff disappointment piled up.
Now the Rockets are stuck with two players who are not stylistically compatible, on expensive and lengthy contracts, and the team has little to no assets to deal away to potentially off-load one of the two stars.
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Realistically, there are three things the Rockets can do at this point to try to turn the ship in the right direction. With little to no flexibility in terms of financial cap and tradable assets, Houston will have to get creative in order to maximize the rest of Harden’s prime years.
Introduce a New Offensive Scheme
The Morey-D’Antoni combination for the record was a fruitful pairing. Under the analytics-heavy, three-point barrage that was the Rockets offence, Harden blossomed into an MVP player. Harden was putting up monster numbers, and the team was widely successful in majority of their regular seasons.
The problems came mostly in the playoffs. It simply wasn’t enough to rely on Harden’s ability to carry the offence, and teams were able to load up on him, largely neutralizing the Houston attack.
D’Antoni doesn’t get enough credit as an offensive innovator. His seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns revolutionized modern NBA offences, but it’s a proven fact that D’Antoni-led teams aren’t able to produce championships.
His systems allow players like Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, and Harden for example to truly flourish, but his approach hasn’t proved fruitful when it matters the most. In Houston, the isolation-heavy, three-point shooting approach fell short time and time again.
Here’s where a new coach comes in. The finalists to land the gig are Stephen Silas, John Lucas, and Jeff Van Gundy. Whoever gets the job in Houston should try and implement a new offensive scheme in order to maximize the team’s potential.
Ideally, the team’s next bench boss absolutely needs to be a wizard drawing up the X’s and O’s. That type of coach would be able to really unlock Houston’s potential on that side of the ball.
Acquire a Player that brings Offensive Versatility and Two-Way Excellence
This is more of a long shot, especially for a team like Houston who has very little value they can bring to the table in an attempt to try and acquire this type of player. Ideally, Houston would relish at the opportunity to get a guy that can provide some offensive versatility.
They need someone (not named Westbrook) who can alleviate facilitating responsibilities from Harden, while also being a threat to score from anywhere on the court. A player like Malcolm Brogdan would fit seamlessly alongside Harden, as Brogdan has proven to be a hyper-efficient option when playing with a superstar.
Another player that comes to mind is Pascal Siakam. Siakam would also fit perfectly with Harden, as he has the ability to take on playmaking duties in spurts, while also providing the offensive efficiency (playing alongside a superstar as the second option), and still exerting effort on the defensive end.
Realistically, the chances of the Rockets acquiring either player is slim to none. Houston doesn’t have any assets that either the Pacers or Raptors would want in return.
The only option here is for Houston to identify a player that goes undrafted, or potentially trade late into the draft to select a player of this calibre.
Again, the chances of the Rockets finding a player like this in the draft is slim, but it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Houston has found gems in the late-first round and deep into the second round before.
Clint Capella was the 25th pick in 2014, and he became one of Houston’s best assets before he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks. Chandler Parsons was solid for the Rockets as a second-round selection at the 38th pick back in 2011.
It’s not impossible for the Rockets to find a player that can be a difference maker, but the Rockets will have to get creative in terms of how they will acquire such player, especially given their three-to-four year window with Westbrook and Harden.
Stand Pat with The Beard
The recent rumours surrounding Houston potentially trading their franchise superstar in James Harden have been swirling. If Houston moved on from Harden, it would be a big mistake.
He is two years removed from his MVP season, and is still producing at a level not far off from that MVP season. It would be pre-mature to give up on a talent as transcendent as Harden.
For years, Dirk Nowitzki was labelled as a playoff-choker. He and his teams had multiple playoff blunders and embarrassments. Nowitzki had the reputation of a ‘regular season’ performer.
Similarly, Harden has gotten the same sort of reputation around the league and among NBA aficionados.
Still, Harden is a talent that is on the same level, if not even greater than Nowitzki (in their primes, its debatable). It took some time, but the Mavericks stood pat with their superstar, and one year the stars aligned for Dallas.
They had the right cast of supporting players, the right coach, and they caught fire at the perfect time, and they became champions.
The same can happen for Harden, but the Rockets have to address the problems around their roster and find the right coach to lead this team.
Westbrook might be unmovable just due to his large contract and injury history, but the right coach could find ways to utilize Westbrook’s capabilities effectively alongside Harden.
With the right pieces around him, along with a postseason run where a couple bounces go their way the Rockets could very well fly to the top of the NBA peak.