When last seen, the Rockets were … finishing a title chase that fell to a thud in a conference semifinals loss to the Lakers in five games. They would soon embark on a plane ride home that would serve as the precipice for descent into an offseason full of drama that would carry into 2020 training camp. While the plane was in the air on the flight back to Houston, coach Mike D’Antoni reportedly told general manager Daryl Morey that he would not be returning to lead the Rockets for the 2020-21 season. That decision became the first domino in a Houston offseason rife with change.
What’s new? After D’Antoni’s departure, Morey cited personal reasons in announcing a resignation that wouldn’t be effective until Nov. 1. In the meantime, the Rockets announced the hiring of former longtime Mavericks assistant coach Stephen Silas as the replacement for D’Antoni. On Nov. 2, the Philadelphia 76ers introduced Morey as their new president of basketball operations. But in the immediate aftermath of Morey’s resignation, the Rockets had already promoted Rafael Stone to general manager. The changes didn’t stop there, as star guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden both reportedly requested trades in November.
The Rockets granted Westbrook’s wishes by moving him to Washington for John Wall and a 2023 protected first-round pick. Houston also traded Robert Covington to Portland for Trevor Ariza, the No. 16 pick and a 2021 first-round pick. The club jettisoned Ariza and the 16th pick as part of a sign-and-trade deal with Detroit to bring in Christian Wood. The Rockets also signed DeMarcus Cousins in free agency as well as Sterling Brown, and drafted Kenyon Martin Jr. in the second round. As for Harden, Houston is taking its time with the 2018 MVP, as Silas hopes the sides can work things out so the superstar guard can lead the Rockets into 2020-21.
What’s missing: At first, it was Harden. He missed the first two days of training camp and posted pictures to social media of various parties he was attending, while the rest of the Rockets were reporting to training camp and fielding questions from the media about the absence of the team’s star player. Harden eventually showed up in Houston on Dec. 8. It’s obvious that trust is what’s missing right now between Harden and the Rockets organization. It’s the same between Harden and his teammates, many of which he hasn’t even played with yet. Silas wants to be the catalyst in bridging the gap. But if he can’t, the question becomes when will the Rockets be ultimately forced to deal Harden?
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
John Wall | 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 8.7 apg (2018-19)
Hasn’t played in two seasons, but if he returns to form you could argue he’s an upgrade over Westbrook.
James Harden | 34.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.5 apg
Beef with the organization isn’t fair to Silas, who has a reputation for building relationships.
Eric Gordon | 14.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.5 apg
Never got on track due to injuries and the limited opportunities that came with both Harden and Westbrook on the floor.
Christian Wood |13.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 apg
Signed for $41 million, but there’s uncertainty about how good he really is after a strong 2019-20 on a bad Detroit team.
P.J. Tucker | 6.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 apg
At 35, the scrappy undersized defensive stopper wants the bag as he’s playing in the final year of his contract.
DeMarcus Cousins | 16.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.6 apg (2018-19)
Four-time All-Star has been robbed of the last two seasons by injuries.
Ben McLemore | 10.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.8 apg
Knocked down at least 40% from 3-point range in each of the last two seasons.
Danuel House Jr. | 10.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.3 apg
He’s apologized verbally, but needs to make amends on the floor for being tossed from the NBA bubble for rules violations.
Houston Rockets, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
This one is tough because there’s so much fluidity regarding James Harden, and he’s such a transcendent player that his presence or absence can drastically affect a team’s prospects both directions. So, we’ll make this prediction assuming Harden will be there for 2020-21. If Harden buys into Silas’ system that will feature plenty of ball sharing, and more optionality in terms of playing conventional or small, there’s a chance he might experience his best season as a Houston Rocket based off the weapons surrounding him. If the organization is forced to move him, you can expect the Rockets to finish somewhere near the middle of the pack.
Predicted finish: 40-32.
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